I have fond memories of Rovers last trip to St Andrews. Rovers of course lost that game 1-0 having done everything right with the exception of failing on two minor aspects; A. getting the ball into the goal and B. marking giant Cameron Jerome on a set-piece. Rovers pinged the ball about delightfully that game, took the game to The Blues from the outset, stunned their hosts and really deserved much better. And as if the performance wasn’t exciting enough, I got to sit behind Jamelia for the whole game. It still amazes me I remember any of the action.
Sadly though I won’t be there today. Not because of restraining orders taken out by pop-stars, but because alas funds are tight. I’ve spent ten years living away from Doncaster, and where ever I’ve gone I have repelled the Rovers like an identical pole on a magnet . I lived in Lincoln for eight years, the first two spent willing Rovers to get promoted so they could play the Imps. And when they did, on the day of the game, I was in Belgrade watching Wales, the furthest I’d ever been from Lincoln at that point. For the last two seasons I’ve been based in the West Midlands, and on my arrival Birmingham and Wolves got themselves to the Premier League with West Brom following as quickly as possible. The moment I return to the North, back down City come.
Its also unlikely that Rovers will match the fluidity of that performance of three seasons ago. At times against Southampton last weekend Doncaster moved the ball as effectively as they had under Dean Saunders, but its still a world away from the pass and pass and pass and move under his predecessor. Still, it is arguable that though they may not be as aesthetically pleasing as their last trip to Birmingham, Rovers are set up to match their hosts more effectively. The squad is stronger than it was then, both in terms of personnel and physicality, and so set-pieces are no longer faced with an air-raid siren whirring in the heads of supporters.
Rovers of course will be looking to carry forward some self-belief from that victory over the league leaders, and also a steely defensive determination. But they will also need to avoid complacency. Billy Sharp may be scoring goals like only he can, pausing only to collect his Player of the Month trophy, but in the last two home games he has looked incredibly isolated for long spells as Rovers struggle to establish possession in the final third of the field. The loss of El Hadji Diouf is obviously a determinable factor in this, but with the forward missing for a while, it is a concern that an alternative plan has not been forged in his absence.
As for Birmingham, well the Blues are tired. Their impressive exerts in Europe where they continue to match top level sides from across the continent are causing them to play catch-up in the League. Having tapped on the door to the play-offs recently, defeats to Cardiff and Hull City have seen them slip back into the bottom half of the table. Still, games in hand could see City bridge that gap, and Chris Hughton should be commended with the job he’s doing, especially in the face of off-field problems at St Andrews. Still, as we’ve seen often at this level, no matter what’s going on at a club, no set of fans expect to see their side losing to “the likes of Doncaster”.
As well as the long-term absentees which include most notably John Oster, El Hadji-Diouf, Pascal Chimbonda and Tommy Spurr, Rovers are also without Richard Naylor whose finger injury has developed an infection, and Lamine Diatta. The centre-half was signed in the week, but is yet to receive international clearance to complete his move to Doncaster. Adam Lockwood is available again after suspension, whilst George Friend is now fully fit, though is likely to remain on the bench, where he spent most of last Saturday’s match.
Birmingham are likely to bring Curtis Davies back into the side after the defender missed their last game with a one game suspension. Jordan Mutch, familiar to Rovers fans for his loan spell at the Keepmoat, will not feature, the midfielder is back in training after breaking a bone in his ankle, but is not fit enough to return to the side. Liam Ridgewell, every Rovers’ favourite one-time Villa centre-back is also likely to miss out with a thigh injury.
Carl Ikeme; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Habib Beye, Herita Ilunga; Simon Gillett, Herold Goulon, Brian Stock; Jamie Coppinger, Marc-Antoine Fortune; Billy Sharp
On the bench: Neil Sullivan, George Friend, Giles Barnes, Kyle Bennett, James Hayter
If you’re travelling by train St Andrews is walkable from the centre of Birmingham, and indeed you’ll be able to see it from the train as you approach New Street station from the North and East. As you come through the ticket barriers veer towards the left exit (ignoring the escalators up to The Palasades) and then turn left crossing over the lines, going up the slope to the Bullring. At the top of the slope, by the Bull, turn right and go between the Bull Ring entrances towards St Martins Church at the foot of the slope, and pass the church on the shiny Selfridges store side. Cross over the dual carriageway and walk straight on down Digbeth.
Continue along Digbeth until you get to The Rainbow pub and turn left to go under the railway, before the Saab garage. This is Adderley Street and continue along it until you come to the dual carriageway at the end. Cross straight over following the cycle path and continue up the road opposite; Kingston Road. At the top of the hill take the right fork (Kingston Road) and follow this as it becomes a footpath. Turn left onto Coventry Road, and the ground and entrance to the Away End will be on your left. The walk should take around 25 minutes.
If you’re driving the excellent Football Ground Guide offers the following directions and advice. Leave the M6 at Junction 6 and take the A38(M) toward Birmingham City Centre, passing the first turn off (Aston, Waterlinks), but taking the next turn, for the Inner Ring Road. At the top of the slip road take the Ring Road East (signposted Coventry/Stratford) and continue along the ring road for two miles, crossing straight across three islands. At the fourth island (featuring a large McDonalds) turn left into Coventry Road going towards Small Heath and you’ll see the ground is about a 1/4 of a mile up this road on your left.
There is a small car park directly outside the entrance to the away end, but availability of space for cars is determined by how many away coaches are expected as they park in the same car park. There is though plenty of street parking off the left hand side of the ring road. Either around the small park at the third island you cross or along the road next to and behind the BP garage before the fourth island. Bear in mind that if you arrive after 1.30pm these areas are likely to be already full
Away games sadly remain beyond my price range, and it would be sods law that the moment I moved back North from the West Midlands Birmingham City got themselves relegated back into the Championship. We’ll do our best to deliver second hand updates on the game though, so follow @vivarovers and keep an eye out for the #drfc hashtag for these. You may also get the odd update on Rossington Main vs Worksop Parramore which is where we’ll be.
If you’re not going to St Andrews but still need an excuse to get out of Christmas shopping then don’t worry, there are alternative games a plenty taking place on your doorstep. In the EvoStick Northern Premier League Frickley Athletic have a tasty looking Yorkshire derby with Bradford Park Avenue visiting the Tech5 Stadium. In the North East Counties League there are three Doncastrian sides at home. In the Premier Division Armthorpe Welfare host Nostell Miners Welfare at Church Street, whilst in Division One Rossington Main welcome league leaders Worksop Parramore to Oxford Street. All these games kick-off at 3pm. One step down the pyramid there is a Doncaster derby in the Central Midlands League North Division as Harworth Colliery Institute host Bentley Colliery at the Recreation Ground, kick-off for this game is 2pm. Please note; Askern Villa’s home game with Louth Town in NCEL1 has been postponed.