In retrospect this campaign has reminded me much of our second season in the Conference, one that had promised so much, yet ended with us hanging on nearer the opposite end of the table wondering what might have been. Billy Sharp’s £1million signing the contemporary optimism fuelling equivalent to a sweat and champagne-soaked Ian Duerden telling the Yorkshire TV cameras “We’ll be up there next season, get your money on us”, before John Shires pronounced his name wrong. And if this is the 1999-2000 season revisited then tonight represents Telford at home, midweek, late April with the Snodin brothers having just been shown the door. Dave Penney and Mark Atkins took temporary charge and delivered a vital 2-0 win that saved the season; victory tonight will potentially have as big an effect on our Championship years.
It is easy to bracket this game as ‘must win’, but in the scheme of the Championship’s nether regions it is much more a case of ‘must not lose’. A win against Preston tonight extends Rovers’ safety net, a draw maintains it, whilst the third option is painfully obvious and one we shall hopefully not need to speak of. That said a win would do much more to ease fears and quash nerves that are starting to creep in amongst the Rovers support. I still maintain we will be OK, but a stronger mathematical reinforcement of this belief would be greatly received.
Saturday may have been a heartbreaking way to lose a game, so brazen Cardiff’s daylight robbery I expect it’ll feature on the next series of The Real Hustle. But, if you read the statements and the mood coming from within the club whilst we’ve been shaking our heads and shrugging at colleagues who have asked about the result, then you can only be encouraged.A snippet of the positivity being shown on the official club website here from Jamie Coppinger; “There are a lot of positives we can take out of the last three performances”. Brian Stock; “We’re looking more like a team.” And George Friend; “If we play as well as we did [against Cardiff], I am sure we will get the three points”.
And in essence I agree with George Friend. On Saturday Rovers were excellent in every department bar one; putting the ball in the net. And that should not necessarily be put down to a failure of our forwards; Cardiff’s Tom Heaton made a number of good saves and a couple of excellent ones. If Rovers can perform as well as Saturday in just half their remaining games then they will most certainly stay in this division. Am I worried? I’ve been asked this a lot lately, but the answer is no. Am I tense? Damn right I am. If you want a marker of how significant tonight’s game could be, I’ve booked two days off work to make sure I can attend it.
But whilst this match is significant enough for Rovers, its importance for Preston is much, much greater. Doncaster swept Preston aside at Deepdale in the first half of the season’s opening game; at the time we took it as a reinforcement of just how strong this Rovers side is, but on reflection its clear it as more an indicator of how much trouble North End were in. A rotten season has seen North End in or about the relegation places for the duration. That they are not already down and out is down to the spirit instilled by new(ish) manager Phil Brown.
Yes, Hull’s most famous karaoke singer and self-proclaimed saviour of the Humber Bridge’s suicidal has breathed new life into North End, and at the very least ensured they won’t go down without a fight. Defeat at Reading last Tuesday ended a run of three successive victories, including a home win over promotion chasing Swansea. This is a big week for the Lancastrians with a home game against fellow doom-fighters Sheffield United to come on Saturday, and it is up to Rovers to make the latter of these two the more vital match for Preston. If you think I’m bigging this game up fear not, the official PNE website has surpassed all contenders in the hyperbole stakes labelling this match as “what could be classed as the club’s biggest game so far in their Championship history”. Admittedly they don’t say which club.
The big news for Rovers coming into this match is that they will be without Joseph Mills, with the defender still suffering with the hamstring injury which forced him off against Cardiff on Saturday. Billy Sharp, Martin Woods, James Chambers and Adam Lockwood all remain absent with injury too whilst this game is also likely to come too soon for James O’Connor who only recently resumed training.
Phil Brown will be out the services of his main man for this fixture, no hot himself, but club captain Sean St Ledger who remains out injured. Also on the sidelines according to the North End website are Leon Cort, Amine Linganzi and David Gray, the latter apparently suffering with Life in Slow Motion (yes, I know, but I couldn’t resist). However Preston are boosted by the loan extension of goalkeeper Iain Turner and the return to the squad of former Rover and therefore inevitable goalscorer Chris Brown.
Predicted Rovers line-up:
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, Shelton Martis, Matt Kilgallon, George Friend; Brian Stock, Simon Gillett, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger, Franck Moussa; James Hayter
subs: Gary Woods, Wayne Thomas, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Ryan Mason, Dean Shiels, Jason Euell
Travelling to the Game
Preston, like Cardiff on Saturday are making their third visit to the Keepmoat Stadium, so most of the travelling support are likely to have been to DN4 before. If however you are coming to the Stadium for the first time you can find all you need to know about the ground in our very own guide. Everything from how to get here on foot or by car, to where to have a pint or pick your tickets up is detailed under the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of the page.
As mentioned earlier in this preview I have abandoned my paid employment to make the trip north for a midweek home game for the first time since last August and as such will be able to provide rare midweek Twitter coverage for you all. Viva Rovers’ much heralded in-game live twitter feed will (phone signal depending) be updating you on the match in bursts of 140 characters or less throughout the game. If you’re on Twitter follow @vivarovers and look out for the #drfc hashtag for our take on the game, and. if you’re not a Twitter user fear not, you can still keep up with our reporting by refreshing the page at twitter.com/vivarovers.
If its proper live commentary you’re after then you’ll need to access the club’s own Rovers Player service, although technical faults of late would suggest you’d be wiser subscribing to the equivalent service from Preston. If you’re in South Yorkshire or Lancashire expect updates on the match via BBC local radio. Alternatively online there are regular updates via BBC website’s Live Text service, although they do take a bit of a nudge to keep up with play. On the box the red button gives you access to a vidiprinter accompanied by the radio coverage being broadcast on Five Live; a much better option than old men yelling over each other in an effort to get more screen time on a more evil network.