On Tuesday night we open our 22/23 league cup campaign against Doncaster Rovers, writes Tom Morton.
Despite their relegation, we face Doncaster multiple times this season – in the league cup and trophy. In one sense I am pleased about this as it it feels like have some unfinished business. We last faced Donny in February and you will recall it was a dire affair that really summed up our season. They were easily amongst the worst teams we’d seen at Sincil Bank and we dominated for most of the match. However, a lack of clinical finishing lead to a 0-1 capitulation. Yes, we could blame a disruption in play or a slightly flukey penalty (it was about their only foray into our box), but at the end of the day, we had control for 2/3rds of the match and failed to score.
That was then, this is now, the MK era is kicking off and we have at least three opportunities to put the demons to bed.
Doncaster have had a decent start to their league 2 campaign. It looks like they’ve retained a good portion of their squad, including the decent Tommy Rowe in Midfield, Kyle Noyle at right back and Jonathon Mitchell in goal. Their pre-season was largely positive (including a win over a Huddersfield Town 11) and they’ve managed an opening draw and a win so far in the league. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for them. They also spent the 16/17 season in league 2, coming straight back up.
The last time we faced Donny their formation was 3-5-2, but this season they seem to have re-worked this to a 4-3-3. It’s an outright guess but I wonder if that is due to losing Dan Gardner over the summer, who held the central midfield role last season. Looking at the highlights of their first two matches, this change in formation hasn’t fixed some of the fundamental problems Doncaster had last year. In particular, they are scrappy in their own box with a lot of loose play – against Sutton they nearly scored an own goal from an edge-of-the-box header. It felt like, and still seems like, Mitchell (who is a decent goalkeeper) is not in control of his defence. With that said, Tom Anderson is expected to make a return to the back four, after being largely out since December 2021. I’ve seen little about him, other than Doncaster fans sense he will make all the difference in defence.
Going forward is where we will start to see a difference tomorrow night. Donny have completely revamped their forward line bringing in Harrison Biggins, George Miller and Lee Tomlin into the side on free transfers (Tomlin is currently suspended after an opening day red card). I’ll be honest, all three look like great signings. Miller in particular has a lot of experience including a couple of championship appearances for Barnsley, despite only being 23. He looked impressive on the highlights, very positive going forward and dangerous in the box.
Tomorrow’s match is an interesting test for us tactically. I see the same flaws that were there in February, especially at the back. So in a sense, it could all be about our changes in formation and tactics. We are definitely favouring longer and more probing balls to the edge of the box which should work well against a defence that likes to sit back and be played at. I’ve also been pleased to see a lot more attempts at crosses which again is what you want to see against a slightly chaotic back line.
Head to Head
We have a long, long history with Donny, stretching back to 1901. But our recent engagements are sporadic. In the 03/04 season Doncaster kicked into gear and established themselves as a league one regular (with several forays into the championship). Since then we’ve naturally seen little of them until our rise to the third tier. Unfortunately, what little record we have is not positive – out of eight games we’ve lost seven of them and drawn one. Doncaster seems to be a team that recently we just can’t get around.
It’s hard to say what we will see on Tuesday night. I am predicting that both teams will want to make an impression but may also want to test out some of the new signings and second-stringers early in the season. After his substitute performance on Saturday, I’d love to see Jackson get a start, perhaps alongside Roughan. Equally, I think this would be a great game for Charley Kendall to make an appearance – he must be champing at the bit to get game time and from what I have seen is an exciting forward player that will definitely trouble Donny’s defence.
As an added bonus, it’s another chance to see our great 22/23 away kit in action again!