John Ward’s first game in his second spell in charge of the Gas will see him take Bristol Rovers to Hampshire to face Aldershot Town for a Boxing Day clash.
Although Rovers are currently bottom of the entire League, the Shots are only 3 points above Rovers and have already lost 7 home games. However the Shots are on the up having collected 17 points from the last 36.
In their latest game they went down 2-0 to Northampton Town at Sixfields. The Hampshire team looked far better than their lowly league position suggested, and created three very good goal scoring chances.
Danny Hylton miss-hit the first one wide, Lee Nicholls saved another and Chris Hackett made a long-sprint and excellent sliding challenge to preserve the clean sheet.
The Cobblers went ahead 4 minutes after half-time when Jake Robinson raced on to a long ball and fired underneath Jamie Young. They made the game safe in injury time as Clive Platt lobbed Young to make it 2-0 to the home team.
Shots Boss Dean Holdsworth was desperately upset to come out of the clash of the Towns, empty handed, “I’m partly disappointed but also very pleased with the way we played. We created more one-on-one situations than we have all season but we have to have to be more clinical. We’re usually very good in front of goal but we were not today, which is unlike us.
“We passed the ball very well, especially in the conditions, and we deserved at least a point out of the game.
“Northampton are very strong at set-pieces and it was backs against the wall for us early on. Dani Lopez and Danny Hylton had a couple of one-on-ones - they usually put those away and that was what was missing today.
"On another day we will score goals and we will get ready to face Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day."
Looking at the previous meetings between the two clubs reveals that Rovers’ record at the Recreation Ground is quite a good one with 8 victories and 4 draws in the 22 games played there. The last time the teams met in Hampshire was on 27 March this year when the home team won 1-0.
The very first game between the Rovers and the Shots took place exactly 80 years prior to this game on Boxing Day 1932 at the Rec where the home team ran out 1-0 victors. Rovers gained immediate revenge with a 4-1 win the following day. The teams also clashed in the Third Round of the F.A. Cup that season and the Shots repeated the 1-0 home win.
Rovers generally had the better of the clashes against their Hampshire rivals in the years leading up to the War but there were a few big reversals. On 7 December 1935 Aldershot ran out 6-1 winners and the following season won 4-0.
In the years since the War it is Rovers who have dominated in the fixtures and have had some stunning victories. On 29 March 1943, goals by Vic Lambden (4), Jackie Pitt (2) and Barry Watkins gave the Eastville team a 7-1 win. They also beat the Shots 5-1 (three times) and 4-1, Vic Lambden scored in all these games!
Rovers’ last win in the garrison town was on 21 January 1989 when Gary Penrice (2) and Ian Holloway scored to give Rovers a 3-1 away win.
Speaking about the Shots start to the season prior to their defeat at Northampton Dean Holdsworth said, "It has been a tough period- a trialling time if you like. It gives you different challenges each day and you must remain strong.”
He then reflected on just their second home win of the season, "It was great to see the victory versus Rochdale last Saturday. We were desperate for that home win and the performance too against a team that are one of the favourites for a promotion push too. I was delighted for everybody involved and we look to the next one now".
For this game Town welcome back midfielder Peter Vincenti and Troy Brown who both missed Saturday's the game at Northampton due to one-match suspensions. Captain Ben Herd will be absent as he serves the second game of his three-match ban for the red card received against Rochdale.
Anthony Tonkin sustained an injury in training on Friday and missed out at Sixfields, with the defender facing a battle to be fit to face Rovers. Long-term absentees Olly Lancashire and former Gas player Craig Stanley continue to be unavailable.
John Ward had this to say about the game, "I've got to trust my own eyes and rely on a number of other people, staff and maybe the players. I'll be chatting to them and finding out what their mood is and what they feel. The players will have done their homework on me and I've got to do my homework on them and find out. The next two or three games are important for them and me and the next 24 are vital for all of us."
For Rovers to survive it will need a vast improvement in form from the first half of the season. The best news is that there are still a number of teams in reach.
Written by Gerry Prewett.