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by Adam Stubbings

A lean spell is in danger of becoming a slump, and Rovers potentially most crucial spell of the season begins against local rivals Scunthorpe United this Saturday. The trip to Glanford Park is followed in successive weekends throughout February by derby matches with South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United and Barnsley, and having failed to turn up in recent matches the team will need to step up their game in order to recover a faultering season.

The Iron have become our most bitter rivals in recent seasons as the two clubs have had virtually parallel fortunes, both enjoying unlikely spells in the Championship and subsequent setbacks. Scunthorpe are also our closest geographical rivals which has helped to fuel the fire in the feud.

Scunthorpe ended a seven game losing run against Rovers on Boxing Day as they came away from the Keepmoat with three precious points on Christmas courtesy of a lone goal from top scorer Paddy Madden. The manager who masterminded that victory, Mark Robins, has since been relieved of his duties at the club and they are currently searching for his replacement.

But, the Clarets are on the up in the league having struggled for much of the season, and going into this weekend's game are up to 13th in the table. They have won their last two games and sit two points clear of Rovers, who now languish in 16th place after successive home defeats in the last week, as far away from the Play Offs as they are the bottom four. A four game unbeaten run in the league has quickly turned into a four match winless run and whilst injuries have taken their toll over a busy period of fixtures, things just have not been gelling right on the field recently for Rovers.

Lynden Gooch was among a host of players in red and white who came under fire for their performances in the midweek loss to Walsall, and the potential return of Nathan Tyson could mean the Sunderland loanee loses his place. Another pushing for that spot is academy graduate Liam Mandeville, who netted the first goal of his senior career in that loss and has put in a string of strong performances from the bench of late. Chris Neal should continue in goal after a solid debut with Thorsten Stuckmann still out injured, and defensive improvements could come if Andy Butler can shake off a recent injury problem too.
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by Adam Stubbings

Picking up from the disappointment of a home defeat to Port Vale won't be easy for Rovers as third place Walsall head to the Keepmoat looking to bounce back from a setback of their own. Despite sitting just four points off the top of League One, the Saddlers suffered a heavy loss away at Championship side Reading in the F.A. Cup, despite knocking out Brentford in the previous round. More concerning for Walsall however was a knee injury suffered by goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who was stretchered off late on and will surely miss Tuesday's match despite reports that the injury is not as serious as first thought.

Rovers themselves have a goalkeeper dilemma after Thorsten Stuckmann went off injured in the loss to Port Vale, but Marko Marosi ably deputised in his place and might be ready to take the opportunity if presented to him. The decision to put Richard Chaplow into the midfield trio appeared to backfire last time out, though in truth it wasn't a sterling showing from the team overall. Paul Keegan may return to the starting line-up after a rest, whilst Lynden Gooch looks to have done enough to continue his run in the team assisting Andy Williams in attack.

Walsall have won all of the last four meetings between the sides, with successive trips to South Yorkshire yielding three points. For those invested in the fates, both of those wins came in the month of February, and this clash will of course also take place in February after it was rearranged from last Saturday. Our last victory against the Saddlers came on the opening day of the League One title-winning campaign, a 3-0 scoreline at the Banks' Stadium in which David Cotterill scored a 45-yard goal on his debut. The Walsall line-up that day included current Rovers centre half Andy Butler as well as former Rover James Chambers, but our opponents are a very different proposition these days and are hoping to maintain their unlikely promotion push heading into the business end of the season.

The game also sees the return to Doncaster of former manager Sean O'Driscoll, who stakes a claim for the accolade of “Best Ever Manager” at the club having guided us to promotion into the Championship along with victory in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in 2007. Rovers will be hoping it is a miserable return for the club legend, and will look to take full advantage of having four extra days preparation time for this fixture.
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by Adam Stubbings

In a fixture re-arranged from F.A. Cup 3rd Round weekend, Rovers host Port Vale looking to make it five games unbeaten in the league. The two sides sit side-by-side in midtable going into the game, both aspiring to compete for the Play Off places as we head towards the business end of the season.

Rovers come into the game off the back of two contrasting draws. A stirring comeback against current leaders Gillingham to earn a 2-2 draw in our last home game, and an altogether more drab showing in a goalless draw away at Fleetwood on Saturday. Manager Darren Ferguson has bemoaned the drop in quality from the team in their performances in these games, and will be looking for a reaction against Robert Page's Vale.

The Valiants are a point ahead of us having also drawn at the weekend, but were defeated soundly at Millwall the week before and have only two league wins in their last eight games. With as many wins as defeats and having scored as many goals as they have conceded, the word to sum up their season to date would certainly be 'average'. The early season promise they showed in a resounding 3-0 win over Rovers in the reverse fixture seems a long time ago for both clubs.

Unlike our last opponents, Port Vale have a long history of clashes with Rovers dating back to 1901, and currently possess a three match winning streak over us spanning the last 18 months. A four match winning run for Rovers preceded that, largely comprising our meetings during the O'Driscoll era, and Vale were very much suffering a decline during that spell. Both clubs are now back on an even footing after contrasting fortunes over the last decade, and this one has all the makings of a close affair.

Lynden Gooch made his debut at Fleetwood on Saturday and another young loanee, France U19 international Eddie Lecygne, could feature at the Keepmoat in this one. Injuries have caused a shake up to the selection of late, with Nathan Tyson and Andy Butler key names missing on the Fylde Coast at the weekend. Port Vale meanwhile could hand a debut to former Rovers striker Theo Robinson, signed on the eve of the game from Scottish Premiership side Motherwell.
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by Adam Stubbings

Yet another dramatic finish at the Keepmoat saw Rovers pick up a gutsy point against promotion contenders Gillingham last time out, as a 2-0 goal deficit was wiped out through a couple of superb late goals from Cameron Stewart and Andy Williams. Rovers had been poor for much of the game, but came alive in the closing minutes to steal a point and stay in the top half.

It will be a much different proposition for Rovers this weekend as a wintry trip to the seaside awaits and a meeting with struggling Fleetwood Town. The Cod Army sit eight points and eight places behind us but it was not too long ago that we were side-by-side and scrapping to pull away from the relegation zone. Darren Ferguson has engineered a superb run of form to achieve that in the last couple of months, but Fleetwood remain in the mire. Like ourselves, the opposition have also changed their manager this season with Graham Alexander, the man who took the club into the third tier for the first time in their history, dismissed in September after a bad start and replaced by Steven Pressley, the former Coventry manager who once turned out for Rovers in a pre-season friendly whilst on trial during the latter stages of his playing career.

Indeed it will be a very different prospect from the last meeting between the clubs, as Paul Dickov got one over on Alexander and earned Rovers a first win of the season and ultimately what proved to be Dickov's final victory as manager, as he was sacked after a defeat in our following league game against last weekend's opponents Gillingham. James Coppinger and Curtis Main netted first half goals to secure a 2-0 win, that goal from Main his only one of the campaign thus far. Our only previous trip to Fleetwood came last season and saw a disappointing 3-1 defeat, Nathan Tyson netting for a lacklustre Rovers on a sunny autumn afternoon at Highbury. These results along with an extremely tedious 0-0 draw in April of last year mean it is one win, one draw and one loss for both teams in historical meetings between the two.

The status of Cameron Stewart remains up in the air after his sickening neck injury late on last Saturday, but Ferguson moved to secure the loan signing of Sunderland U21 midfielder Lynden Gooch late in the week to offset this and add a bit more attacking depth to the squad.
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