Doncaster Rovers v Cardiff City
Saturday, 14 January 2012
Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
For the first time this season Cardiff City are within reach of the summit of the Championship after an impressive run which has seen Malky Mackay’s side undefeated in seven away from home and beaten only once in the last 13 league games. Whilst it is unlikely that they will top the division on Saturday evening, given that Southampton and West Ham United both have very winnable games at Nottingham Forest and Portsmouth respectively, an away trip to Doncaster should yield a further three points that would firmly keep the pressure on the top two.
Victory is almost important in terms of lifting morale after the League Cup semi final first leg defeat to Crystal Palace on Tuesday. An Anthony Gardner header from a Darren Ambrose cross late in the first half was sufficient to give Crystal Palace a narrow advantage going into the second leg, though Cardiff felt that Kenny Miller’s second half effort should have been allowed to stand rather than being ruled out for a foul on Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Whilst Cardiff will fully anticipate overhauling the deficit at the Cardiff City Stadium in two weeks time, as a partisan crowd anticipate the possibility of making the League Cup Final for the first time in the club’s history and earning real honours for the first time since 1927, a victory at the weekend is still important in helping the club to refocus on their ultimate target of reaching the Premiership.
The Bluebirds will head to the Keepmoat Stadium fully expecting three points, despite a 2-0 victory for Doncaster in the local derby with Barnsley last Saturday and the relative improvement at Rovers since former Wrexham manager Dean Saunders took over the managerial role in September.
However, as this article is being written, the current Amber Army poll suggests that Welsh football fans are not quite as expectant of a Cardiff victory as might be anticipated, with only 42% anticipating an away victory. One of the reasons for this may be the large number of away draws Cardiff have already had this season, with City finishing all square in more than half of their away games, six of which finished 1-1. The majority of these draws were not against sides in the upper echelons of the Championship, but against sides such as Millwall, Coventry, Portsmouth and Watford. Whilst it could be argued that such results represent two points dropped, when these results are supplemented with a home record that has seen the Bluebirds win five of the last six games, the net result is automatic promotion form. However, with four clean sheets in the last six away games and victory at the City Ground, Nottingham in their last outing, Cardiff will now believe that they have resolved the defensive issues that were preventing away victories earlier in the season.
Another impressive statistic leading into this game is that Cardiff City have scored in every away league game except the 0-0 draw at Millwall on 10 December, though on 10 of the 13 occasions they only managed one. It is a statistic that suggests a very deliberate tactic by Malky Mackay and his management team in away games. Rather than seeking to play aggressively away from home, the club are content to play a system that makes it difficult for opponents to break them down, whilst relying on players like Kenny Miller to create goalscoring opportunities through their creativity and quality.
Despite their recent improvement, City’s opponents Doncaster are still desperate for points as they bid to produce an unlikely escape from relegation. Their form was so poor at the end of last season that there was a feeling that Rovers would have been relegated had there been another 5 or so games, as they were being rapidly caught by the three teams that were relegated (Sheffield United, Scunthorpe United and Preston North End) in the closing weeks of the season.
Fans feared the worst when Rovers form in August and early September matched the closing weeks of the 2010-11 season and this lead the club to sack manager Sean O’Driscoll. This move demonstrated the importance football clubs attach to recent results and form, as O’Driscoll had been a potential target for Sheffield United after the departure of Gary Speed due to his remarkable success with Doncaster. The club moved very quickly to quell rumour and ensure they retained their manager and yet, just a few short months later, they dismissed him.
With news coming in over the last 24 hours that Leicester City have had a bid for star striker Billy Sharp accepted, Cardiff may well find a toothless Rovers frontline at the weekend. Sharp has comfortably been Rovers most prolific striker in recent months and, given that Doncaster have only managed a miserable 22 goals in their 25 games to date, his loss will be a critical blow to the South Yorkshire club’s chances of survival and may well be the difference between a draw and a defeat on Saturday.
Prediction: Doncaster Rovers 0 Cardiff City 1
Do you agree with the prediction? Why not add your voice to the poll on the left of this article by indicating which Welsh teams you think will win at the weekend (though do note that Merthyr’s next game is not until 21 January).