After a strange enforced break, we head back into league action with a run of fixtures, starting with this upcoming game against Doncaster Rovers, that may well provide a better indication of our staying power at the top end of the division than the nine we have played thus far.
There was a sloppiness, possibly born of fatigue, that crept into our last performance against AFC Wimbledon. Of course, the break in momentum risks a different problem, of rustiness, affecting this game, but it is a break that will have been welcome after such a manic start to the campaign.
As ever with Mark Robins in charge, the full extent of the injury news is being kept close to the manager’s chest. Jamie Allen, Jodi Jones and the centre-back, Josh Pask, continue to be long-term absentees, while there is a chance Liam Kelly could be back fit for this game, but it seems unlikely he will be.
With Callum O’Hare having started his first game for us against AFC Wimbledon, and continuing to be our shining light, the one concern entering this game is who might be capable of changing the game from the bench, if required. Whether Gervane Kastaneer, Maxime Biamou or Zain Westbrooke can make the same game-changing impact seems doubtful, although it is preferable to play your strongest possible XI and win the game early rather than leave something in reserve in the hope you can turn things around if they go against you.
Last Time We Met
Although it was still technically possible to make the play-offs as we took on Doncaster Rovers on the final day of last season, it required a six goal margin of victory, and Peterborough to lose, for us to do so.
The season was over and we, understandably, played like a side that didn’t believe the impossible was set to happen. Goals from Kieran Sadlier and John Marquis meant that Doncaster held onto their top six place and our late play-off bid fizzled out despite much excitement over the months prior.
Manager – Darren Moore
Few could contest that Darren Moore’s sacking from West Brom last season while the club was still in a top six place in the Championship was harsh, it was nonetheless hard to gauge from the available evidence whether the inspirational former centre-back was actually a good manager.
Moore has made a great start at Doncaster Rovers in proving that he has the ability to carve out a career for himself in football management. His side are just one point off the play-offs, having played some of the division’s best teams over the opening weeks of the campaign – although, weirdly, they only two of their eight games have been away from home, all while playing an attractive brand of possession football.
Who To Look Out For?
Darren Moore’s excellent start to life at Doncaster Rovers is all the more surprising as he has had to almost entirely rebuild a squad that finished in sixth last season under his predecessor, Grant McCann. Seven of the eleven who started the last meeting between the two sides left the club over the summer, as well as all three substitutes who came off the bench in that game.
Of those that remain, having a man who may well now be legally known as ‘The Evergreen’ James Coppinger to build around has helped maintain a sense of continuity. The creative midfielder has enjoyed a career renaissance in recent years, now 38 years old, having been directly involved in just under one in four of the goals his team have scored since the start of last season.
In addition, former Sheffield United youngster Ben Whiteman is a key presence in midfield, helping retain the possession style of football that was so successful for Doncaster last season and adding the requisite bite and drive to make that style effective. Furthermore, creative forward Kieran Sadlier, who had been around the club last season without nailing down a starting spot, has come into his own under Moore’s management.
Darren Moore’s use of the loan market has helped re-build Doncaster’s squad in a quick and effective manner. Arsenal youngster Ben Sheaf’s presence alongside Whiteman at the base of midfield in Moore’s 4-2-3-1 system offers control of possession as well as defensive discipline. Niall Ennis in attack, on loan from Wolves, offers pace and physicality, while Cameron John, also of Wolves, in central defence is another big physical presence but also very composed in possession – having already drawn the interest of higher league clubs in his first few appearances for Doncaster.
Areas To Exploit
Doncaster play a very attractive brand of short-passing football, although that has been almost to a fault at times this season. They have struggled at times to convert spells of possession into chances in dangerous areas, often becoming frustrated and shooting from range, which has resulted in them being the second-lowest scorers of the sides currently in the top-half of the division.
For Mark Robins, the decision for this game will be whether to go toe-to-toe with Doncaster in maintaining our own passing game or to change things up with a specific game-plan to frustrate a tough opponent who have a very set style of play. As much of a boon it would be to beat a good side by sticking to our own style, being flexible enough to win while changing things up would also be a demonstration of our promotion credentials.