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Smith Set for Start Against Doncaster
Friday, 16th Apr 2010 14:44
World Cup hopeful Tommy Smith looks set to come into Roy Keane’s Town side for Saturday’s home game with Doncaster Rovers. Smith will replace Damien Delaney, who is out for three months with the ankle ligament injury he sustained at Nottingham Forest last week.
Smith will want to get a run of games under his belt ahead of this summer’s World Cup with New Zealand and Delaney’s injury has unexpectedly given him the chance to get to full match fitness prior to the All Whites’ preparations for South Africa.
The 20-year-old is expected to join Gareth McAuley at the heart of the Town defence on Saturday and probably at Newcastle next week and at home to Sheffield United on the final day of the season.
Manager Roy Keane will also be without striker David Healy, who has a knee injury and will be out for a week, and midfielder Carlos Edwards, who has chicken pox.
The Blues boss - who will be managing a side for the 150th time in his 50th game with the Blues - says a few of the club’s younger players will come into the reckoning in their absence: “Some of the young boys who have trained with us this week have trained very, very well.
“They have come into the squad and have provided an energy that we might have lacked before.
“Young Tom Eastman has been involved for a while, Troy Brown’s trained with us, young Luke Hyam. All these boys might get an opportunity because of the way things have panned out. As much as I was hoping for them to get involved, it’s been forced a bit with the injuries and illness.
“It’s good to have them in the group, these are the types of players we want in the reserves next year because we want some young hungry players in our reserve group, so if they are called upon, like Shane O’Connor and Connor Wickham [this season], they’re ready.”
Keane admits that last week’s 3-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest again showed that his side has a fair way to go to be up with the division’s best: “We came up a bit short last week against Forest, particularly in the second half.
“I think the first goal was vital and we didn’t get it. They picked us off after that and you could see why they are a top six side and we aren’t. They looked a bit stronger, but we were on the back of a couple of tough games and maybe just came up a little bit short.
“We’re looking to bounce back. Our home form has been pretty decent and we want to give the fans something to shout about before we go into the summer.”
The game at Doncaster earlier in the season ended 3-3 with the home side netting a late equaliser to prevent the Blues from ending their winless streak. Keane says it was a display typical of that stage of the season: “There were too many goals really. We gave some bad goals away that day which was something we were doing a lot at the time - giving bad goals away and not holding on to leads.
“I think we’ve improved since then and we’re looking forward to the game. Again, we’re learning a lot about the players, we learnt a lot again in the second half last week about where we’re at and where we’re short.
“It reminded us of the hard work we have ahead. It’s going to be a long, tough summer to try and get the club in better shape for a better season next year.”
The Town manager dismissed suggestions that there is nothing left to play for in the final weeks: “It makes me laugh when people say there’s nothing at stake, we might as well cancel the game if there’s nothing at stake.
“We’ll have 20-odd thousand supporters in the ground, we’ll have players wanting to cement their place at the club for next year, players looking for contracts and me finding out about my team. It’s another game to find out where we’re at. There’s always something at stake and pride should always be number one anyway.”
Either side of Smith and McAuley in the Town defence, Shane O’Connor is likely to continue on the left with David Wright perhaps returning at right-back in place of Jaime Peters with both of them currently ahead of Liam Rosenior in the pecking order. Tom Eastman and Troy Brown may well make their first team debuts at centre-half, or right-back in Brown’s case, as a sub at some stage.
Brian Murphy will be in goal unless he has been too badly affected by his trip back from Ireland via land and sea, with Arran Lee-Barrett on the bench ahead of Richard Wright.
In midfield, Grant Leadbitter and David Norris have become a fixture in the centre, with skipper Jon Walters probably on the right and Jack Colback on the left, although Keane may consider giving a run out to Lee Martin or Owen Garvan given that the Sunderland loanee won’t be at the club next season. Luke Hyam may be amongst those on the bench.
Up front, Connor Wickham again impressed his manager at Forest and the Blues boss may again want to take a look at the 17-year-old playing alongside Daryl Murphy, who Town look likely to try to sign on a permanent basis in the summer. Pablo Couñago will hope that Keane decides otherwise and includes him in his starting line-up.
Doncaster – who have an away record of won six, drawn six and lost nine - sit one place and one point above the Blues in 12th position which boss Sean O’Driscoll says this is an accomplishment: "Somebody said to me that we are side-by-side in the league and I suppose that is an achievement, in some senses, because Ipswich Town are a well-established club.
"Over the years they have been well run and we are now neck-and-neck, so from that point of view - in our second season in the Championship - to be batting at the same level as an Ipswich Town team, we can give ourselves a pat on the back for that.
"I saw Ipswich Town in their second game of the season and you thought - with what they had on the day - they would be contenders; it's just not quite happened. There has appeared to be quite a big turnaround in staff and players and, again, you need stability to create anything.
“Credit to them, they have come through quite a difficult time for them with what they have got and you can see them building for next season. If Roy sticks with the players that he feels can get them out of that division, again you wouldn't bet against them being one of the teams next season with a great chance of getting back into the Premier League.
"On paper, they have some really good players and are as strong as anybody. Roy has been able to get into the transfer market and use loan signings and the people that he had at Sunderland have played a big part."
O’Driscoll will have midfielder James Coppinger back in his side after an ankle problem, but skipper Brian Stock is expected to miss out as he’s not yet ready to return after calf and back problems.
Midfielder Martin Woods is out for the rest of the season as he’s set for groin surgery, while striker James Hayter is expected to be fine despite injuring his arm when he collided with a goalpost in the 3-2 home defeat to West Brom last week.
Back in September, Roy Keane’s former Manchester United team-mate Quinton Fortune – who left Rovers in February - netted a late equaliser for Doncaster in a 3-3 draw at the Keepmoat Stadium. Earlier, the home side had gone ahead twice via Waide Fairhurst and Martin Woods with the Blues hitting back and getting in front through Jack Colback, Tamás Priskin and Lee Martin.
Last season’s doubling of the Blues means that Rovers have the edge on Town in the few meetings between the teams over the years, having won three (one of those the only cup tie involving the clubs), drawn three and lost two. The Blues’ last victory against Rovers was a 2-0 home win in December 1957.
In 2008/09, a goal from Shelton Martis, who was on loan from West Brom, gave Doncaster a 1-0 win in Town’s first ever game at the Keepmoat Stadium, while Gareth Roberts, Paul Heffernan and James Hayter were all on target for the visitors as they won 3-1 at Portman Road, Owen Garvan netting for the Blues.
No current Doncaster player has been with the Blues and no member of the Town squad has played for Rovers.
Plenty of Town stars of yesteryear will be at the game having been at tonight’s 31st Players’ Reunion Dinner. More than 76 ex-Blues are set to attend this evening’s gathering with many of them also at Saturday’s match.
Fans travelling to the game by road should again note that there are likely to be delays due to maintenance on the A14 around Sproughton.
Saturday’s referee is Andy Penn from West Yorkshire, who has shown 61 yellow and two red cards in 32 games so far this season. Penn’s last Town match was the 0-0 home draw with Barnsley in December 2007 in which he showed three yellow cards, all to Tykes.
Squad from: B Murphy, Lee-Barrett, D Wright, Peters, Rosenior, O’Connor, McAuley, Smith, Eastman, Brown, Leadbitter, Norris, Walters, Colback, Garvan, Martin, Hyam, D Murphy, Wickham, Couñago.
Photo: Action Images
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