Remember November, remember when we were riding high (well 7th) with not a care in the world? And the Keepmoat Stadium, aided by a special ticket promotion, was at its fullest for some time for the visit of high-flying Swansea, and Rovers matched them, and but for an injury-time equaliser would have beaten them and gone into 5th place. Remember that? You weren’t dreaming. Despite the Swans’ goal coming from the Dr Seuss-like sounding Angel Rangel it was real, and it was this season. Where did it all go wrong?
Well the statistics don’t lie. Since those heady Autumn days of comebacks against Millwall and victories at Fratton Park Rovers have won just four matches. Less than one a month. It’s the sort of form that could drag you into a relegation battle, and ultimately, with four games remaining, it has done just that. Of course its easy to romanticise about what might have been; if we’d held on to that 3-1 lead at Reading we wouldn’t be where we are now. If Billy Sharp had stayed fit, we wouldn’t be where we are now. If we’d had only half the injuries we’ve had, we wouldn’t be where we are now. All true, but all factors which must be dismissed ahead of the run in.
Despite the “disgrace” of last Saturday’s defeat at Hull and the subsequent messageboard backlash which saw more knee-jerk reactions than the plexor of a retiring GP, what is required of the Rovers now, is no different to what was required of them before they went to the KC Stadium. Win one of the remaining games and they should be safe. Win two and they’re home and dry. One more victory will mean Scunthorpe and/or Preston will need to win three of their remaining four games to catch us; an unlikely scenario.
For Rovers fans there have been signs of encouragement in recent home games. The fluid football has, to an extent, returned and the side has begun to create chances. But for a bit of luck, and lesser performances from the opposition goalkeepers Rovers would have defeated both Cardiff and Preston. If the side replicates either of those performances today, particularly the showing against Cardiff then they can expect to defeat a Palace side which has won only once on the road all season.
However, it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that “the shambles that masquerades as our defence” as one messageboard poster labelled them this week, has shipped an almighty amount of goals. And a failure to keep the ball out of our own net, and inability to convert the chances in front of the opposite one have been the side’s downfall of late, and something Palace will be hoping to take advantage of.
Dougie Freedman’s men have been in and around (as Andy Townsend might say) the relegation places all season, and have relied on their home form to keep them in touch with the rest of the division. The Eagles had looked to be pulling away from the drop zone until they went and lost to Scunthorpe at home last weekend to make the run-in decidedly more nervy for their own fans and ours. Thanks Palace. With the play-off hunting Hull, Leeds and Forest to come in their remaining games the Londoners will be desperate for victory today.
Rovers remain without six players; defenders Adam Lockwood, James Chambers and Joseph Mills are all out injured as are Martin Woods and Paul Keegan and top-scorer Billy Sharp. Fingers are crossed for Mustapha Dumbuya who may be able to return from a hamstring injury to feature, though is perhaps more likely to be saved for Monday’s South Yorkshire derby at Oakwell.
Palace are without Sean Scannell, suspended after being dismissed in last Saturday’s defeat to Scunthorpe United. Also absent are Alex Marrow and David Wright, both injured with this game coming just a little too soon for their recovery. However, striker James Vaughan is rumoured to be fit again having recovered earlier than expected to an ankle injury which was supposed to keep him out for the rest of the season.
Predicted Rovers line-up:
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Wayne Thomas, Matt Kilgallon, George Friend; Brian Stock, Simon Gillett, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger, Franck Moussa; James Hayter
subs: Gary Woods, Shelton Martis, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Ryan Mason, Dean Shiels, Jason Euell
Travelling to the Game
Palace have fond memories of the Keepmoat Stadium, they haven’t won here, but they did get to see Neil Warnock waving goodbye to their club on the Doncaster pitch last season. A warm and enjoyable moment. For the Eagles who have not been to DN4 before 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.
Issue 52 of Popular Stand; a football fanzine for the likes of Doncaster, is out today. The printed ‘zine will be on sale outside the ground up to kick-off and still costs just £1. Sellers will be positioned in The Toad and outside the South Stand from around 1:30pm, and then also outside the West Stand and by the statue in the South East corner from about 2pm.
You know its serious when the national media take an interest in the likes of Doncaster. BBC Radio Five Live will be at the Keepmoat Stadium and broadcasting the match live, so I implore all those in the rows in front of the press box to stand up at will and make Alan Green’s afternoon thoroughly infuriating. For those beyond the country’s borders live coverage is also available via the club’s Rovers Player service, albeit for a fee.
Viva Rovers much heralded live match Twitter feed will be present and (phone battery and reception permitting) will be bringing you updates throughout the match in 140 characters or less. However, given the coverage offered by Five Live I will probably take the opportunity to rest my tweeting thumb and actually watch more of the game, so tweets may not be as thorough as usual. Still 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.