Doncaster Mustangs @ Sandwell Steelers
This weekend takes us to the Midlands and the first division, where we find one of the most hotly contested conferences – one of only two in the league where no team remains undefeated.
It’s so contested in fact that we recently shared this infographic to help clarify things:
Who are they?
After a rather nondescript 2015, the Doncaster Mustangs appear to have found a new gear this year as they’ve fought their way through a tough conference to be within a game of the conference leader.
A squad built around a mix of seniorball veterans and rookies, combined with a core of Hull University players, it appears to have taken the Mustangs a while to really gel this season. They stumbled out of the gates to a 2-2 start (not counting to two auto-wins each MFC1 team has received courtesy of the Saxons dropping out in the preseason), but have found form in their most recent two match ups – the offensive output of their last two games surpassing that of the preceding four, 66 to 51.
Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Paul Weston makes no secret of the fact he likes to air things out on offence, and this is clearly paying dividends as Quarterback and Receivers gain familiarity… Even if this had led to a few interceptions in the past two weeks. Thankfully, the Mustangs D is also rather opportunistic meaning the turnover totals in their previous couple of games has been pretty prolific! #BakeryBowl
As noted, the Mustangs are within a game of the conference leaders, and this Sunday IS that game. The Sandwell Steelers have been quite a Cinderella Story since entering the league. Highly competitive right from the outset, 2015 saw the Steelers romp undefeated all the way to the Division Two South silverware, defeating the Peterborough Saxons 24-7 at John Charles Stadium in Leeds and earning themselves promotion to the second tier.
Many teams struggle when they take the leap up a division and it’s not rare to see them drop right back down the following season. Not so for the Steelers however, as not only did the Saxons kindly resolve the relegation race by kindly flopping out before the season started, but the Sandwell side have impressed this year, thriving off the back of a tough defence and an offence that looks to have found its groove in the second half of the season.
The Steelers’ 42-17 victory over the Bulls in week 10 represents the high watermark for their offence so far this season, and with the Mustangs finding their form as well, Sandwell will be hoping to keep their offensive momentum going.
While both teams each have another game remaining following this one, they’ll each go into them hot favourites to win. As such, this fixture has some serious ranking ramifications. If the Steelers win by more than 3 points? The conference is theirs. If the Mustangs are able to ride away with victory? They’ll only need to snatch a week 14 win over the Ouse Valley Eagles (who, admittedly, defeated them in their week two season opener) to confirm their conference crown.
When last they met…
A scrappy affair in week six that saw the Mustangs trailing 3-0 down at half time, before ‘Air Weston’ found a gap in the Steelers’ secondary to slip through a pass to their wideout in the end zone:
What to watch out for:
- Veteran Gunslinger Pete Rogers heads up the Donny offence. He’s been known to throw the odd pick so far this season (Eds: Yeah, and Donald Trump has been known to offend the ‘odd person’ here and there…) but that’s always going to be tough to avoid considering the fluid nature of Britball rosters and the fact the Mustangs field one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the Britball Nation.
- Sam Broughton heads up the ground game – he put up ridiculous numbers against the Birmingham Bulls in week eleven – rushing for 183yds off only eleven carries!
- Sam Foulds has been a massive factor in the Mustangs’ success these past two weeks, his hat-trick of picks against the Caesars in week ten effectively writing off the Mustangs’ own offensive miscues. Gaz Wild (HC, Hull Uni), meanwhile, has been a tackle machine and is the glue that holds the defence together!
- Steelers’ ‘skin slinger Jonny Glover hit four different receivers for scores in the recent win over the Bulls. The dual-threat Quarterback can escape pressure with consummate ease, whilst keeping his eyes downfield for open receivers.
- The Steelers’ run game, fronted by the physically imposing Dwain Houghton, grinds opposing defences down. This was never more evident than the 118 yards off 29 carries (4.07 average) against the Bulls.
- If you take away the games against the Bulls, the Steelers are averaging just 3 points conceded per game (7.16 if you include the Bulls fixtures) on defense. The unit, led by everyone’s favourite 45 year old Uni baller, Greg Freeman, suffocates opposing offenses, forcing them in to making mistakes. Three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the last outing shut down the Bulls’ offense. With the hard-hitting brothers Dotun & Dimeji Ademiju having recently moved across the city to Sandwell, the Steelers’ defense just got a little more imposing.
What do they have to say about one another?
“We expect a hard game. Sandwell are incredibly well coached and at home. The Mustangs are probably once again the underdog….just as we like it.”
Alas, Head Coach Jay Alexander has been busy preparing his side for the all-important game this weekend, and was unable to provide a quote for us on this occasion.
And what do we think?
That this should be a great game between two on form teams… That’ll sit somewhere between the hard-fought defensive duel it was last time around, and a shoot-out between two on form offences.
Yup, we’re going with something that vague, because these two teams both seem so different to the two that went head to head in week six.
On paper the Steelers are likely the better of the two teams – less prone to Doncaster’s proclivity towards turnovers… And certainly most signs point to a shoot-out. As such, weather may play a significant role in whether Air Weston is able to get off the ground.
With the Beeb predicting decent weather in the Midlands come Saturday, and even though we actually think the Steelers are probably the better side that may well go further in the postseason, we’re gonna disappoint the Mustangs’ desire to be seen entirely as underdogs (underhorses?) and give them the slightest of edges!
As a bonus this will keep division’s outcome utterly confounding for yet another week!
Sandwell Steelers 28-30 Doncaster Mustangs