League One Match Preview: Portsmouth (A)
After a blank week due to the international break, Doncaster Rovers return to the field when they take on Portsmouth in League One this weekend. Manager Darren Moore is no stranger to Fratton Park, having spent nearly two years on the South Coast in his playing days. Fixtures between these two sides are usually eventful affairs, and there is plenty to mull over going into this latest clash.
Rovers have also bolstered their squad on Friday’s Deadline Day, adding Southampton winger Josh Sims on loan until January to bolster the attacking ranks as well as bringing in Wales international Matt Smith for the season from Manchester City, adding much-needed depth at central midfield.
New Boys In, Plus a Chance for Fejiri
Smith and Sims are likely to go straight in to the team on Saturday having trained with the squad, and are both fully match fit with Smith starting twice for Wales in the UEFA Nations League in the past fortnight and Sims regularly featuring for Southampton’s U23s in the Premier League 2, in which he has netted three goals in four games already this season. Sims, who looks to be a more comparable replacement for Kieran Sadlier than the injured Rayhaan Tulloch, should start off the left flank opposite Jon Taylor whilst Smith is Moore’s long-awaited replacement for Ben Sheaf in central midfield, allowing Madger Gomes to operate higher up the field.
Seeing Ben Whiteman line up alongside him at Fratton Park will be a welcome sight for Rovers fans, and the club’s ability to keep hold of such a talented and integral player is as good as any incoming made in this transfer window. The team will be without Rayhaan Tulloch due to his ongoing hamstring problems but should have Jason Lokilo back from a similar injury. Tyreece John-Jules picked up an injury on international duty with the club waiting on the results of a scan, but if he is unable to play that paves the way for Fejiri Okenabirhie to come in.
Jacobs the Key for Jackett
In contrast to the incomings at Cantley Park this week, Pompey found their pursuit of primary targets thwarted as approaches for Millwall’s Ben Thompson and former Rovers midfielder Herbie Kane failed, with Kane joining Barnsley instead. Manager Kenny Jackett does however have a full strength squad to choose from on Saturday as Ronan Curtis returned from international duty with the Republic of Ireland unscathed. Ellis Harrison will likely keep his place up front ahead of Rovers legend John Marquis, having come in and scored the winner against Milton Keynes last weekend from the penalty spot.
Jackett favours the 4-2-3-1 formation and his side will look to get the ball into the attacking third quickly, with new signing Michael Jacobs the most likely to affect play in that area. Marcus Harness is also riding high at the moment after netting a hat trick against former club Burton ion a 4-2 win earlier this month, whilst the back four and two sitting midfielders are likely to play in a solid, cohesive shape that will restrict space and make life difficult for the more creative players in Darren Moore’s team.
Whoever starts up front for Rovers will have a tough task finding a way past goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray. The Scotland international keeps a clean sheet on average once every three games and has earned the #1 shirt for this season despite losing the role last term to Alex Bass. Some Pompey fans have expressed their belief that the team would have won the Play-Off Semi Final against Oxford back in the summer if MacGillivray had played, and he has made a strong start to the new season.
The injury picked up by Tyreece John-Jules on international duty this week means Fejiri Okenabirhie is in the frame to start a league game for the first time this season, and he needs to start finding the net when the chances to come to him or else a slump may set in. If he can get back to the ruthless edge he showed in his brief time at the club last season, things will soon pick up for Okenabirhie and this week’s squad additions should help to get the ball to him in dangerous areas.
Prior to last season’s 2-1 home defeat to Kenny Jackett’s side, Rovers were unbeaten in an impressive run of eight games since 2012, and in truth Darren Moore’s side should never have lost that game either. Ellis Harrison’s stoppage time header came very much against the run of play, with Rovers enjoying 62% possession and 26 shots on goal to the visitors’ 7, only to lose the game.
Rovers have managed three victories at Fratton Park in the past ten years, last doing so in October of 2016 when goals from John Marquis and Andy Williams earned a 2-1 win against a Pompey team containing former players Enda Stevens, Curtis Main and Kyle Bennett. Fans will also remember the 4-3 loss at the Keepmoat to the Blues which consigned Rovers to relegation from the Championship in 2012 after a shocking refereeing display from Mick Russell, although Portsmouth went down with Rovers the following week and are yet to return to the second tier.