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Match Preview: Rochdale vs Doncaster Rovers
Friday, 30th Apr 2021 17:04 by AtThePeake

The fat lady is doing her vocal exercises ahead of the visit of Doncaster Rovers to Spotland Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Date: Saturday 1st May
Kick-off: 3.00pm
Venue: Spotland
I said ahead of Tuesday night's trip to Wimbledon that we'd all have rather been heading to the capital with hope for that game, but the crushing blow that was dealt to Dale in the final seconds taught me another severe lesson about football and hope.

The only crumb of comfort for me as Joe Piggot turned and smashed in a 97th minute equaliser at Plough Lane was that I could slam the laptop lid shut and immediately grab a beer from the fridge rather than having to face a four hour car journey home in probably deflated silence.

Essentially needing three points to give themselves a real hope of avoiding relegation, Dale managed to fashion a 2-0 goal lead for themselves thanks to goals from Jake Beesley and Gabriel Osho, only to throw away that lead within a terrible five minute period just after the hour mark.

Having then hauled themselves back into the lead thanks to a header from Swiss Army Jimmy Keohane, it seemed that Dale may just hold on to give us the hope we needed heading into the final two games of the season... or maybe not.

With just seconds of the game remaining, Wimbledon's star striker Piggot had time to control, turn and blast in the equaliser deep into stoppage time, meaning Dale now need to win both of their remaining fixtures to stand any chance of escaping relegation on the final day when they head to Milton Keynes.

And even if Dale managed to secure all six of the points on offer against Doncaster and Milton Keynes, they would need either Wigan Athletic to fail to win both of their matches (the second of which is against already-relegated Swindon Town) or AFC Wimbledon to lose both of theirs in order to complete a remarkable great escape.

In reality though, that draw at Plough Lane is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for Dale and in the end, it was a lack of game intelligence and poor game management that did for the team - as it has done on several occasions this season.

A glut of injury time goals, notably in that game as well as at home to Oxford United and Peterborough United as well as away to Gillingham, have seen Dale drop so many points this season and a lack of experience and character in the squad has to go some way to explaining that.

The lack of character in Tuesday's squad was certainly compounded by the injury to Paul McShane sustained in last weekend's draw at Crewe Alexandra. How fit he is, we're unsure, but a return to the starting eleven here would be welcome for Dale fans who weren't overly impressed by the performance of Jim McNulty in his place on Tuesday night.

Stephen Humphrys and Matt Lund were both introduced from the bench against the Dons, although neither looked particularly fit and the former was equally ineffective in the draw at Crewe Alexandra too.

Aaron Morley was dropped or rested for Conor Shaugnessy, who will hope to keep his place in midfield, but it seems that both Jimmy Ryan and Haydon Roberts may have played their last games for the club, with Ryan out of contract having been injured for the majority of the campaign and Roberts' loan spell ending at the end of the season and injury also keeping him out at the moment.

It'd be a strange atmosphere at the Crown Oil Arena this weekend with supporters undoubtedly encouraged by recent performances, but frustrated by the season as a whole and perhaps even bordering on raging with recent off-field performances of the club.

It may be easier to watch from behind the sofa anyway this weekend as our League One status flickers before surely, finally, after seven years, going out.

Doncaster Rovers season can quite clearly be defined by two separate periods - that which was played out under the management of Darren Moore, and that which has unfolded since his departure.

Before Sheffield Wednesday came calling for the former West Bromwich Albion manager, Donny were flying high in the play-off positions and in with a real chance of automatic promotion, but the lure of the Championship club was too much for Moore to turn down at the start of March.

Despite Moore's time at Wednesday thus far being complicated by illness, the team still possess an outside chance of escaping the relegation zone, like Dale, in the final two weeks of the season - but it seems likely that he could be heading back to the Keepmoat Stadium as an opposition manager in League One next term.

Andy Butler was placed in interim charge an managed to lead the team to back-to-back wins in his first two games against Portsmouth and Plymouth Argyle but since then, Rovers have managed just one win from 13 games.

As a result, any hopes of automatic promotion gave way to fading hopes of securing a play-off spot and now, Doncaster have actually slipped as far as the bottom half of the table, with nothing to play for in these final weeks - although they did cause a shock in midweek by coming from behind to earn a 2-2 draw against promotion-chasing Peterborough.

Butler has perhaps been dealt a tough hand however. As an inexperienced manager, he also has a fairly inexperienced squad at his disposal. Captain Ben Whiteman was sold to Preston North End in January and of the current squad, only one other member aside from the interim manager is above the age of 30.

That player is the legendary James Coppinger whoever. At 40 years old, he has managed an incredible 29 appearances so far in this his 17th season with the South Yorkshire club and he promised last season that this would be his last, so he could be playing one of his final games for the club when they travel to Spotland on Saturday.

The likes of Tom Anderson, Jon Taylor and Omar Bogle are other established names in the lower leagues, but Doncaster also have a raft of exciting young players at their disposal, many of who have been given opportunities to flourish under Andy Butler with little to play for competitively in these final games of the season.

One such man is Taylor Richards, a Brighton & Hove Albion loanee who has been one of the stand-out performers for Donny this season with eight goals in 26 starts and 39 appearances overall. He scored in the midweek draw at London Road and will be hoping to finish his time in League One with a flourish before heading back to the Amex Stadium in the summer.

With little to play for and little in the way of good performances of late, Doncaster should be considered beatable opposition for Dale - but how much will the wind have been taken out of our sails from the blow of Tuesday night's heartbreak? Time will tell.

AFC Wimbledon (a) - DRAW
Crewe Alexandra (a) - DRAW
Blackpool (h) - WIN
Accrington Stanley (h) - WIN
Swindon Town (h) - WIN
Fleetwood Town (a) - LOSS

Doncaster Rovers:
Peterborough United (a) - DRAW
Fleetwood Town (h) - LOSS
Accrington Stanley (a) - LOSS
Shrewsbury Town (h) - WIN
Burton Albion (a) - LOSS
DRAW: 21

13 Oct 2018 - Rochdale 2-3 Doncaster Rovers - League One
01 Jan 2019 - Doncaster Rovers 5-0 Rochdale - League One
10 Aug 2019 - Rochdale 1-1 Doncaster Rovers - League One
08 Feb 2020 - Doncaster Rovers 1-1 Rochdale - League One
19 Jan 2021 - Doncaster Rovers 1-0 Rochdale - League One

Photo: Action Images

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