ITEN Match Preview: Bristol Rovers (H)
Saturday’s clash with Bristol Rovers is a golden opportunity for Doncaster to right the ship after listing badly in the last two games, going down to successive defeats against Portsmouth and Oxford.
We have been solid at home under Darren Moore – at least until the sucker-punch late on against Pompey a fortnight ago – so will feel well capable of arresting the recent loss of form that has dropped the side to 11th in the table.
Little room to manoeuvre for Moore
Although the manner of defeat at Oxford was damning last time out, Moore will know he has little choice but to stick with the bulk of the side that played out the 3-0 loss. The return to full fitness of Niall Ennis is very welcome as the Wolves loanee has led the line admirably so far this season, but behind him there is little in the way of viable options despite the majority of the team suffering an off-day at the Kassam Stadium.
As we advocated last week, a first start of the campaign for Joe Wright must surely be under consideration in place of Donervon Daniels who, whilst capable enough and an imposing presence at the back, is not yet showing enough to justify keeping Wright out. In midfield, a freshening up of personnel would help the side but the options simply aren’t there, with development squad member AJ Greaves the only like-for-like replacement for Ben Sheaf available on the bench last week.
Darren Moore insists his tactical alterations during games don’t depend on substitutions, and that stance has been clear in recent games where subs have been used sparingly, but it would be of huge benefit to the team if alternate options could be sourced from the bench. As it is, aside from Alfie May and the “different option” of Kwame Thomas up front, it is unlikely Moore will have those alternatives to call upon until either Matty Blair or Kazaiah Sterling return to fitness.
Gas flying despite injuries of their own
Bristol Rovers are another team bang in form ahead of facing Doncaster, up to 4th in the table and only kept from being labelled League One’s “surprise package” by the fact Wycombe are in 2nd. Jonson Clarke-Harris is the main man for the Gas with eight goals already this season, but the combative front man is missing due to a calf injury at the moment, which is good news for us. That said, they didn’t need him last Saturday as a Tom Davies goal sent Milton Keynes packing and moved Graham Coughlan’s side into the Play-Off places.
Clarke-Harris has come a long way since his uneventful loan spell here a few years ago, but it is a more recent Doncaster alumnus who is likely to lead the line at the Keepmoat Stadium. Tyler Smith scored twice on his debut last season but failed to find the net again and joined Bristol in the summer, netting twice for his new side so far. Fellow ex-Doncaster forward Kyle Bennett is also on the books for our next visitors but is unlikely to start, with Tom Nichols or Victor Adeboyejo the most likely strike partner for Smith.
Injuries are also being felt in other positions, with captain Ollie Clarke still fighting back to full fitness and Mark Little also likely to have to settle for a place on the bench as he continues his comeback. Midfield duo Ed Upson and Liam Sercombe both went off injured last time out against Milton Keynes but should be fit to keep their places, but Josh Hare, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis and Sam Matthews remain sidelined alongside Clarke-Harris.
Coughlan prefers a 3-5-2 formation that helps to contain opposition, but the propensity for Doncaster’s more direct players to drive on behind should be an asset against this defence. The lack of a focal point in Clarke-Harris compromises Bristol’s versatility going forward but the pace of Smith will have to be monitored and the role of the full backs will be crucial in terms of balancing getting in behind the Gas wing-backs and maintaining shape at the back.
Meetings have been comparatively rare between these two sides over the past few decades but the sides have met in League One for each of the last two seasons, with Doncaster winning three of those four games. Last term, Grant McCann’s side put eight goals past Bristol over two meetings, John Marquis netting a 30-yard scorcher at the Memorial Stadium to start a 4-0 rout before a James Coppinger double moved us into the Play-Offs in a 4-1 drubbing in March.
Doncaster were the victors in all five of the meetings prior to that, taking place between 2003 and 2008, with a Michael McIndoe hat trick – the first a rebounded goalkeeper clearance off his backside – inspiring a 5-1 win at Belle Vue during the Division Three championship-winning campaign. Overall it means eight wins from nine meetings this side of the millennium, meaning Bristol don’t often relish facing us.
The most famous of those wins was of course the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final in 2007, where Graeme Lee’s extra time header sealed victory in Cardiff for Sean O’Driscoll’s team and served as the catalyst for more success just a year later. Whilst future England international Rickie Lambert lined up for the Gas that day, there is only one survivor in either squad this weekend from that glorious day in Wales…and there are no prizes for guessing who that is.