After lacklustre back to back home performances Rovers travel to Ipswich for arguably their toughest game in a month from which manager Dean Saunders has targeted the collection of a minimum of eight points. Though Doncaster have had some luck over Ipswich in the past, remaining unbeaten against the Tractor Boys in their first four meetings since Rovers return to the second tier, that run came to a crashing end with Town’s 6-0 win at the Keepmoat Stadium last season.
The teenage talent of Connor Whickham, who scored a hat-trick in that game, may have moved on, but Ipswich remain a telling threat, and despite some heavy defeats on the road this season; 7-1 at Peterborough and 4-1 at Millwall they remain firmly in mid-table. Indeed their league position (currently 13th) belies a very talented squad, particularly in midfield where they boast great experience in Lee Bowyer, Keith Andrews, Jimmy Bullard and of course perennial talent we’re all familiar with in Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. In short, they offer a significant challenge to Dean Saunders’ side.
Given the events leading up to Tuesday’s game, our match report inevitably focussed on the emotional night it was for Billy Sharp. That was after all his night. So now, three days later we will acknowledge the actual game itself in wider terms and the concern offered by Rovers frankly awful second half showing. “Going down” chanted the massed hordes of visiting Middlesbrough fans sometime after the hour mark, and on what was being served up at that point it would be very hard to disagree with them. A meagre effort from the edge of the box from George Friend Doncaster’s only shot on target in the final hour of the game, as they struggled to retain possession or even control the football. Yes, we had looked bright and inventive and determined in the opening half hour, but beyond that we looked like a side occupying bottom place in the Championship table.
A quick nose around the internet after Tuesday’s defeat saw much blame being labelled at the defence and goalkeeper, and even peculiarly the referee, for the defeat. And whilst the back five were poor, the real problem for Saunders surely lies in midfield. With John Oster and Brian Stock injured and Mark Wilson loaned out to Walsall he has just one recognised central midfielder remaining in his squad; poor Simon Gillett. On Tuesday Herita Ilunga had a second go at being a holding midfielder, before being swapped for George Friend, and Ryan Mason was thrust into the middle alongside Gillett, a position which really does not suit his game. The result was a failure to hold on to the ball, the forwards coming in to the middle to try and help get it back, and ‘Boro duly having a field day in the space subsequently created on the wings. Admittedly Saunders has been dealt an unfortuante blow with knocks to Oster and Stock, Rovers two most adept midfield players, but the decision to allow Wilson to go on loan the morning of Oster’s surgery remains a confusing decision whilst we watch a succession of full-backs ‘have a go’ at being midfielders.
The positive from Tuesday night was the performance of El Hadji Diouf. I have no time for him as a person, but I am willing to concede that, when not appealing to the referee for perceived affronts on his human rights when tackled, he is an excellent footballer. His touch on the ball and vision was far ahead of that of much of his team-mates and hopefully he’ll be as keen to make a positive impression against Ipswich as he was on his debut. Sadly the inclusion of Diouf means that Jamie Coppinger is likely to remain on the bench, unless Saunders makes another shift in formation to incorporate the attacking midfielder who has looked one of Rovers’ best players when introduced in the last two home matches.
A rare burst of official information with the Rovers website bringing us a new feature “Injury Update with Dean Saunders”. I like to think it was delivered in a Play Your Cards Right style, with Dean in a sparkly jacket asking “Higher than a groin strain? You’re going higher than a groin strain? Lets see… Yeaahh, its John Oster’s neck”. Anyway. The short of it is, the following folk are injured and unlikely to feature in this fixture; James Chambers, Adam Lockwood Martin Woods, John Oster, and Chris Brown. Paul Keegan is “close to playing”, whilst Ryan Mason “has a little bit of a bad injury”. Saunders, you’ll note, is no Quincy. No mention of Rachid Bouhenna, so we know not whether he is injured, he was at the game Tuesday though, that I can vouch for, as I tried unsuccessfully to sell him a fanzine.
Ipswich Town have several injury problems of their own and will be without defender Ibrahima Sonko, who is has a hamstring tear. Also ruled out of contention are Damien Delaney and Lee Bowyer with foot and back injuries respectively. Three other members of Paul Jewell’s squad are doubts for the game; Nathan Ellington, Keith Andrews, and Daryl Murphy all looking to overcome knocks to feature on Saturday. The one boost for Jewell is the return of Aaron Cresswell from suspension.
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; Pascal Chimbonda, Richard Naylor, George Friend; Herita Ilunga; Simon Gillett, Ryan Mason, Jamie Coppinger; James Hayter, El Hadji Diouf; Billy Sharp
subs: Jonathan Maxsted, Shelton Martis, James O’Connor, Giles Barnes, Kyle Bennett
Ipswich, good old Ipswich, though its prices may be out of touch with the common man, it remains a traditional football ground close to the town centre. If you’re driving to the game follow the A14 around Ipswich (towards Felixstowe) until you get to the A137 Ipswich turn-off, which you need to take. Stick with this road towards the town centre and you will eventually see the ground on your left. There is limited on-street parking close-by, a few car-parks on Portman Road itself and a number of other town centre multi-storeys available too.
If you’re travelling by train then you’ll be glad to hear Portman Road is very close to the train station. Walking directions are as follows; come out of the station, walk in a straight line towards the town centre, arrive at the ground. If you somehow get lost between station and stadium then how you managed to make it as far as Suffolk on a train is a complete mystery.
Sadly the cost of this game has again prohibited us from making the trip to Suffolk. We will however, battery and internet pick-up depending, be giving updates on the game via our twitter feed.And given that we’ll be positioned on the terrace at Oxford Street, you’ll get updates on Rossington Main too. Follow @vivarovers for these in-game 140 character or less despatches and look out for the #drfc hashtag.
If you want live match action, then there are plenty of non-league games happening in the borough for you to take in. Highest ranked of the local non-league sides playing at home on Saturday are Goole AFC, they welcome Sutton Coldfield to the Victoria Pleasure Grounds in the Northern Premier League, Division One South. In the Northern Counties East League Division One, free-scoring Rossington Main entertain Worsborough Bridge Athletic at Oxford Street in a South Yorkshire derby, whilst to the north-east of the town Hemsworth MW host top of the table Albion Sports. One step further down the pyramid there are two local games in the Central Midlands League, Northern Division as Harworth C.I. face Kiveton Park and Thorne Colliery are at home to Parkhouse. All fixtures are 3pm kick-offs so leave the sofa behind and get yourself down to support your local non-league team.