Although this is just the 23rd and 24th League One fixture for Doncaster Rovers and Morecambe respectively, it feels like a crucial fixture for the chances of each team’s survival at the end of the season.
The Shrimps have had just a few days to regroup following a disappointing 2-1 home defeat to fellow relegation rivals Crewe. Whilst this is Gary McSheffrey’s first official game in charge of Rovers, he has been the caretaker for four games with one victory, one-nil, at home to Shrewsbury Town. It’s been nothing but a brutal season for Doncaster who, apart from the opening week, have been in the 23rd or 24th position.
I have huge respect for their fans who, with few rays of optimism, have kept following their team home and away. I’m delighted to have two of them in the form of Daniel Pearson who runs the excellent 18Dapper Vlog on YouTube and diehard Donny fan Ryan Fisher.
What do they expect from the encounter?
“It’s a very strange time at the moment at Doncaster Rovers as we are going through a bit of a transition, parting ways with Richie Wellens has seemed to have given the players a little more freedom and confidence on the ball.
We should hopefully have a new manager by the time we face each other, at the time of writing we have Gary McSheffrey in temporary charge (he was appointed manager after this was submitted). In terms of this fixture though I expect a tight, cagey affair where neither team can afford to lose but both desperately need to win.”
“With just 1 point and 3 goals scored from 11 away games, I am not expecting much. Injuries will heavily limit our squad selection so even scoring will be a bonus!”
Shrimps’ Team Selections
Again the first huge obvious caveat with any of these selections is the fact that there may be players missing due to COVID-19 precautions which are not known and are impossible to predict.
The other aspect that makes it difficult to predict is that we are coming off the back of a disappointing result and it’s unclear if we will stick with three at the back or revert to our often utilized 4-3-3 formation. I’ve laboured over this prediction, but I feel we will stick with the same formation we’ve gone with for the last three games give or take. However, there will be players brought back into the starting XI.
The first one, if fit, will definitely be Cole Stockton, who has thirteen goals in twenty-one games.
Robbo mentioned in his pre-game interview that ‘the Goal’ was expected to have two full days of training ahead of the game and is hopeful he’ll be fit enough to start.
Jonathan Obika and Jonah Ayunga partnered in a front two, so who will make way to bring Cole back in the team?
Having watched our last game back with this question in mind, Jonah keeps his place based on the fact he was our most lively and threatening player throughout the game.
He forced two saves out of Crewe keeper Dave Richards, completed six of his nine dribbles successfully and was involved in our goal by winning the ball back.
As you can see from the Wyscout map above, his dribbles came in areas all around Crewe’s box. Jon Obika has settled in well considering the five months he’s been out injured and with more minutes, which he will get, I’m certain will make a bigger impact. He’ll be a good option to bring off the bench.
I don’t actually believe we need to dominate possession to have effective patterns of play (just look at our promotion season last year), but we do need to work the ball well when we have it. In the first half against Crewe, we didn’t show the confidence and belief to make good use of the ball, which changed immediately when Toumani Diagouraga (‘Toums’) came on. The shift in confidence to take charge in possession was staggering, but sadly we conceded a soft goal against the run of play.
For this reason, I’d bring in Toums based on his leadership and ability to dictate play when on the ball. In this formation, we need to get possession and feed the ball out to our wing-backs. Toums is calm on the ball and has the ability to spray the ball from side to side with ease.
Robbo mentioned his desire to get Shane McLoughlin back into midfield having been played in the right wing-back position out of necessity. With Ryan Delaney back fit, if he’s brought into the back three that would allow Ryan McLaughlin to move to wing-back and free Shane up to move to midfield.
It’s possible Alfie McCalmont may be fit and ready to return, however, I foresee the gaffer will stick with Aaron Wildig for his experience and dashes into the box. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Alfie start.
Rovers’ Team Selections
“It’s been a tough season for both managers in the hot seat in terms of selection issues. The main problem has been injuries to key players from pre-season which just seems to have been relentless throughout the season. We are yet to put out a full-strength side in my opinion, which helps explain our current position in the table.
We are told some of the players on the treatment table are close to returning so this will provide a bit of a headache for whoever the manager is. Do we put the more experienced player(s) into the team and risk the injury flaring up or do we continue to trust the younger lads as they have been putting a very good level of effort into each game they have played.
