Whilst it’s hard not to feel that a draw is simply a game you didn’t win, a point away at Bradford on a cold Tuesday has to be seen as a point earned. Whether the few good chances we spurned to take all three points on the night are seen as a missed opportunity or not, depends on whether we get the win in this forthcoming game against Doncaster.
By everything I have read and seen of Tuesday night’s performance, there are few signs that a poor run of form is imminent. The defence was solid thanks to Ben Turner‘s continued presence in the team and a few excellent saves from Reice Charles-Cook. Gael Bigirimana was an able replacement for John Fleck in the centre of the park, showing that he has much more to offer than a somewhat concerning cameo against Gillingham last Saturday. Even though the front four didn’t quite click on the night, we created several great chances against one of the division’s best defences.
With Tony Mowbray having rested a couple of players on Tuesday night, we can head straight into this Doncaster Rovers game with less fatigue than we otherwise might have had at the denouement of a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday schedule. John Fleck’s predicted return to the line-up will allow the Scot to continue his impressive season having avoided an injury scare. The wide-men Jim O’Brien and Ryan Kent will be fresh having been spared a full 90 minutes on Tuesday night.
Ryan Kent in particular appears to be coming to the fore after a frustrating start to his loan spell here. Ever since his substitute appearance against Peterborough, Kent has appeared to be much more productive in the way he uses his trickery and pace. Several great chances at the end against Bradford were as the result of his direct running and ability to beat a man. If he can continue this trajectory, we will have one hell of a player on our hands over the next couple of months.
Last Time We Met
Doncaster inflicted upon us last season two of our most chastening defeats. The first came on Boxing Day last season where Steven Pressley’s Coventry City travelled to Doncaster in reasonably confident mood having witnessed an uplift in form following the embarrassing cup exit to Worcester. Doncaster, having failed to win a home game all season at that point, scored two early goals and watched a limp Coventry City side attempt a riposte. The Sky Blues ended the game with nine men, Adam Barton and James Maddison both sent off for two yellow cards, and failed to register a single shot on target.
A repeat of that debacle looked unlikely in the return game, especially after Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City dominated the first-half and scored a well-worked opener via Dominic Samuel. Failing to capitalise on that dominance proved to be costly as the team proceeded to capitulate almost entirely in the second-half. The defence sent out a welcome committee for Richie Wellens to allow Doncaster to equalise, Chris Stokes was caught in possession to allow Doncaster to take the lead and Aaron Martin‘s brain fell apart to allow Doncaster to walk the ball in for a third goal. It was a miserable afternoon in a miserable season which made it hard to believe anything remotely like this season was on its way.
How Are They Doing?
That win for Doncaster had them near the play-offs late into the season before failing to build momentum, thanks in part to the overly negative tactics of Paul Dickov. Dickov was then handed a healthy budget in the summer to improve the team but once again demonstrated his limitations as a football manager, losing his job in September.
After a protracted recruitment process, which did little to keep the team away from precariously bobbing around the relegation places, Darren Ferguson was appointed as Dickov’s replacement last month. In typical Darren Ferguson style, it has been all-or-nothing since his arrival with Rovers winning five and drawing four of his nine games in charge. In non-typical Darren Ferguson style, that run of form has been built on the foundations of a solid defensive unit.
Ferguson has implemented a 5-3-2 formation in recent weeks to much success with Rovers winning four out of their last five games in all competitions. Andy Butler in the central of that defensive unit has been as solid as his reputation as a high-calibre, no-nonsense League One centre-back would suggest. Craig Alcock, standing at five foot eight, is an unconventionally built central defender but makes up for his lack of height with his reading of the game and playing dirty. Thorsten Stuckmann in goal is another reliable presence in that back line having joined this summer after three and a half seasons of able service at Preston North End.
Doncaster also have two Everton loanees in midfielder Conor Grant and full-back Felipe Mattioni. Grant has caught the eye in recent weeks with the forward thrust and energy he offers the side in midfield. Felipe Mattioni was playing in La Liga last season with Espanyol and was loaned to Doncaster to build up match-fitness before joining his Everton team-mates in January.
Big summer signing Andy Williams has sparked into life since Darren Ferguson’s arrival, scoring five goals in his last eight appearances since the change in manager. Very much a confidence player, Williams can be an incredibly lethal forward at this level when he’s at his best, which he showed last season when he mustered 21 league goals for Swindon.
Doncaster are a dangerous side at the moment but we have to regard this as a game we should win given our opponent’s league position. Now that we have proven we can get the big wins in the games that really matter, it’s back to the business of converting these kind of games into three points. If we are serious about winning promotion, we have to look at games against mid-table teams as chances to demonstrate just how good we really are.
The mentality of the players and fans heading into this game will be all-important, we can’t afford to get over-confident, nor should we be afraid of the favourites’ tag. Whether this current run is simply good form or the quality of this team coming through is impossible to tell at this stage of the season. Now’s the time to milk whatever this is that is going on for absolutely everything. I’m predicting a 3-1 win for the Sky Blues.