Match Preview: Sheffield Wednesday v Doncaster Rovers
All eyes will be on the dugout at Hillsborough this Saturday as Doncaster Rovers travel to Sheffield Wednesday for a first South Yorkshire derby between the pair since 2014. Since Darren Moore traded DN4 for S6 back in March, fortunes for both clubs have trended downwards, and his first meeting with the club he abandoned in the midst of a promotion push is sure to be a feisty one, bolstered by the fact that upwards of 2000 Rovers fans will be in attendance at Hillsborough.
Read on for a look at both teams heading into the game, plus a trip down memory lane in the head-to-head, and a stab at the likely line-ups for both sides.
Piecing Things Together
As a direct consequence of Darren Moore’s decision to move on, Rovers are in the midst of an almighty rebuild and are trying to integrate 10 new players at time of writing, with more additions hoped for by manager Richie Wellens. Wellens is picking up the pieces of Moore’s mess and the opening weeks of the season are proving to be as testing as possible, with injury and Covid disrupting the new manager’s attempts to foster cohesion in his charges.
Moore meanwhile was unable to save his new side from relegation to League One, and Wednesday remain a club beleaguered by off-field financial and operational problems. That hasn’t stopped the former Barnsley defender from wheeling and dealing this summer though, as he too embarks on a rebuild of his squad – 14 players have come through the door, mostly on free transfers and loans as was the case when he was with Rovers – and that influx was felt in a choppy 0-0 draw at Charlton last Sunday.
Rovers of course kicked off with defeat at home to Wimbledon, but will be hoping a penalty shoot-out win over Walsall in the Carabao Cup midweek will create some confidence for a game in which both managers have plenty to prove. Wellens waits on news of a potential positive Covid case in midfielder Matt Smith, which would force him and Charlie Seaman out of the game as a close contact, whilst John Bostock is battling a groin issue and Tommy Rowe missed the Walsall game with an achilles injury.
For Wednesday, Olamide Shodipo is battling a hamstring injury picked up in their Carabao Cup loss to Huddersfield, and his absence would be good news for Rovers since Shodipo scored against them whilst on loan at Oxford last season. Key player Josh Windass is the Owls’ only long-term absentee, a loss which reduces the team’s attacking threat with Callum Paterson chosen as the starting centre forward at Charlton. Moore deployed a 4-3-3 formation in that game but the ponderous play-from-the-back style will be very familiar to frustrated Rovers fans after the past two years.
Rovers are on a five-match winning streak against their county rivals, but that run encompasses matches in the Championship between 2009 and 2014 so will have little-to-no bearing on Saturday’s clash. The Reds won those five games without conceding a goal in fact, with the most memorable of those surely being the 2-0 victory at Hillsborough under the lights in February of 2010, in which on-loan defender Elliott Ward scored a miraculous overhead kick to set Sean O’Driscoll’s side on the way to three points.
The last clash between the two came at the Keepmoat in 2013/14, with Paul Dickov’s side winning 1-0 courtesy of a Chris Brown goal before going on a wretched run of one win in the final nine games to go down in agonising fashion non the final day. The only surviving players from that game are Wednesday veterans Sam Hutchinson and Liam Palmer, although both teams had future international goalkeepers in their ranks – England keeper Sam Johnstone in the Rovers goal and Argentina’s Copa America winning goalie Emi Martinez backing up Chris Kirkland on the Owls’ bench.
Bodies are dropping leaving Rovers with little option in who to choose in the XI, although a potential midfield signing on Friday may help Wellens in his selection. Otherwise, Omar Bogle and Tiago Cukur may start together for the first time in the front three, whilst Cam John figures to deputise at left-back in the event Rowe is unavailable or pushed into midfield. Wednesday added Dutch winger Sylla Sow to their ranks in midweek, and he could come straight in to the attack in place of defender-by-trade Jaden Brown.
Most Rovers fans will not be expecting too much from this game, between the disparity in resources that the two sides have and the fact that Richie Wellens is battling numerous factors just to put a coherent team together at the moment. Darren Moore has signed a clutch of talented players to add to experienced heads already in his Wednesday squad, and with 20,000 plus Owls fans cheering their team on at Hillsborough, it will be a tall order to come away with anything from the game.
That said, never say never – the players that do turn out for Rovers will be up for the occasion and give it their all, it just may be a step too far to expect victory. What a boost it would be though to snatch three points from a local rival, especially one managed by a man who left Rovers in bitter fashion only a few short months ago.
Be sure to also check out our interview with Owls fan Jude Hall discussing this weekend's game in the latest edition of Opposition Talk, published earlier this week.