MANAGER Dean Saunders is braced to hand a home debut to Frederic Piquionne tonight as Doncaster Rovers bid to cause a major Championship upset.
The relegation-threatened club host Reading, who are seeking a ninth successive league win, aiming to extend their unbeaten run to five matches.
Piquionne, brought in to replace top-scorer Billy Sharp, scored a superlative long-range effort at Nottingham Forest last week and is expected to be recalled against the Royals, having been ineligible to play at parent club West Ham.
The 33-year-old, signed on an initial one-month loan deal from the Hammers, is set to replace Mamadou Bagayoko up front and Saunders is tipping the one-time French international to make an instant impact at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Saunders said: “Frederic is unbelievable in the air so that’s another weapon we have got now.
“We can hit the ball up there and it stays up there. It is not coming back at us all the time.
“If you have got a striker who is mobile and can head it, it is hard to stop them.
“He can outrun people, hold the ball up, dribble and shoot well. He is good at everything.”
Having struggled to command a regular starting role at Upton Park, Piquionne opted to join Rovers on a temporary basis to kick-start his career again. He trained with his new team-mates at the club’s Cantley Park training ground for the first time yesterday .
Both Piquionne and Saunders have hinted his loan deal could be extended.
“We have to be careful with Frederic,” said Saunders. “We are wrapping him up in cotton wool.
“When you haven’t been training and you start training flat out, you start getting tired.”
Rovers have lost just once at home since November, securing notable victories over table-topping Southampton and big-spending Leicester City to enhance their hopes of climbing out of the drop zone.
Saunders is looking forward to facing the division’s form side, saying: “We have beaten Southampton and Leicester so there is no reason why we can’t beat Reading.
“We have got nothing to fear in this league. We have matched every team we have played. We haven’t really been rolled over by anyone. Even at Watford when we lost that game we were doing well at 1-1 before we had a man sent off.”
The Rovers chief, who will give Shelton Martis as long as possible to shrug off the groin knock he sustained in the draw at West Ham, is wary of the threat Reading pose and is urging his team to be more clinical in front of goal.
“The Reading manager [Brian McDermott] has done an excellent job there,” he said. “They are not anything out of the ordinary. They work hard as a team.
“They have got pace out wide. They have got a left-back [Ian Harte] who can score free kicks and a centre forward [Jason Roberts] who is big and strong. They get bodies into the box and work hard.
“We have got to match the effort they put in, make sure we concentrate and don’t give them anything. We will get chances at the other end and you would like to think Frederic will help us with our goals.”
Reading are level points on with second-placed West Ham and McDermott says he is “proud” of the consistent run his team has put together.
McDermott, named manager of the month for February, said: “The players are doing us proud. They are the ones that have to out there day in, day out and perform and they are doing just that.
“We were well adrift of West Ham and Southampton earlier this season so to get ourselves there or thereabouts is a fantastic achievement for all the players.”