Doncaster Rovers: Count me in for cut and thrust Blades clash - Middleton
It is definitely a big boys' game at the Keepmoat Stadium this weekend.
And young Rovers midfielder Harry Middleton says he is ready for it, in every sense.
Come 3pm tomorrow there will no hiding place or tackles shirked as two South Yorkshire rivals lock horns. You fully expect it to be rough, tough, fast and furious.
Since making his Rovers debut in late 2012, Middleton is yet to play for his hometown team against Sheffield United.
And by the 20-year-old’s own admission, he probably has not been quite ready for a game of this kind.
His manager might have feared him getting knocked off the ball too easily, or maybe letting the occasion get to him.
But the boy from Hatfield Woodhouse has this season become a man.
Middleton’s coming of age has seen him move up the midfield pecking order with a calm assurance and maturity beyond his tender years. With 29 appearances already under his belt this season, even Middleton is surprised at just how quickly he has become a regular fixture at first team level.
Last December he signed a new three-and-a-half year contract with Rovers until 2019, a sign of just how highly he is rated by boss Darren Ferguson.
Now more confident, on and off the pitch, Middleton says he is more than ready to tackle these big derby day games.
“I’ve never played against Sheffield United so if I get the chance on Saturday I’ll be grasping it with both hands,” he told The Star.
“The games in the past I’d not really played that much before them, and I wasn’t physically as strong and fit as I am now.
“I probably wasn’t mentally right either. But that’s different now.
“This season is definitely the first one I’ve felt like part of the team rather than a young lad coming in.
“I’m hoping that is showing. I do feel a lot more comfortable.
“And I think I have more confidence in my own ability more than anything.
“A year or two ago I was probably holding back a little bit, because I wasn’t sure whether I could cope.
“I’ve definitely got more confidence now that I can bring something to the game.”
He added: “I’ve missed a couple of games through injury recently but I’ve had a good week’s training and if the gaffer picks me this weekend I’ll be raring to go. I feel physically ready for it, so if I get the nod I’ll be giving it everything.”
One thing Middleton is yet to do is score a senior goal. Working on that cutting edge, he says, is the next stage of his development.
“Personally I think this season has gone well for me. I’ve been involved a lot more than I anticipated,” he said.
“Performance-wise I need to start adding more goals and assists now, and start affecting games more. That’s my target.”