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Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One

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Fan Focus: Donny journo Paul Goodwin reckons Sunderland will win a close game!

Ahead of Sunderland’s clash with Doncaster, we spoke to Doncaster Free Press sports writer and Sunderland fan, Paul Goodwin, to discuss why Rovers have been struggling this season in League One!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Matthew Crichton: After being promotion candidates last year, Doncaster are now sat anxiously in the relegation places - what are the factors behind the club’s downfall.

Paul Goodwin: Richie Wellens came in over the summer as part of a long-term rebuild, but he just couldn’t get a tune out of a revamped, injury-hit squad.

His man-management techniques didn’t seem to help and some of his recruitment was very questionable.

The collapse is not purely down to Wellens though. The rot set in earlier this year before Darren Moore jumped ship to join Sheffield Wednesday.

There has been a gradual decline in the quality of the squad since Grant McCann left in 2019. Too much short-term thinking. Not enough foresight. Reduced investment in the squad. Eventually that catches up with you.

MC: Gary McSheffrey is currently Doncaster’s caretaker manager after Richie Wellens was sacked - have things improved since he took charge?

PG: There have been positive signs in the last two games; a narrow defeat to Oxford United and a spirited 1-0 win over Shrewsbury Town.

McSheffrey is low on bodies due to the ongoing injury problems but he appears to have galvanised the squad, put an arm round certain players and also simplified things tactically.

MC: Who do you think the club should be looking to hire out of the potential candidates?

PG: There’s been some talk of Rovers going down the head coach and director of football route. Personally, I hope they do because they really do need more football expertise at an executive level.

They could do a lot worse than keep McSheffrey on as head coach. He’s a calm, intelligent guy and he knows the club.

A fresh pair of eyes might not be a bad thing though. Paul Simpson, the former England U20s manager, has been heavily linked and would tick a few boxes in terms of his experience and coaching credentials.

Sunderland v Oldham Athletic - EFL Trophy
Aiden O’Brien’s deadline day loan move to Doncaster collapsed due to a paperwork error.
Photo by Eddie Garvey/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

MC: Sunderland striker Aiden O’Brien came close to joining Doncaster on deadline day on loan, do you think the club will reignite their interest in January?

PG: Attacking additions are a must so they could well do.

Although the last-minute move for O’Brien had a hint of desperation about it after failing to land Will Grigg, so it might be the case that they have moved onto new targets.

MC: Manchester United’s Ethan Galbraith was strongly linked with Sunderland in the summer, how has he performed this season with Doncaster?

PG: He’s an excellent prospect. What he lacks in terms of physicality he makes up for in terms of his technical ability, tenacity and mobility.

MC: Which of Doncaster’s players have impressed you this season and which have been the most underwhelming?

PG: Galbraith is one of only a few players to have really done themselves justice.

Tommy Rowe has been the stand-out. He’s the top scorer with five goals despite playing several games at left-back - which tells a story.

Rovers have been powder puff in attack and are the lowest scorers in the EFL. Tiago Cukur, a young striker on loan from Watford, has been like a fish out of water and Jordy Hiwula has struggled for fitness and form.

MC: One thing that Sunderland and Doncaster have in common is that they are both dreadful away from home (Ed: have we been dreadful away from home?!). Have Doncaster been a completely different team at home this season?

PG: Rovers have been pushovers on their travels so the results at home have at least given them some hope of scrambling to safety.

The goalless draw with Portsmouth and win over MK Dons suggested this team are not no-hopers. But, generally speaking, there’s been a lack of quality, coherence and belief.

MC: Which 11 players do you think will start against Sunderland and how will McSheffrey approach the match tactically?

PG: If captain Tom Anderson misses out through injury, McSheffrey might be tempted to start with a back five.

He’ll still want his players to have a go, however. It won’t simply be a case of Rovers getting men behind the ball and defending.

Possible (5-3-2): Jones; Hasani, Knoyle, Olowu, Rowe, Horton; Smith, Galbraith, Barlow; Dodoo, Hiwula.

MC: Sunderland took four points from Doncaster last season, what is your prediction for the final score?

PG: Rovers will show a bit of spirit but you’d expect Sunderland to have too much quality. 1-2.


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