THERE were probably a few raised eyebrows when Doncaster Rovers’ boss Dean Saunders brought in Wolves’ keeper Carl Ikeme on an emergency loan last month.
With Gary Woods, who, started the season as first-choice keeper, fit again, and veteran Neil Sullivan continuing to defy the ravages of time, Rovers seemed relatively well off in that department.
But there is no doubting the quietly-spoken 25 year-old has proved his worth in the three games that he’s played for the Championship strugglers.
Unlike most of the other short-term recruits, Ikeme has not joined Rovers to put himself in the ‘shop window’ in the hope of being snapped up by a top club in the January transfer window.
The 6’ 2” keeper signed a new three-year deal with the Premier League club shortly before joining Rovers on a two-month deal, and has just come to play games.
He was on loan at Middlesbrough earlier in the season and kept several clean sheets.
He helped the Riversiders record a 3-1 win at Barnsley but enjoyed a less successful afternoon at Oakwell on his return there with Rovers.
Despite an impressive debut, during which he was a rare Doncaster player to finish the game with his reputation intact, Rovers lost 2-0.
“I had to make a couple of saves early on but I didn’t have too much to do after that,” he said. “I couldn’t really do much about either goal.
“We didn’t play our best at Barnsley but played a lot better against Watford the following week and picked up a point and were probably unlucky not to win.
“It was nice to keep a clean sheet and we played well as a team.”
Ikeme was one of four players making their home debut for Rovers on the day - two of whom were in the back-five.
“It’s probably still a case of me getting used to the back four and them getting used to me but I don’t think it will take too long,” he said. “I’ve settled in well and they are a set of good lads as are the coaching staff.”
It was always going to be a big ask to keep another clean sheet at Millwall in midweek and so it proved - though there was disappointment in the Rovers’ camp with the fact that they conceded three goals: “We had gone there to try and win, though probably a draw would have been a decent result,” said Ikeme.
Rovers know that they will have to tighten up defensively tomorrow at home to leaders Southampton, who are the top scorers in the Championship, if they are to entertain realistic hopes of recording what would be only their second home league win of the season.
“Southampton have started well but we don’t fear anyone,” said Ikeme. The keeper says he is not surprised to see a team who were playing at League One level this time last year, heading the table.
“Sometimes that’s how football works,” he said. “A team gets promoted and that momentum carries on into the following season and that’s what appears to have happened at Southampton so far.
“The fact that Norwich came up last year and were promoted to the Premier League might give Southampton the confidence to think that they could do the same.
“But they’ll be used to winning games and that will give them confidence and sometimes a run just continues. The Championship is one of those leagues where you just don’t know what is going to happen.”
“Ipswich were the best team we played against when I was at Middlesbrough, but they’ve lost a few games recently.
“Anyone can have a good run and sneak into the play-offs as we’ve seen in the past.
“We’ve obviously got to start picking up points on a more regular basis if we are to get out of the relegation zone, but I’m not one for looking too far ahead and I just take it one game at a time.
“While I’m here I want to play well and keep improving as a player but my main focus is on trying to help the team move up the table.
“I’ve never played in the Premier League, though I’ve watched a lot of games, so it’s hard to compare the two from a playing point of view.
“But the Championship is very demanding with a lot of Saturday-Tuesday games. It’s physical and there are no easy games. Everyone can beat anyone on the day.”
Team and referee
Rovers (possible): Ikeme, Beye/O’Connor, Friend, Hird, Ilunga, Coppinger, Goulon, Stock, Gillett, Sharp, Fortune (4-3-3)
Southampton (possible): Davis, Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld Harding, Schneiderlin, Cork, Hammond, Lallana, Guly, Lambert.
ANDY HAINES (Tyne and Wear): Has officiated 18 matches and cautioned 47 players and given two red cards this season. Last took charge of Rovers match in February’s 2-0 defeat at home to Portsmouth. He dished out four bookings and sent off the visitors Jonathan Hogg.
THE teams have met just twice in the last 50 odd years - in the 2008-09 season - with the honours being even.
The Saints, who were relegated at the end of the season, posted a 2-0 win over Rovers on their first visit to the town since they lost 3-2 at Belle Vue in a Third Division match back in the 1958-59 season.
Rovers gained their revenge in the return at St Mary’s in the second half of the season with second half goals by Martin Woods and James Coppinger giving them a 2-1 win.
It was Rovers’ first ever away win over the Saints.
One to watch
Southampton are the Championship’s leading scorers this season with 42 goals - six more than mid-table Peterborough who have 36 from the same number of games.
Striker Richard Lambert, who also bagged a couple in the Carling Cup, has scored 12 of them, and will represent a major threat to Rovers hopes of claiming the spoils in tomorrow’s game if he is fit.
The former Bristol Rovers’ star was substituted in the second half of Saints 2-1 midweek win over Hull City.