League One Match Preview: Hull City (A)
This is the game. The one most fans looked for before all others when the fixtures were belatedly released in the summer. The one we’d all love to be there for. Hull City. Grant McCann.
Doncaster Rovers are on the road for a first trip to our East Yorkshire rivals since 2012, needing a win to stay in reasonable distance of the table-topping Tigers even at this still fairly early stage of the season.
Options to Call Upon
Manager Darren Moore will have nearly a full squad to call upon for this one, with only long-term absentee Rayhaan Tulloch ruled out completely. Madger Gomes and Tyreece John-Jules both returned from long lay-offs off the bench at Carlisle on Sunday and are in contention to start, bringing a much-needed freshness to the midfield and attacking areas of the team. Winger Jon Taylor may even be fit enough for the bench according to Moore, which would be a real bonus for a player who has been sorely missed these last couple of games.
Rovers come into the game on a decent run, having gone unbeaten in six outings across all competitions (minus the glorified U23s loss to Wolves in the EFL Trophy) so should not be short on confidence, even if performances have been on the lower end in recent weeks. John-Jules coming in to start may be as much to do with his qualities as it is the fatigue of Fejiri Okenabirhie, who hasn’t looked at the races in the past couple of games having had to play 90 minutes consistently as the club’s only available striker.
Both Gomes and Taylor Richards may factor in to a revamped midfield line-up too, adding creativity to a central core that has fluctuated in its play over the games with Blackpool, Sunderland and Carlisle. Moore will no doubt feel glad to have options at his disposal after a tough spell for his squad.
Hull had won six straight games in all competitions prior to Sunday’s dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of League Two strugglers Stevenage, so will need to guard against that anomaly halting their considerable momentum. Grant McCann has taken his side to the top of the division after clinging on to his job for dear life following last season’s frankly unbelievable collapse from January to finish rock bottom of the Championship, and the Tigers have been almost perfect at the KCOM Stadium, losing only to Peterborough whilst winning the rest.
Hull’s playing style will look familiar to Rovers fans as McCann deploys his blood-and-thunder 4-3-3 formation with one hard-working striker flanked by two tricky wingers. One of those is Mallik Wilks, the team’s top scorer so far this term with 8 goals, and a man who proved very popular whilst playing for Rovers under McCann. Hometown boy Keane Lewis-Potter will likely line up opposite Wilks having returned from injury in the loss to Stevenage, whilst one-time Rovers target Greg Docherty should also be fit to figure in some way.
Philosophy at Stake in Manager Battle
Surely the biggest clash in this game will take place on the sideline rather than on the field, as Rovers manager Darren Moore locks horns with his predecessor in the job. Grant McCann is now a loathed figure in South Yorkshire and Rovers fans will be gutted not to be able to go to the game and hurl dog’s abuse at the Northern Irishman who left them in the lurch after preaching loyalty to all who would listen.
Thankfully, it paved the way for Moore to return to a club who held him close to their hearts, and he remains universally popular almost 18 months later. Can the more patient, fluid style of the big man thwart the in-your-face attacking set-up of the terrier?
Ben Whiteman will also be a man in focus, with McCann trying repeatedly to take him to Hull with him and failing in the summer of 2019. Whiteman has developed into the stand-out midfielder in the division but will have his work cut out for him combatting George Honeyman in the heart of the home side’s team.
This is something of a rivalry between two sides from different parts of Yorkshire, and they battled hard in the 2000s as both club’s rose up the leagues. Hull got the better of most of those exchanges, notably when JJ Price netted a hat trick in a 3-1 win for the Tigers in December 2005, shortly before coming to Rovers and going to reach cult hero status at the Keepmoat.
Rovers have won the past two encounters, both in the EFL Cup, with Dave Syers bagging a last-minute winner in a comeback 3-2 win in 2012. However, you have to go back 70 years to find the last time Rovers won a league game away at Hull, triumphing 2-1 in a Second Division clash at Boothferry Park in September 1950. Let’s hope that run stretching a dozen winless games comes to an end this Wednesday night.