A dominant performance against Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night has set up the bizarre prospect of hosting our landlords, Birmingham City, in the FA Cup next week. With an important away trip to Doncaster Rovers still to play, we cannot afford to let our focus slip from the immediate horizon.
This is one of those knife-edge fixtures that a congested League One table continues to spatter out this season. Victory would maintain pressure on the automatic promotion places, defeat could see us slip out of the top six. There is little margin for error.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the performance on Tuesday night was just how fluent we looked despite having made five changes to the starting line-up. Every single player who came into the team made a good case for starting this game, which leaves Mark Robins with some considerable selection dilemmas.
As impressive as Josh Pask and Brandon Mason were in the wing-back positions, it still feels as if Fankaty Dabo and Sam McCallum have those positions locked down at this moment in time. Maxime Biamou’s brace and all-round play poses some food for thought for Mark Robins up front, however, Matt Godden’s recent hat-tricks will keep him in vogue for the time being.
The toughest decision will be who starts in those advanced midfield positions behind Godden. The performances of Zain Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley have been a massive part of our recent success, however, the energy and skill that Jamie Allen and Callum O’Hare displayed earlier this week could give us another gear if replicated on a consistent basis. Stability or the search for improvement? Any decision in those positions would be justifiable.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting against Doncaster Rovers was set to be an interesting tactical battle between two of the division’s most possession-focused sides. In the event, Doncaster seemed content to hit us on the counter-attack, after an initial spell of high pressing, seeing the Sky Blues dominate large spells of the contest.
Both sides spurned some good early chances before Doncaster’s Ben Whiteman slotted home from the edge of the area after a lightening break. The second-half was mostly one-way traffic in our favour, but we didn’t seem like breaking through until Amadou Bakayoko smashed in a late equaliser from a set-piece routine.
Manager – Darren Moore
With his harsh mid-season sacking at West Bromwich Albion last year still fresh in the memory, Darren Moore has set about during in his time at Doncaster Rovers trying to prove that he has more about him as a manager than simply the motivator figure he appeared to be at The Hawthorns.
Arriving relatively late in the summer, with key players from a top six side last season leaving or having left and largely restricted to loans and free transfers, Moore has done a remarkable job in maintaining Doncaster’s status as viable top six candidates. One of the division’s most possession-based sides, Doncaster’s recent run of four wins in a row has been built on a rock-solid defence and a creative midfield.
Who To Look Out For?
Ben Sheaf and Ben Whiteman are the two most impressive players at Doncaster Rovers this season and have formed a very strong central midfield partnership. Sheaf is the deep-lying orchestrator while Whiteman supplies the energy and presence in the centre of the park. Both are highly likely to find themselves in the Championship next year.
39 year-old James Coppinger is, remarkably, still a key creative figure in this Doncaster side. His years of experience have allowed him to develop an innate understanding of how to maximise his influence on a game in the most efficient manner possible. Whether it’s standing directly behind the striker, pulling out wide or dropping deep, the game always seems to gravitate towards Coppinger, who tends to move the ball on quickly to drag opponents out of shape.
The recent impressive record that Doncaster have has been built upon a strong back four and goalkeeper. Centre-back Tom Anderson has developed into a dominant defensive presence over the course of the season, forming a solid partnership with colleague Joe Wright. Goalkeeper Seny Dieng is an incredibly commanding presence in his penalty area, which can suck the life out of opposing attacks. Full-backs Reece James and Brad Hallliday are not only good defenders but energetic and technical enough to consistently support attacks and offer an outlet in possession.
While Doncaster seem to lack a reliable goalscorer in attack, wide-men Kieran Sadlier and Jon Taylor’s directness has been a key source of goals and assists. The improving Wolves loanee Niall Ennis provides a physical presence and pace up front, even if he is yet to develop a killer instinct in front of goal.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The main area of tactical interest heading into this game is whether Darren Moore will alter Doncaster’s style in response to our threat, as he did at St Andrew’s. As the home side, it feels as if Doncaster will be behooved to take the game to us, which could make this an entertaining clash between two attractive sides who are both in good recent form.
If Doncaster do take the game to us, this is going to be a test of our defensive organisation. With the shape we play, we can get overloaded down the flanks if the advanced midfielders don’t track the opposing full-backs. There is a danger though, if they do, that we end up getting pinned back, leaving Matt Godden with little attacking support.
Where Doncaster have been weakest this season has been on the counter-attack. This makes the case for starting Callum O’Hare especially strong, given that he is a more direct ball-carrier in midfield than the likes of Zain Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley.
With both teams having struggled to consistently convert chances throughout the campaign, where this game will truly be won or lost will be down to whomever is the most clinical on the day.