|Doncaster Rovers 1 v 0 Rochdale|
SkyBet League One
Tuesday, 19th January 2021 Kick-off 19:00
Match Preview: Doncaster Rovers vs Rochdale
Monday, 18th Jan 2021 16:41 by atthepeake
A defensive selection crisis has developed at Rochdale ahead of their Tuesday night trip to South Yorkshire to take on play-off chasers Doncaster Rovers.
Date: Tuesday 19th January 2021
A stunning comeback in the home draw with Crewe was followed up by a 4-4 tie with Charlton Athletic in which Dale had enjoyed a two goal lead at the break, before a last-gasp Stephen Humphrys equaliser secured a draw with Wigan over the weekend following a first-half red card for Jim McNulty.
Given that Dale had been behind at the time of the sending off for the experienced Liverpudlian, credit has to be given for the resilience shown by the side to equalise twice through Jake Beesley and Humphrys in order to secure a hard-fought point in that game.
And perhaps a more worrying stat is that Dale have now conceded fourteen times in their last four League One fixtures. Although some excellent attacking work from the likes of Humphrys, Kwadwo Baah and Matt Lund have helped rescue three points from these fixture, scoring 3-4 goals a match simply in order to secure a point cannot be seen as a sustainable method of securing points in the fight to remain in the third tier this term.
Unfortunately, however, Dale's defensive woes show no signs of subsiding. McNulty's red card means that Dale have just one recognised centre-back available on Tuesday assuming that Paul McShane's injury problems are persisting as they have throughout his Dale career. Skipper Eoghan O'Connell is certainly out - and is expected to be for a number of weeks.
That led to Jimmy Keohane filling in at centre-back on Saturday and doing a fine job it has to be said, but that also meant that Ryan McLaughlin was forced into 45 minutes of action - probably not ideal given that he wasn't deemed fit enough to start the match despite an excellent display against Charlton in mid-week.
Matt Done struggled once again at left-back and even if McLaughlin is fit, it leaves Dale with a back four that includes two players who will see themselves as natural midfielders in Done and Keohane. Not only that, but it would also have to be considered one of the physically smallest defences to be seen at League One level, with Haydon Roberts sure to retain his place despite a drop in performance levels of late.
Defensively, Dale look disorganised and lacking in confidence and cohesion at the moment - but it wouldn't be fair to focus solely on these defensive woes when the team have looked so much more threatening going forward in recent weeks.
Whilst it was Lund who was the hero with a brace versus Crewe and Baah who enjoyed a break-out performance with two stunning strikes against Charlton at the Valley, Humphrys was the man who grabbed the headlines on Saturday with a well-taken strike to break the deadlock and an excellent late header to take his tally to six goals in just ten League One starts since returning to the club in the summer.
Looking at the bigger picture of the league table, defeats elsewhere for Wimbledon, Bristol Rovers, Burton Albion and Swindon Town make the point on Saturday an important one - but Dale cannot continue to rely on out of position and out of form defensive players if they're to remain outside the bottom four in the final months of the campaign.
Perhaps 'play-off chasing' is an unfair description of Doncaster Rovers right now, as only three points separate them from Hull City in the automatic promotion spots after five victories in their last six matches.
Although Rovers were never considered to be among the frontrunners for promotion this term, they are very much in the hunt at this stage and with two games in hand on the Tigers they'll perhaps be targeting Tuesday night's fixture against relegation-threatened opposition as one in which to really stamp their mark on the chase for a top two spot.
The run of fixtures, it has to be said, has been kind for Donny. In those six matches that have yielded five wins, they've played no team higher than 12th placed Gillingham facing Swindon in second-bottom twice and Burton Albion, who are currently in 24th, once.
However, performances have been very deserving of the points that they have amassed in this run and this is a very youthful, energetic side. The evergreen 40 year old James Coppinger aside, Donny don't have another player over the age of 28 in their rather small, tight-knit squad at the Keepmoat Stadium.
They have, however, just lost the key component to their side in captain Ben Whiteman. The Rochdale-born midfielder had made over 100 appearances in South Yorkshire, but left the club to join Preston North End last week, in an undisclosed deal believed to be worth seven figures to the South Yorkshire side.
Although the money hasn't yet been re-invested in the squad, highly-rated coach Darren Moore has moved to bring in two loanees so far in this transfer window, with Ellery Balcombe and Elliot Simeos joining from Championship clubs Brentford and Barnsley respectively.
Moore, whose sacking at West Bromwich Albion was seen as slightly harsh in the 2018/2019 campaign, arrived at the Keepmoat in the following summer and led the club to a 9th placed finish on PPG, although their hopes of gate-crashing the play-offs were not completely over when the season came to an early end in March.
This time around, his side look set to finish in the top six as a minimum although this recent run of form will have seen supporters set their sights on a top two finish and a possible return to the Championship for the first time since they were relegated in the 2013/2014 campaign.
Both meetings between the two sides last year ended in 1-1 draws, with Kieran Sadlier's late header in August handing Donny a point at Spotland before Ollie Rathbone's driving run and finish saw Dale secure a tie at the Keepmoat later in the season, although it's the Yorkshire that have had the better of this match-up in recent years.
Dale have won just one of their last six against Rovers, and indeed of the 115 historical meetings between the two sides, the Lancastrians have come out on top just 38 times compared to Doncaster's 56.
History won't count for too much on Tuesday night though and Dale will be keen to flex their new-found attacking muscles here - the issues are likely to arise at the other end of the field, where a leaky defence will have a job on their hands in keeping out the likes of Fejiri Okenabirhie and Reece James here.
DONCASTER - 56
06 Jan 2018 - Doncaster Rovers 0-1 Rochdale - FA Cup
Photo: Action Images
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