Barnsley v Doncaster Rovers: Paul Goodwin’s Verdict

Rovers' new signing El Hadji Diouf has shot at goal against Middlesborough. Picture: Andrew Roe
Rovers' new signing El Hadji Diouf has shot at goal against Middlesborough. Picture: Andrew Roe

ROVERS edged closer to safety with a thrilling 2-2 draw at Oakwell last April - and a similar result on Saturday could prove to be just as important in this season’s race for survival.

This weekend’s eagerly awaited derby kicks off a three-game sequence that could potentially make or break Doncaster’s season, even if we are still in mid-November.

Games against the Tykes, fellow strugglers Watford, then lowly Millwall, present Dean Saunders’ men with a realistic opportunity to haul themselves out of the bottom three in time for Advent.

A return of six points, or better, would leave even the most pessimistic of Rovers fans confident of a prosperous New Year, with the club set to be busy in the January sales.

But failure to win at least one of these games, against three sides likely to still be tussling for safety next April, could be the start of a winter of discontent for Doncaster - especially with heavyweights Southampton, Birmingham and Leicester awaiting in December.

A big thing in the Championship, with so many games often crammed into short periods of time, is momentum.

It’s something that both Rovers and Barnsley, who between them have failed to win back-to-back games in this season’s Championship, simply have not had.

Keith Hill has made no secret of the fact that his sole ambition this season is to avoid the drop.

Similarly for Doncaster, another fourth bottom finish would be hailed as a success.

And if Rovers build on their eye-catching win at Ipswich by claiming at least a point on Saturday, they’ll feel they are finally making big strides towards getting out of trouble.

It’s been the case this season that Rovers have taken one step forward and then two back.

Ominously, their last victory, at Peterborough, was followed up by a non-descript performance against their other Yorkshire rivals Leeds United.

But if you’re looking for omens ahead of Saturday, then look no further than the last five meetings between these sides - because four of them have been won by the away side.

Last season at Oakwell it was Jason Euell - an experienced old head - who almost guided his team to a memorable win and vital three points.

This time around much of the attention will focus on El Hadji Diouf, another Premier League veteran, as he makes his bow in a South Yorkshire derby.

Diouf will no doubt get a lively welcome from the Oakwell regulars but I expect him to feed off that and revel in the occasion.

If Diouf can repeat his Portman Road performance, and if he is backed up by another tenacious display from the likes of Simon Gillett and Brian Stock, then Rovers have every chance of claiming the derby honours.

Confidence has been a huge thing for Doncaster this season and the first goal on Saturday will be crucial.

If Doncaster get it, the belief that came back at Ipswich will be flowing again - and if Diouf and Doncaster are on-song I’m not sure the Tykes will be able to stop them.

Barnsley 1 Rovers 2