This weekend’s clash with Doncaster is bound to conjure up all sorts of memories for supporters of a certain age. Whilst they’ve been out of our reach in recent seasons, there was a time when they were a regular on our fixture list.
I recall a game at the Bank around 1997 in which they had a striker called Prince Moncrieffe. I think they lost a huge amount of games and were relegated, but bounced back as we have done. They earned promotion around the time we earned redemption under Keith and our paths crossed briefly as they climbed the leagues.
The video of the 5-1 win there in the nineties has stirred some memories though and right now, The Imps are in the habit of making new history. That can start tomorrow.
I know a bit about their new manager Darren Moore from covering the Championship last season for Football League World. He’s a nice guy, accepted by fans of clubs he’s been with and opposition sides as well. However, the Baggies stuck by him following their relegation and it’s fair to say some of his transfer business was a little odd, not least bringing back Tyrone Mears from America at the age of 35.
This isn’t the Baggies though, it’s a Doncaster side in transition and whilst I felt playing them early would be an advantage, I don’t think we’ve played them early enough. Selling John Marquis has blunted their attack a little, but in Niall Ennis and new recruit Kazaiah Sterling, they’ve got two strikers who can be a big hit at this level.
They’re likely to line up in an identical formation to us, 4-2-3-1 and like us, there are a couple of key positions that throw up interesting challenges for us.
My main concern is the midfield area this weekend. That holding pair of Whiteman and Ben Sheaf is going to look to dominate the possession in the middle of the park and start attacks much like Joe Morrell and Michael O’Connor do for us. Whiteman is a real talent too, he’s the leading passer of the ball in the Doncaster set up and is 24th in all of League One. It’s worth noting though that both Joe Morrell and Neal Eardley are above him in the number of passes made.
We’ve come up against Sheaf before though, so in terms of familiarity, we know what to expect. He was on loan at Stevenage and became a key part of their promotion push last season along with Ilias Chair. He’s got decent pass accuracy, 82%, and along with Whiteman will look to dictate the tempo of the game.
I imagine with the 4-2-3-1 we may see Tyler Walker looking isolated in the early exchanges, but that as the game wears on we’ll look to move a little further up the pitch. Walker will be marshalled by two ‘familiar’ faces. Cameron John played against us last season for Wolves Under 21s in the EFL Trophy and is an example of that competition giving a young player the experience needed to secure a Football League loan move. He’s the baby of the back four, but 70% of his aerial duels won this season, he’s going to look to get the better of Walker.
Tom Anderson is the other familiar face; I mentioned him on the podcast, he played a handful of games for us in the National League in 2014. He helped us to two clean sheets, bagged in a draw with Gateshead and has gone on to have a decent career. He’s experienced now and will look to guide the younger centre back and keep things tight for Doncaster. After all, conceding two at home to Fleetwood suggests they’ve got a bit of work to do at the back; that was John’s full league debut for Rovers and he’s got the nod after veteran Alex Baptiste picked up an early-season injury.
In the middle of their attacking trio, playing our ‘Jack Payne’ role is James Coppinger. I did a piece on him for Football League World earlier this week after he scored against Fleetwood; it means this is the 15th consecutive season he’s bagged for Doncaster. He’s a remarkable figure, 38-years-old and still as effective for his side as ever. I do wonder if we might be able to give him some Bozzy-style attention and look to kill the supply forward; they’ll rely on him for creativity as much as we do Jack Payne. He averages 5 passes into the final third per game this campaign, three into the box. Those stats are more or less on a par with Payne.
I’ve spoken about the threat upfront and instead of experience, Darren Moore has youth to rely on. Niall Ennis is another Wolves player who looked good for them against us in the EFL Trophy last season, although he didn’t grab a goal. He’s not scored yet for Rovers either and it’s debatable whether he’ll start, or Kazaiah Sterling. The latter, on loan from Spurs, had a spell with Sunderland last season and bagged just once. He’s a recent arrival on loan and although my graphic shows Ennis starting, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Spurs man get the nod.
Other notable players are Reece James; he’s a full back who was with Sunderland last season, but who signed a new deal then left weeks later. I’m also drawn to Kieran Sadlier as I wondered for a short while if he was a player Danny might have watched. Sadlier played in the Irish Cup Final Danny and Jez George took in last season, signing for Rovers not long after. He’s versatile, can play across that attacking three or up top and has a goal to his name already. He’s one worth keeping a close eye on and, if he plays on the right of the field as he did against Fleetwood, he could give Harry Toffolo some trouble.
I think we can rattle Doncaster, despite their status as a play-off semi-finalist last season. Their long passing is not the best, they average 54 long passes per game with a 52% accuracy. They have looked to outpass opponents, making 30 more passes per game on average, but make 50 more lateral passes than their opponents. So far, there is a direction they’re moving in but they’re not finding the killer blow.
They’ve got quality, that’s not up for debate, but they’ve lacked a certain something. They average 16 shots per game, but have just 21% accuracy. Across the pitch there is evidence of Darren Moore putting together a patient, passing side but not quite getting it right yet.
It might not be the perfect time to play them, but I suspect in three months time they’ll be stronger, more together and harder to beat at home. The Imps can bag a draw here and if we do, it’ll be a credible result.