Just when it seemed like the season was petering out in the worst way imaginable, the team has suddenly rediscovered the winning habit again. We haven’t become an amazing side all over again, with luck playing a big role in both of our last two wins. It was the kind of luck, or rather taking advantage of the small margins, that had deserted us over the previous 10 or 15 games. It may simply be the case of us regressing back towards the mean after a poor run.
A late play-off push is a possibility but a very remote one, it’s put into sharp focus just how costly it was to have seemingly giving up on the season when we lost to Colchester (which I admit is something I did myself). Let’s forget about just how far we’ve fallen for the moment and just focus on these final three games. If there’s the remotest possibility that we can still make the play-offs, let’s just accept it for what it is and at least give ourselves a chance.
Tony Mowbray made a rare tactical deviation away from his preferred 4-2-3-1 for the Bradford game in deploying a 3-4-2-1 formation. I wasn’t at the game on Tuesday night, so I’ll leave it up to those who were there to decide how successful a formation that involved playing Romain Vincelot as centre-back and Sam Ricketts as an attacking wing-back was, but it was encouraging that Mowbray was willing to think outside the box, especially as it came after a winning performance.
As ever, it’s a mystery as to whether Mowbray will stick with the same team for the following game. Andy Rose‘s goalscoring impact from the bench is likely to hold a big sway over his thinking, it will be interesting to see whether Mowbray decides to stick with something that appeared to work or adapts to the opposition.
Last Time We Met
The last time we played Doncaster, we were still riding high following the evisceration of Gillingham and were looking forward to seeing our favourite players dismantle an ordinary-looking opposition. The team headed into the game off the back of an underwhelming 0-0 draw with Bradford on a Tuesday night which featured a heavily rotated side. Momentum from that Gillingham win had to be milked for everything it was worth and taking all three points from a run-of-the-mill home game against mid-table opposition was obligatory.
The visitors were surprisingly resilient and probably the better side before Adam Armstrong gave us the lead by scoring the kind of goal that simply isn’t a chance for most other strikers as he collected a deflection with a poor first-touch and fired home. Things looked like settling down as we held onto possession for the rest of the first-half and the start of the second, that was until Reice Charles-Cook parried a shot into the path of Nathan Tyson to equalise from close range. Karma’s John Fleck made sure of a draw by first firing home a typical long-ranger to put us back in front before he then passed the ball to Nathan Tyson to leave the Donny forward unmarked to make it 2-2.
How Are They Doing?
If we thought our collapse had been bad, spare a thought for Doncaster Rovers fans. Darren Ferguson had overseen a rapid improvement upon his arrival at the club in October which had many (including me) tipping them to make a surge towards the top six in the second half of the campaign. Since the 7th of January, Doncaster have won just one game to leave them on the brink of relegation to League Two.
It’s hard to put the finger on just what has gone wrong for Doncaster. The loss of form of the capricious forward Andy Williams has been a big factor as has Darren Ferguson’s managerial style in dropping several of the club’s experienced, battle-hardened pros in favour of inexperienced, lightweight ones. Yet it doesn’t still quite explain it, Doncaster have in general played well over this extended slump but have just been unable to get results.
With our hosts knowing that they absolutely have to win to give themselves the remotest possibility of still staying up, they shouldn’t be underestimated. The recent loan signings of the tigerish Tommy Rowe and former Sky Blue hero Gary McSheffrey have added leadership and direction to the side. Rowe has added a presence to Donny’s midfield, whilst McSheffrey has been a key source of creativity.
Darren Ferguson will have been encouraged too by Andy Williams’ recent return to goalscoring form and midfielder Richard Chaplow’s return to full fitness. Combined with Rowe and McSheffrey, Doncaster are looking much more like the competitive side at this level that they really should be. It all looks like it’s happening far too late, but there is a bit between Doncaster’s teeth over the past few games.
Aside from a general lack of confidence, the main weakness is in Doncaster’s defence. Andy Butler and Craig Alcock in the centre are fierce competitors but Butler lacks pace and Alcock is 5 foot 6. Mitchell Lund at right-back is struggling to hold his own in his first season as a professional and Cedric Evina on the left is quick but has flattered to deceive throughout his career. There is also inexperience in goal in the form of Norwich loanee Remi Matthews.
A defeat for Doncaster could confirm relegation but a win could put them within two points off safety with two games to go. They are a team who are in danger without necessarily having been one of the worst teams in the division, so they are going to be a dangerous side looking for one big performance to keep them alive. I think we can expect an energetic performance from our opponents and we’ll have to anticipate being on the back foot for large portions of the game.
However, that will inevitably leave room down the other end of the pitch for us to exploit if we’re smart enough on the counter. It’s likely to be an open, entertaining game of football and if we defend well, with another big performance from Reice Charles-Cook, I fancy us to come out on top. My prediction here is that we will win this game 2-1.