Fixtures In Focus: Key Games Ahead of Rovers Return
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Clubs across the EFL finally know when they will play their games in the 2020/21 season, which is sure to be the most unusual of our lifetimes. This morning’s reveal has to go down as the most underwhelming Fixture Release Day in history by virtue of the fact that fans will not be able to enjoy attending games as normal. Home gates will likely be limited for much of the campaign and it seems possible at this stage that Rovers fans will be unable to enjoy a single away game, much less the dozen or more many fans usually get to.
Barring a brutal second wave of infections or similar catastrophe however, League One will hopefully be able to see through a full 46 game season this time around and those matches will hopefully be accessible in some way to most Rovers fans, so let’s take a look at some of the stand-out fixtures in the newly-released calendar.
Opportunity Awaits in Opening Weeks
Although the first three games at least will be played behind closed doors - the current government expectation is to allow fans in limited capacities from October 1st - there are good opportunities on paper for Darren Moore to get his side off to a solid start to the campaign.
Rovers play their first three home games against Milton Keynes, Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury, who are all teams with similarly modest ambitions in League One this season and who failed to take more than a point between them from the Keepmoat in 2019/20. The first two away games are trips to relegated clubs Charlton and Wigan, who are both beset by serious financial issues and so may not be at anywhere near full strength by the time Rovers roll into town.
Another potential caveat to our first trip to The Valley since that heartbreaking but memorable Play-Off game last year is the fact that Charlton have announced their intention to use the fixture as a pilot event, meaning home fans may be permitted to attend which would mean only two Rovers league games taking place entirely without fans present. September’s games may be complicated by three additional midweek rounds of Carabao Cup action although Rovers being drawn away to Blackburn in the 1st Round means that may be rendered moot in a week’s time.
Home Comforts and Dark Nights
For the first time in what feels like forever, Rovers have landed the coveted trifecta of playing at home on the first and last day of the season as well as Boxing Day. Milton Keynes arrive on Lakeside for the opening game on September 12th, Accrington come to Lakeside on Boxing Day and recent rivals Peterborough are the visitors on the final day, which this year takes place on the second weekend in May.
That is one measure made to fit 46 league games and a full slate of cup games into the season, but the main element to compensate for the shorter timeframe is an increase in midweek games, and Rovers will have to contend with no less than 12 Tuesday night league fixtures in 2020/21. Seven of those dozen fixtures will be away from home, including long trips to Plymouth and Wimbledon in the first couple of months.
It is somewhat typical that Rovers have finally landed the key date home games that fans often look out for in a season where capacities will be reduced and away followings almost certainly non-existent altogether, but playing bigger sides like Ipswich and Portsmouth at home on Tuesday nights when their considerable travelling contingent would be vastly reduced anyway under normal circumstances helps to mitigate that loss.
Local Clashes in Short Supply
Rotherham’s promotion coupled with Barnsley’s reprieve mean precious few derby matches for fans to get excited about over the next nine months. The only remotely local rivals joining Rovers in League One this season are relegated Hull and cross-county rivals Lincoln in a division heavily weighted towards southern sides, although it won’t be too long a wait until the first home derby of the season.
That comes on Halloween in the form of a visit from the Imps, as Lincoln roll in just six weeks after the opening day on October 31st, with the return game at Sincil Bank on January 30th, which is one week after FA Cup 4th Round day. Most eyes will surely have gone in search of the games with Hull, a side Rovers have not faced in the league since January of 2012, as a rivalry which escalated in the clubs’ time on the rise in the mid-2000s is renewed.
Rovers travel to the KCOM Stadium on December 1st, meaning fans will have to wait until February 20th to potentially see former manager Grant McCann return to the Keepmoat. McCann is not popular round these parts for the manner in which he left the club for the Tigers, with some satisfaction gleaned from his total collapse that led to their relegation this summer. Bizarrely, McCann retains the faith of the beleaguered club for now, but may do well to still be in the post by the time that February fixture comes around.
Coppinger’s Curtain Call
The weekend of May 8th will see the end of James Coppinger’s legendary career at the club - barring a Play-Off run for Rovers - and the powers that be have at least handed him a home game to bow out in. Peterborough United will be the visitors, which may be fitting in another sense as one of Coppinger’s former Rovers managers in Darren Ferguson will be in the away dugout.
Either way, the chance to say goodbye properly at the Keepmoat Stadium is a welcome one for the club, fans and the man himself, and we must all hope that by the time next May comes that the impact of Covid-19 on our daily lives will have lessened and the ground will be allowed to be opened to all for that emotional occasion.
In the meantime, we have one more year to enjoy Coppinger’s exploits on the field in a hooped shirt before he takes his leave and brings to an end a remarkable career that has cemented him as the greatest Doncaster Rovers player of the modern era. Whether it is live at the game, watching along on iFollow or keeping up through other means, all Rovers fans should cherish the chance to see him play one last season for the club.