League One Preview: the task for Darren at Donny


Darren Ferguson

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s games in League One. Darren Ferguson embarks on his first game in charge of Doncaster Rovers when they host Bradford, Blackpool look to continue their recent resurgence at the Ricoh while 3rd place Gillingham threaten to inflict a 6th straight home defeat on struggling Crewe.

Doncaster v Bradford

Doncaster Rovers have appointed Darren Ferguson as their new manager this morning. Firstly, one must say that the club’s recruitment process has been handled poorly. It has been 36 days since Paul Dickov was sacked and Doncaster finally appoint their new manager a day before a match, when there had been 11 days without any games for them to get the deal done.

However, in Ferguson they have a man that did well to get a very young Peterborough squad into the Championship and Posh were unlucky to go down when they did with 54 points. The question is whether Doncaster will get the Ferguson that charismatically inspired Posh to promotion, or the Ferguson that seemed to lose his buzz and enthusiasm in the last 14 months of his career at London Road.

The task for the 45-year-old now is to get the best out of an underachieving Doncaster team, because the squad at his disposal should at least be within touching distance of the top 6. They have one of the best goalkeepers in League One in Thorsten Stuckmann, a proven centre-back in Andy Butler and a striker in Andy Williams that scored 22 goals for Swindon last season. Added to that, midfielders such as Richard Chaplow and Oscar Gobern have performed well in the Championship and have the potential to become key players at League One level.

Darren Ferguson’s first match as Doncaster boss comes against Bradford City. The Bantams won 3-1 at Rochdale on Saturday and it may be no coincidence that they get back to winning ways when goalkeeper Ben Williams came back into the team. Williams is not uniformly liked by Bradford fans and is not particularly convincing when it comes to catching crosses, but he made a couple of impressive saves at Spotland and is the team’s best option at the moment.

Midfielder Lee Evans played an instrumental role in the goals at Rochdale and he seems to be developing well at Valley Parade. The consensus among Wolves was that Evans had the capacity to produce a moment of magic, but perhaps did not dominate midfields in the same way that other midfielders did. However, playing in a lesser ranked team where he will see more of the ball and become more of an influential player could do wonders for his overall development at Molineux.

With young Reece Burke in defence and Ben Williams in goal ahead of the unimpressive Brad Jones, Bradford have the basis of a sturdy team. This blog will back them to delay the expected honeymoon period at Doncaster and pick up a point.

Coventry v Blackpool

Goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook has started Coventry’s last 3 matches and has kept 3 straight clean sheets. This may be bad news for Lee Burge, who had been the first choice goalkeeper until the end of September, but had looked shaky in a few games. Charles-Cook has shown an ability to anticipate balls into the box and make some vital saves, some from close-range, which could see him become Coventry’s number 1 for the rest of the season.

An advantage Coventry have over other teams is height and physicality across the back-line. They possess two solid full-backs and Sam Ricketts and Chris Stokes who are both tall and competent in the air. Therefore, when the team is holding onto a lead, they have the option to be more compact and force the opposition to hoof balls into the box, which feeds into their hands.

The East Midlands side were without top scorer Adam Armstrong in last week’s match away to Fleetwood Town. However, they still managed to win 1-0 thanks to a last minute own goal from Richard Wood, who played for Coventry for 2 and a half years before being released by then manager Stephen Pressley who, ironically, was taking charge of Fleetwood for the first time.

Blackpool manager Neil McDonald attended that match in preparation for his side’s encounter with Coventry, but the former midfielder must be happier with his team’s position than he was a few weeks ago. Blackpool have won 3 games over September and manager McDonald deserves credit for this run of form. He is starting to build a competitive, hardworking side and there are tangible signs of improvement from the Tangerines.

There were a few eyebrows raised when David Norris joined the club at the beginning of September, but his arrival has directly coincided with the team’s improvement in form. The 34-year-old has provided the team with leadership and battling qualities in midfield, something they were perhaps lacking in the early weeks of the campaign.

Added to that, the Lancashire side’s defence has looked a lot stronger and more resolute. Coventry are rightly favourites to pick up the 3 points, but Blackpool’s recent resurgence suggest they may be forced to work hard for them.

Crewe v Gillingham

Crewe Alexandra got their 2nd win of the season at Barnsley last time out. The Railwaymen rarely threatened at Oakwell, although forward Ryan Colclough scored an excellent free-kick and has now scored two goals in as many games. Manager Steve Davis was pleased with the defensive aspect of his side’s performance, as his team worked hard without the ball, forcing Barnsley to pass the ball around in their own half. Crewe had to dig in more in the latter stages of the match, but centre-backs Jon Guthrie and Ben Nugent held firm as the visitors picked up a much-needed 3 points.

The question is whether Crewe can show that kind of solidity in future games. They will certainly need to on Saturday, as the men from Cheshire host promotion-chasing Gillingham. Justin Edinburgh’s side have not been great away from home, last week’s 3-1 success at Chesterfield being their first win on the road since mid-August, but the form of Rory Donnelly makes them dangerous opposition.

The 23-year-old forward has doubled his career goal tally in the space of two weeks, netting five goals in his last three games whilst formed an impressive strike partnership with Luke Norris. The duo’s recent performances mean that Cody McDonald, who had been Gillingham’s main goalscorer for a long time, has been dropped to the bench. This may create very healthy competition for places, because McDonald will have to work harder to win his place back and when he does find form, there are not too many better finishers at this level.

At the other end of the field, Edinburgh has looked to improve his team’s capacity for clean sheets – just 2 from a possible 14 – by loaning in defender Harry Lennon. Since the youngster joined from Charlton, Gillingham have only conceded twice in two games, with Lennon scoring in the victory at Chesterfield. Edinburgh has already shown a keenness to extend the loan spell of the centre-back, who has publicly said that he is enjoying his time at Priestfield more than he did last season, with Peter Taylor as manager.

Gillingham are looking strong at the moment. This blog will back the Gills to pick up their 19th win of the calender year and inflict on Crewe a 6th straight home defeat.