As it stands: Wycombe 17-10–6–1 (1st, 36 pts, GD 13) | Doncaster 14-6–5–3 (12th, 23 pts, GD 8)
Form: Wycombe WDWWW | Doncaster LLWWD
Last time out: Tranmere 0-2 Wycombe | Doncaster 2-2 Burton
Head-to-head: P6 | Wycombe W4 | Doncaster W1 | D1
Previous meeting: Wycombe 3-2 Doncaster (12/01/19, League One)
Setting the Scene
Hallelujah, no more Tranmere!
Wycombe and Doncaster experienced contrasting fortunes in midweek FA Cup action. While we bowed out on a freezing cold night which, as long as we learn from it, is best forgotten, Saturday’s visitors dispatched AFC Wimbledon fairly comfortably to progress to the second round. Our respective fates shouldn’t have too much of a bearing on this one, but the fact we played 120 minutes and 24 hours later – although we did share the workload pretty well – and Donny didn’t play last weekend might.
Nevertheless, we are the league leaders and can only take great confidence from that. The league performance against Tranmere compared to the two Cup games perfectly exemplified where our priorities are, I feel – and while the money from a cup run would have been beneficial and we could have enjoyed a great adventure, just look at the table. Like Gaz says, drop it and move on. This is a big game against a side who are 12 places and 13 points but three games behind us. It could well be our sternest examination on home soil since the draw with Peterborough. Fatigue dependent, this should be another close-run thing.
Last season: 6th (lost to Charlton in play-off semi-final)
Manager: Darren Moore (appointed July 2019)
Top scorer: Kieran Sadlier (LM/AM) – 6
Most assists: Kieran Sadlier – 3
Style of play: Possession-based with short passes, create from wide areas, shoot often
A Deeper Look*
*But not too deep this time; all these games take their toll!
First things first: Doncaster are better than their mid-table position. Had they played Bolton’s kids back in August and, in all likelihood, beaten them, they’d find themselves seventh and a point of the play-offs. And that’s before you consider they’d still have two games in hand on four of the teams above them. They have one of the better defences in the division and lead it in shots per game (17.1). They are a decent team. But so are we and this ought to make for another thoroughly intriguing match-up. Who knows, we may even see a repeat of January’s thriller – although it’s Donny and not us who sit among the league’s reigning comeback kings.
Our last meeting was a prime example of Bayo Akinfenwa’s ability to come off the bench and RUIN the opposition. The Donny defence couldn’t cope with him and were drawn to him like moths to a lantern in the build-up to Paris Cowan-Hall’s 94th minute winner. From their back line that day, only centre-half Tom Anderson remains a regular, but the Beast is no less Beastly. If anything, he’s proving more effective this season. He’ll cause problems aplenty regardless, but here’s hoping his heavy involvement in that dramatic turnaround has scarred the current Rovers players who succumbed to it.
Set-pieces were not Doncaster’s undoing that day, but Sunday’s first goal took us to ten from dead ball situations this season – three ahead of nearest challengers Ipswich, Rotherham, Fleetwood and Peterborough. Rovers are among the best defenders of set-pieces in League One, conceding only four times from them, but then we beat the even more miserly Shrewsbury thanks to a beautifully-worked routine. We can always find a way in even if the keys are nowhere to be seen.
Still, there’s never a bad time to start scoring from open play again – and Paul Smyth’s return will no doubt boost the likelihood of that. There’s no obvious pattern to the goals Donny have conceded, but they have suffered from unconvincingly clearing their lines of late, while they do seem to leave a little too much space around their area, facing a relatively high 44% of shots from outside the box. Will this finally be the day that Nick Freeman notches his first goal from open play in almost two years?
Enough about potential means of entry, though; how do we keep them out? John Marquis was always going to be a massive loss, but the current crop are getting it done, while Wolves loanee Niall Ennis looked full of promise before his injury. Kwame Thomas is currently the top-scoring striker with two goals in four starts, but Moore has hinted at a first start for Rakish Bingham – recently picked up on a free – after he came off the bench to score on Tuesday night in his third appearance for the club.
The 3 in Moore’s 4-3-2-1 look most dangerous, having accounted for 12 of Donny’s 24 goals between them. Sadlier provides a varied threat from the left and has assisted three goals in addition to the six he’s scored, the evergreen James Coppinger occupies a roaming 10 role and still has a worldie or two up his sleeve, and Jon Taylor – the man with the number 10 shirt – boasts Championship experience from his time with Rotherham and a passing accuracy of 86.3% this season, the fifth best in League One. We won’t be able to neutralise those three but can make them work by pressing consistently and keeping it tight around the edge of our box.
Stylistically, there will be something of a culture clash – but then there usually is when Wycombe are involved. Ostensibly, Doncaster aren’t dissimilar to Lincoln under the Cowleys in terms of that 4-2-3-1 formation , so we could draw on our game plan from that season highlight of a victory: allow them possession in their own territory, mark man-to-man on the wings – although Rovers look less to the full-backs and more to the wide midfielders – and get in their faces when they venture behind enemy lines.
I’m making it all sound rather simple there, aren’t I? Quite obviously it won’t be, and we’ll have to press higher if we want to stem the flow from deeper-lying, creative midfielders Ben Whiteman, who attracted a seven-figure bid from Championship Hull this summer, and Arsenal loanee Ben Sheaf – the 13th and 15th most accurate passers in the division respectively and the beating heart of the team – but it’s always handy to have a recent case study, as such, to look back upon. Besides, there’s never a bad time to uncork the champagne like we did a couple of months ago.
**Our highest-ranked passer, Fred Onyedinma comes in at 125 (73.6%)
Darius Charles and Joe Jacobson should return to the back four after their midweek rests. Matt Bloomfield also sat out the replay and may play a part on Saturday, but something says that he’ll be saved for what’s surely an unfulfilled ambition for him at Portman Road three days later. The front three remains anyone’s guess, with Smyth the one I’m most confident will get the nod given his recent return from injury and subsequent need for minutes.
Moore could pick the same 11 which started in midweek, with the exceptions of Sadlier and Bingham. The left centre-back spot is a toss-up between Joe Wright and Luton loanee Donervan Daniels. Goalkeeper Sonny Dieng is on loan from QPR and has usurped Ian Lawlor – who’s arguably good enough to be first choice for most teams in this league – to claim the number one spot.
In the Middle: Michael Salisbury
If the names sounds familiar, that’s because his dad Graham was in the middle on Wednesday. Salisbury junior has dished out 35 yellows and six reds in 14 games this season, with his most recent appointment Gillingham’s 1-1 FA Cup draw at Sunderland two weeks ago. Incidentally, he also refereed our game ending in the same scoreline at the Stadium of Light a year ago, before taking charge of our 3-1 defeat at Burton on Boxing Day.