The Thursday Preview: Doncaster Vs Sheffield United
I shouldn’t really say it, but it’s become increasingly obvious that our Division has been an average one this year. It didn’t take too long to acknowledge that the gulf between ourselves and the Premiership is considerable, Newcastle’s no nonsense poundings reminding us each of our modest stations before we really got started. Never has a football result been so predictable as last night’s regulation triumph for the Magpies over the Iron. Maybe I’m being a little disingenuous by comparing these two very different clubs, but it’s clear that a team needs only to be a smidgeon better than decent to go up this season.
Other than our mirthless Geordie friends, only West Brom have managed to be consistently strong. Cardiff, Swansea and Forest have flexed and pouted each, but whether it’s been a lack of goals or a sudden inability to raise their game away from home, none of these seem able to come close to the top two and each appear destined to settle alongside Leicester in the play-offs. I say ‘settle’ because it’s hard to see a team from outside the current top 6 donning the Premier League Lion on their sleeves from August, such has the sextet’s dominance of these places been.
Along with perhaps Blackpool and Middlesbrough, Sheffield United are one of the few teams that has intermittently threatened this cartel of six. Equipped with an intimidating home record the Blades managed to overcome a disappointing Autumn and briefly flirted with 6th place over January and February, but a debilitating run of six successive away defeats, the latest at Palace and Peterborough, has left supporters disillusioned with manager Kevin Blackwell. This league being as open as it is, though, a result is never too far around the corner and a stirring 3-0 win against an equally travel-shy Blackpool at Bramall Lane on Tuesday has boosted Red & White hopes.
That Cardiff’s finances continue to cause grave concern stands mightily in the Blades’ favour and a deduction for the Bluebirds could cause a frisson of activity amongst the group of pretenders to the final play-off spot. With the teams from Sheffield United in 7th down to Reading in 14th all tightly packed within five points of each other, a 10 point docking for City would cause real mischief.
One of the best placed teams in this group is Doncaster Rovers, positioned just one point and place behind the Blades, who they host in a South Yorkshire derby this weekend. Rovers last featured on these pages a few weeks ago when I looked ahead to their trip to a then rudderless QPR. Somewhat against the odds, Donny lost at Loftus Road before losing three days later at home to Leicester, but have since managed to regain the form that led me to suggesting that they were about to have a crack at the top six.
After Saturday, Newcastle, WBA and Swansea each follow in Rovers’ last 8 games, so a win would appear to be key to their play-off fortunes. Manager Sean O’Dricoll remains coy and was recently quoted as saying “My motivation is to stay in this division. I am not looking at anything else”, but his team has shown on countless occasions that it is capable of teasing better-financed rivals, most recently in their 5-2 humiliation of Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Chairman John Ryan admitted earlier this month that Rovers would need a significant cash investment to progress further, but most neutrals will be urging Donny to strike while the iron’s hot and go hell for leather for that final berth. Their form against the top 12 has been frankly shocking, but who knows what a rousing derby win could do for their confidence?