FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Saturday's televised clash from League Two.
Hartlepool v Doncaster | Saturday 17:30 | Sky Sports 1
It’ll be almost a month to the day since Doncaster secured an immediate return to League One by sealing promotion with a 1-0 success over Mansfield at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Darren Ferguson’s men bounced back in impressive style, sweeping League Two aside as they held the table-topping position from the 3rd January – until last weekend.
Mega celebrations followed their Mansfield triumph and Rovers returned to action with a 1-1 draw at play-off chasing Colchester. But Donny have since fallen to three straight defeats, earning the wrath of their manager.
Speaking after last weekend’s 3-1 loss at home to Exeter, a dejected Ferguson said “To have worked so hard to get this point, top of the league for four months and in the penultimate game we’ve had the worst result of our season.
“At the moment, it’s very raw. We might never get in the position we’ve had to be champions of a league. That has gone now because Plymouth will do it.”
Ferguson was also forced to apologise to a Doncaster supporter after having a verbal altercation towards the end of the defeat. But he says the fan’s criticism of his players was over the top.
Rovers fell behind for the seventh time in their last nine matches and never really convinced in their response. It means Donny must now better Plymouth’s result at Grimsby to secure silverware.
Expect Doncaster to bounce back
Following the stinging criticism from Ferguson, I’d be confident we’ll see a response from a motivated Doncaster outfit keen to set the record straight and the even-money offering of an away win (Marathon) has caught my attention.
In the 41 games before promotion was confirmed, Doncaster were averaging 11.51 shots per-game and 5.22 shots on-target per-match – across their four winless outings since, those figures have dropped to 10.25 shots per-game and 4.25 shots on-target per-match.
But the data suggests Donny are still dominating. The latter figures give Rovers a 55% shot ratio and 55% shots on-target ratio return whilst attempts conceded is also comfortably above the league average.
The bare facts show that Ferguson’s charges have won 11/22 (50%) road trips, failing to score on only three occasions and beating their opposition by two or more goals in 6/22 (27%) away days. A W16-D5-L2 (W7-D2-L2 away) record at bottom-half teams only adds encouragement.
Hartlepool in disarray
Hosts Hartlepool are in disarray as they battle against relegation. The Monkey Hangers are second-bottom, three points short of safety with survival now out of their hands following a 20th loss in 33 last weekend against fellow scrappers Cheltenham.
Expected goals (xG) data had Hartlepool edging that encounter but a fourth failure to score in eight has left the hosts in an unenviable position on the pitch. Meanwhile, the club is descending into farce in the boardroom.
Chairman Gary Coxall stood down in midweek despite axing manager Dave Jones a week earlier following Jeff Stelling’s unprofessional outburst on Soccer Saturday as the club aims to become fully fan owned within five years.
The club’s newly-formed Supporters’ Trust has recently appointed Stelling as honorary president, as well as former skipper and caretaker boss Micky Barron. Matthew Bates remains an interim head coach but Pools are facing a first relegation from the Football League since 1921.
Pools hoping for one last hurrah
Ticket prices have been slashed to £5 to fill the stands in the hope of inspiring an unexpected victory at Victoria Park and star goalkeeper Trevor Carson has been rushed back from surgery to aid the relegation fight. But Bates will remain in the dugout and instead invest his faith in centre-half pair Scott Harrison or Brad Walker once more despite last weekend’s mistake.
Pools have W6-D8-L8 on home soil this season, have attempted the fewest shots in League Two and landed the second fewest efforts on-target whilst also returning a shot and shots on-target ratio return that ranks comfortably in the bottom-four of the division.
Although Hartlepool have W1-D3-L1 at home to top-six clubs this term, their longer-term trends show just W2-D7-L15 when welcoming the league’s elite to Victoria Park and I’m expecting another loss to be added to that mark here.
After years of great escapes, this looks to be the time for the Monkey Hangers to finally relinquish their Football League status.
Hartlepool v Doncaster – Doncaster to win (1/1 Marathon)