It’s a return to action this evening for Rovers U23s, as they make the trip to Manchester for their first league fixture of the year.
Billy Barr’s youngsters had an impressive first half of the season, and currently sit fourth in the Premier League 2 table.
Their opposition, Manchester City, sit just one place above them, only ahead of Rovers on goal difference.
Both sides head into the fixture knowing a victory will take them top of the PL2 table, making it a crucial battle in the race for the title.
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Managed by Enzo Maresca, most recently the assistant coach for Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham, it has been a positive season for Manchester City.
City’s top scorer Liam Delap, son of former Stoke midfielder Rory, has scored nine times in the PL2. Delap has also featured for the senior side, as have the likes of Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle.
However, Delap will be unavailable for tonight’s fixture as he was dismissed in their last outing away to Derby County, where he grabbed a hat-trick before being dismissed.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the U23s, with incomings and outgoings meaning the squad is in a different shape to previously.
Harry Chapman (Shrewsbury), Hayden Carter (Burton Albion) and Brad Lyons (Morecambe) have all left on temporary deals, whilst Joe Hilton is set for a loan switch to Ross County and therefore he isn’t expected to feature.
However, Stefan Mols (CF Intercity), Luke Brennan (AFC Fylde) and Tyler Magloire (Hartlepool) have all returned from their respective loan deals and therefore they will all be available for selection.
In addition, Elliott Bennett is continuing his return from injury and is expected to feature, as is Tyrhys Dolan after being an unused substitute in the first team’s victory at Middlesbrough on Sunday.
It’s a tough job predicted the U23s line-ups with absentees sometimes unknown, but it’s likely we’ll see a 4-3-3 formation from Billy Barr:
Predicted XI: Eastham, Pike, Barnes, Grayson, Thompson, Mols, Whitehall, Bennett, Brennan\, Butterworth, Dolan
With both sides knowing a victory takes them to the top of the PL2 standings, it is likely to be a cagey opening with both sides not wanting to concede early.
The first goal should open the match up, with Rovers coming from behind in the reverse fixture, and I’d expect a couple of goals here.
Prediction: Manchester City U23s 2-3 Rovers U23s