It is a very difficult squad to predict this season what with injuries and also, news has come out that we will be looking to replace some of the loans in January, I’m not sure if this business will be done by this fixture or not. That could potentially rule out Galbraith and Smith in the midfield.”
“With Gary McSheffrey now confirmed as permanent manager, he does not have a lot of room to rotate. Injuries have continued to blight our season and with Tom Anderson still doubtful, our only CB options are Ben Blythe and Joseph Olowu. McSheffrey has used 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 so far this season but I think he will go with 4-3-3 here with Ethan Galbraith set to return. Omar Bogle could push to start with Joe Dodoo performing poorly against Sunderland through the middle and he will more than likely be put out on the right.”
“Honestly, for the last 12 months, it’s been almost impossible to see any clear strengths in this or the previous Rovers side. We have been extremely poor since the departure of Ben Whiteman and Darren Moore. There are many other contributing factors to our form over the last 12 months that I could spend pages writing about.
What I will say though is even during a time of struggle I have seen glimpses of what this squad can do. I’ve seen some very neat patterns of play and build-up, I’ve also seen Donny spray the ball about and pull teams from right to left. We just haven’t seen this level of football consistently enough throughout games and we have been lacking the finishing touch, be that the right final ball to the striker or the striker having the composure to finish the move off.
The fans are a huge contributing factor to the players in my opinion too and can work positively for the team. When the crowd are behind them you can see the confidence grow in the players. In the current position, we find ourselves I would say that the fans have as big a part to play in our survival in League 1 as the players and staff do.”
“Individual performances have been the only real strength for us so far this season. Ethan Galbraith has been arguably our only consistent player so far and there is a worry Man United could recall him to send him higher up whether it still be in League One or the Championship. Tommy Rowe has the bulk of our goals from LB and CM and brings much needed experience into the side.”
Having spoken to both Daniel and Ryan throughout the season, they are both an example of the dedication shown by their fans to travel in numbers all over the country. It may sound cheesy, but having fans by their side, even in times of hardship, shows the strength of the club.
Rovers have travelled in their hundreds all over the country despite only having picked up one point. Their fans deserve more. Perhaps with a new leader in charge, they’ll see an improvement to the team performances to add to some promising individual efforts so far.
“One of our biggest weaknesses this season has to be set pieces. Whenever we conceded a corner or a free kick in a dangerous area, be that at a shooting distance or in a position where a decent ball can be lumped into the box, I fear we will concede.
Another major weakness this season has been our inability to find the back of the net enough, at the time of writing we are the lowest scorers in the league with 13 goals in 21 games. It seems that we try to keep the games at 0-0 hoping for an opportunity to grab a goal and win the game 1-0. As soon as we conceded (probably from a set piece) you see the belief drain from the team.
Hopefully, some much needed January additions could fix these weaknesses and help Donny climb out of the bottom four towards safety.
There are also weaknesses with individual players but I don’t really like singling players out for criticism, as I’ve not singled anyone out for individual praise either, in my opinion, the squad as a whole have not been good enough this season and the table does not lie this far into a campaign.”
“Our defending from set-pieces has been nothing short of woeful this season and it is no surprise we have conceded the most set-pieces goals in League One this season.
Our side was already lacking experience going into the season however injuries have made it even more youthful. 5 academy graduates started against Sunderland and at times it was a literal men vs boys type of game.
Gary McSheffrey is taking on his first managerial role and he certainly has his work cut out for him. Is someone this inexperienced the right person for getting us out of the relegation zone? Only time will tell.”
The combination of a real lack of goals – just 13 in 22 games – and a leaky defence, with 39 goals conceded in 22 games makes getting wins even more challenging. Rovers have scored just three goals in eleven games on the road, have earned an average of 0.09 points per game away from the Eco-Power Stadium and have yet to keep a clean sheet.
They’ve only led at halftime once this season and have yet to be in front at the break while on their travels. According to soccerstats.com, Donny have spent just 6.5% of the minutes this season leading. In contrast, The Shrimps have been leading for 18.3% of minutes.
Opportunities Against Rovers
“I would have to say that the best opportunities for Morecambe to have some joy against us will be from crosses and set pieces. Deep crosses towards the back post seem to evade all of our defenders at the minute. The size and power of Stockton could cause us some serious problems.
If the injuries persist and we have some of the younger lads on the field that could be another lucrative avenue for Morecambe, focusing attacks through the less experienced members of our squad could reap some rewards on the day.”
