EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his thoughts on Friday night's Football League showdown between Yorkshire rivals Doncaster and Barnsley.
Doncaster v Barnsley | Friday 15th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Doncaster and Barnsley have had bumpy rides since both were relegated from the Championship in 2013-14, with the two South Yorkshire clubs changing divisions a combined six times over the last half a decade.
Donny even dropped to the fourth-tier in 2015-16, but Darren Ferguson promptly led them back up before steadying the ship last term, then Grant McCann took over to continue the resurgence.
Barnsley did not sink as low as a relegation from League One, but they had one or two nervy periods before Paul Heckingbottom inspired them to promotion then controversially left, but Daniel Stendel is now working his magic with much of last season’s relegated squad.
In McCann and Stendel, these two clubs have progressive coaches more than capable of leading them back toward the second-tier – but what will happen when they meet at the Keepmoat Stadium?
Don’t underestimate Donny
Over the last five games, Doncaster have taken three points, averaging 0.6 goals per game and conceding 1.4; they are 22nd in the form table based on that timeframe.
However, they have averaged 1.83 Expected Goals For (xGF) and 1.12 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 62.03% which is the fifth-best in League One from that sample and surprisingly better than their xGR across the campaign overall, which is 55.69%.
They have been slightly unlucky in certain games – especially the 1-1 draws with Scunthorpe and Charlton, with a good goalkeeping performance thwarting them at Glanford Park and two disallowed goals their undoing against the Addicks.
While this five-game winless run is slightly concerning, therefore, it is important that we do not dismiss Donny completely – all season they have been performing like a top six side and that deserves respect.
A moment of clumsiness from John Marquis in the recent 2-0 defeat at Wimbledon saw the striker sent off, before McCann’s 10-men were twice undone on the counter-attack.
Rovers had to cope without Marquis in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Blackpool, which was arguably the game in which they needed him most, due to his ability to provide a focal point on a muddy pitch – even if they still fared reasonably well in his absence.
The former Millwall striker returns from suspension here and is likely to come back into the starting line-up, which could give supporters a lift.
Not only is the 21-goal man evidently an excellent finisher, he is also a tireless worker and holds the ball up for other players; when playing in an expansive system as he has this year, he can be a real threat.
Barnsley look strong
After finishing February with two games without a goal, following goalless draws with Burton and Portsmouth, Barnsley began March with one or two questions over their attacking capabilities – but they certainly answered them.
The 3-0 victory at Southend was a real statement, because they played the second half of that match with 10-men after Jacob Brown got sent off.
Dimitri Cavare though almost did the work of two men on the right, such were his athletic qualities and the team posed a real threat on the counter-attack.
That display at Roots Hall was another sign of the capabilities of that excellent midfield partnership of Cameron McGeehan, who loves to push on with boundless energy, and Alex Mowatt, who dictates play with a sweet left foot.
Behind them, they have another excellent pairing in the powerful Ethan Pinnock and the intelligent Liam Lindsay, with both fulfilling all the requirements of a modern centre-back.
Cauley Woodrow has been in excellent form but the Tykes do not appear to play with an orthodox centre-forward.
In Stendel’s system, normally a flexible 4-2-2-2 of sorts, no one striker plays up top for the whole game.
Sometimes we see Woodrow breaking beyond defenders, at other times he might come short to allow a teammate to his position.
Often those responsibilities are swapped mid-move, making it difficult for defenders at this level to second-guess them when they play at full throttle.
The Betting Angle
Despite the above, in both of Barnsley’s trips to fellow top six competitors since the turn of the year, no goals have been scored.
That would suggest that while the Reds back themselves to beat anyone at Oakwell, they can be slightly more pragmatic in tough away games.
Even at Southend, Stendel did not pick a second central forward, bringing ball-winner Kenny Dougall into the 11 for Mike-Steven Bahre, highlighting a willingness to adapt at times.
We can expect Doncaster to shade possession here and they deserve some respect but, without having scored more than once during the five-game winless run, it is difficult to back them to win.
This could be a game therefore, in which sitting on the fence makes most sense.
Doncaster v Barnsley – Draw (5/2 Bet365)