League One Match Preview: Wigan (A)
It has been as good a start as anyone could have hoped for at Doncaster Rovers in 2020/21, with plenty to enjoy in each of the team’s first three games. Darren Moore will look to keep the momentum going when he takes his side across the Pennines to take on Wigan Athletic tomorrow, hoping for a performance in the same style as the excellent win at Charlton two weeks ago.
Rovers’ fourth game of last season was controversially called off due to opponents Bolton’s financial problems, eventually settled by a takeover, and some eyebrows may have been raised when the fixtures for this season threw up crisis club Wigan in the same slot, but news this week that a deal to save the club has been agreed means football might just be able to take centre stage at the DW Stadium this weekend.
One More Round for Copps
Jason Lokilo’s hamstring injury, suffered on his first league start for the club last weekend, means another re-think is needed for Darren Moore in his attacking line-up, with loanee Rayhaan Tulloch still a week or two away from returning from his own hamstring problem. That means 39-year-old James Coppinger looks set to start for the first time in League One this season after impressing off the bench in the second half against Bristol Rovers.
Copps was his usual majestic self on Saturday, playing a key role in Jon Taylor’s strike in the 4-1 victory and his presence in the side helped Rovers to settle down and control proceedings after a somewhat frantic period of play. Where exactly he fits into the side now that Moore has reworked his midfield for the new season remains a key question, but whether he is deployed on the left flank or as a roving #10, he will surely have a crucial part to play against Wigan if selected.
It should be as-you-were across the rest of the team, as the selected players have hit the ground running in these opening weeks and deserve the opportunity to keep building on that fine start.
Don’t Take Latics Lightly
Wigan may be the most troubled club in the EFL at present but that doesn’t mean they will be pushovers for Rovers. We are mere months removed from the Latics essentially being a top half Championship side, and whilst a swathe of players from that squad have now departed (along with manager Paul Cook) there remain some very good, experienced players at this level in their ranks and they earned a very creditable 2-1 win at Portsmouth last Saturday to get their season going.
Former Rovers midfielder John Sheridan took the reins a few weeks ago, and he will have a near fully-fit squad to choose from after defender Tom Pearce came through a calf issue that forced him off at Pompey, whilst the back-line will be further boosted by the loan signing this week of promising young Leicester player Darnell Johnson, a Godson of former England striker Emile Heskey. Midfielder Gary Roberts is the only first team player guaranteed to be missing through injury.
Whilst the defence is fairly patchwork and the heart of midfield reduced pretty much just to inexperienced duo Perry and Merrie, things are brighter in attack. 32-year-old striker Joe Garner is a proven goalscorer in the EFL and has four goals in five games to start this season, whilst Lee Evans and Kal Naismith are more than capable providers behind him in the attacking midfield positions, so Rovers will have to be on it defensively to contain Wigan.
Our focus for the main area of importance in the game falls on Evans, a Welsh international who scored in the win over Portsmouth. The former Sheffield United midfielder will look to create from the #10 position as well as make late runs into the box as he did for that opener at Fratton Park, meaning Ben Whiteman will have to watch him like a hawk in defensive situations and central duo Tom Anderson and Joe Wright will have their hands full trying to contain Evans as well as stifle the attacking output of Garner.
Rovers will also have to be wary at set pieces, not just from the likes of Evans running in but from potential free kick taker Tom James, who netted a rocket of a shot off the left flank last Saturday and will look to maraud into dangerous areas from his slot at right back.
Wigan did the double over Darren Ferguson’s Rovers the last time these sides found themselves in League One together in 2017-18, although that pair of wins snapped a six-game unbeaten run for Rovers against the Latics. Will Grigg scored the only goal at the Keepmoat on the final day to seal the title for the visitors in what proved to be the last game of the Ferguson era, although the Scotsman missed the game himself due to a family emergency.
Wigan won 3-0 at the DW Stadium earlier in the season thanks to a brace from Ryan Colclough, who made national news that night because he had to be substituted in order to rush to see the birth of his child - which he apparently did in full match kit - after being informed from the stands that his partner had gone into labour.
Rovers last tasted victory at Wigan in an LDV Vans Trophy game in 2002, with a goal from Mark Albrighton springing an upset for the then-Conference side against a Latics team containing prominent goalkeeper Dave Beasant, future Rovers striker Neil Roberts and a young Leighton Baines, latterly of Everton and England.