“As mentioned already, we are extremely vulnerable from set-pieces with the worst record in League One from them. Ben Blythe and Brandon Horton will make up a very inexperienced left-sided back 4 which Sunderland ruthlessly exposed in our last outing.”
We’ve not capitalized enough from set-pieces this season, but with this being an area of weakness defensively for Rovers (like it has been for The Shrimps) it could provide an opportunity for Robbo’s men to break the deadlock.
Anthony O’Connor has shown a significant improvement aerially since the Charlton game. In the last seven games, he’s won 69% of his aerial battles. Perhaps Ant could capitalize in the air from set-pieces against Rovers?
Ryan mentioned the in-experience of Blythe and Horton which we could expose with the strength and pace we have with Cole Stockton and Jonah Ayunga.
Ben Blythe has played just 136 League One minutes and had a difficult time against Sunderland in his only full 90 minutes. He won just three of his seven defensive duels, although to be fair we’ve seen how potent The Black Cats can be.
For Sunderland’s second goal, Blythe got caught flat-footed from a set-piece. Tom Flanigan takes a free-kick from just inside the Rovers half.
Both Blythe and Horton don’t spot the danger early enough as Sunderland’s attacking midfielder, Alex Pritchard, runs into space behind Horton.
Both Blythe and Horton run towards the ball leaving Elliot Embleton completely free in the centre of the area.
Pritchard is able to play a first-time pass.
By the time Blythe is able to get near the ball, Embleton has already hit the ball which ends in their second goal.
The absence of their experienced captain and centre-back Tom Anderson – who has played 178 League One games – is a loss at the heart of Donny’s defence. We need to be smart with the deliveries we play for our forwards to run onto and expose the in-experience down their defensive left-hand side.
Threats From Rovers
“If we turn up we can be decent. As I touched upon earlier, I have seen some good passages of play, some neat and tidy build-up and I’ve seen us play teams off of the park in very short spells in games. We need to be more consistent throughout a game. Yes, there’s always ebbing and flowing in a football match but if you don’t take your chances or create enough chances in the periods where you are on top you will ultimately lose more than you win.
If we play a high press and don’t give Morecambe any time on the ball I think we could get some joy there but this is asking a lot of the front 3 and the midfield 3 to defend from the front. I think we need the 2 wide men to tuck in a little when the ball is going up to Dodoo as he looks quite isolated more often than not. If we get players running off of him then a flick on behind the defence could lead to a positive result.”
“Morecambe have been almost as poor from set-pieces as ourselves. Joseph Olowu has scored 2 goals from set-pieces this season (vs Crewe and Shrewsbury) and with Tommy Rowe scoring the winner in the reverse fixture with a headed goal from a corner, we should look to exploit this weak point.”
38.4% of Rover’s goals have been scored from corners – five from their 13. According to The Analyst, The Shrimps have the 3rd highest number of goals conceded from set-pieces so this would be their most probable route to get a crucial goal. With Tom Williams missing – their most likely threats as Ryan has said are Olowu and Rowe.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
It seems not five minutes ago that we were saying goodbye to 2021 with an important home fixture and here we are starting 2022 with another important home game. The truth is, all our games will take on the mantle of ‘important’ as we struggle to get a real footing and extend our shelf life in League One beyond a single season.
Let’s be honest, we knew we’d be in the mix at the bottom of the division, now it is a test of our mettle to pull ourselves out of the bottom four and up the table. We have spoken in the past about what a good job SR did pre-season in getting 17 new players in given time and budget constraints, some of those signings haven’t fitted in as well as we would have liked but this month gives SR an opportunity to go back into the market and – hopefully – unearth a nugget or two. For the immediate future – today – I expect a tight game, won by a single goal as neither side has created clear cut chances on a regular basis.
According to Wyscout, these two sides have the lowest expected goals in the division with 14.54 and 21.39 for Rovers and The Shrimps respectively. They also have had the lowest xG per shot with 0.081 per shot for Donny and 0.092 for Morecambe. Crucially, Morecambe have taken more shots and been more clinical so far to outscore Rovers by over double (30 to 13 goals).
Both sides will be aiming to create better quality chances on a more regular basis in the second half of the season, but in the meantime, a winning goal by any means would provide a huge boost to survival hopes.
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