By Gary Prewett.
Tonight Bristol Rovers take on Rochdale riding on a high after yet another great come back victory. The Lancashire team are struggling badly in the League whilst going gangbusters in the FA Cup.
Keith Hill’s team are bottom but one with 25 points, the joint lowest in the league. They are nine points adrift from safety but do have four games in hand on fellow relegation rivals Bury, Oldham Athletic and AFC Wimbledon.
Since beating Rovers 1-0 at Spotland on 21 October they have only one other game. They are currently bottom but one in the form table and compared with their form over the whole season they are negative 30%, compared to Rovers plus 53%.
Dale gave themselves some hope in their latest game with a 1-0 win at Sixfields against Northampton. After a goal-less first-half Ryan Delaney put a ball over the top for Matty Done to square the ball to the back post where Calvin Andrew slotted home.
Dale continued to push forward and looked the more likely to score. Peaking after the game, Keith Hill noted, “Performance wise, it’s acceptable. Result wise, it’s superb. Today was the continuation of last week and it was good. I don’t think there’s any fear from the players at the minute.”
“We’re better than the results we had this season. Some of the performances have been good but we’ve had bad results. Jimmy Floyd said during the week that we’re not playing like a team that’s second from bottom. We’re not and we haven’t been all season. It’s easy to ignore where you are, and to be honest, I am and so are the players. It’s everybody else who keeps phoning me up and saying ‘have you seen where you are?’ Of course I know where we are because I know the points that we’ve got, but we’re not failing – we’re being very successful.”
“It’s a results-driven business but I look at the type of successes we’re trying to achieve including the nurturing of players, but ultimately, it’s the football world judges me on results.
“I don’t think there’s any injustice on behalf of Northampton. I think we played well and deserved to win - I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
Looking back at previous clashes between the teams it is remarkable that the games often result in draws, with 16 of the 33 games played finishing level. In Bristol, Dale has proved to be a real bogey team for the Gas with Rovers recording just 3 wins from 16 games whereas the Lancashire team has 4 victories to its name.
The very first game between the two teams took place on 27th September 1969 at Eastville. Both teams had got off to a bright start to the season and newly promoted Rochdale were happy to play an expansive brand of attacking football to thrill the 8,653 crowd.
Harold Jarman opened the scoring with a penalty after Robin Stubbs was brought down. Great work by Butler created a deserved equaliser for Dale and in the second half they took the lead with a headed goal.
Stubbs brought the game back to parity with a weak shot past Harkin into the corner of the net. Bobby Jones put Rovers in front again as he took a high up-field ball and struck it past an advancing Harkin. Dale stunned the Eastville faithful with a deserved last minute equaliser. So 3-3 for the first ever game between the clubs.
In 2002-03 season goals from Paul Simpson and Clive Platt gave Dale a 2-1 victory in Bristol, whilst Lee McEvilly scored in the 1-1 draw at Spotland in March. The following season both games finished 0-0 although the game at Spotland in December ended in high drama, as late in the game Gary Jones blazed a controversially awarded penalty over the bar.
In October 2010 Rovers just squeezed out all the points with a 2-1 win. A Jeff Hughes penalty on half-time gave Rovers the lead. Chris Lines appeared to make the game safe on 82 minutes before Byron Anthony put one past his own keeper four minutes later to ensure a nervous finish.
In 2012-13 both games finished 2-1 to the home team. The game at the Mem was a very dull affair until Ellis Harrison ran half the length of the pitch and let fly with a powerful shot into the top corner that the keeper had no chance of saving.
Dale were level on 75 minutes when defender Michael Rose hit a left foot shot from 25 yards into the top left hand corner.
Nine minutes later Eliot Richards sent a corner into the box, which Brunt failed to knock home from close range, but the ball fell sweetly to Harrison who slotted home the rebound to secure all 3 points for the Gas.
In 2013-14 Dale won both games. The game in Bristol was Rovers penultimate game of that relegation season. Rovers took the lead through Kaid Mohamed who squeezed the ball under Josh Lillis after 17 minutes. The Rovers wide man showed great strength to get past two Dale defenders before nudging the ball under the rushing keeper. The ball travelled goalwards before hitting the right hand post and dribbled along the goal line before the linesman gave the goal.
Dale came out all guns blazing in the second half and with less than a minute played were level through a stunning left footed curling shot from Bunney. The substitute advanced down the right hand side before receiving a pinpoint pass in the Rovers area, which Mark McChrystal attempted to intercept. Bunney composed himself and slotted his left footed effort in the far corner of the goal.
The visitors took the lead just past the hour mark as former Gas player Matthew Lund fired in from close range. Michael Rose whipped a low cross into the Rovers penalty area, which seemed to evade everyone before Lund popped up at the far post.
The last game at the Mem took place on 10 September 2016, the visitors went in front after 17 minutes when Callum Camps ran on to an Ian Henderson pass and rounded goalkeeper Kelle Roos before shooting into an empty net.
The lead lasted only four minutes before Peter Hartley headed a Chris Lines corner across goal for Taylor to get the final touch inside the six-yard box.
Before the celebrations of GasHeads had died down, Rochdale struck again. The dangerous Joe Bunney collected a long ball from the left and crossed for Henderson to net a simple tap-in.
Taylor levelled again with a scissor-kick from Hartley's header soon after the break and Rochdale's task was made tougher when centre-back Niall Canavan was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 72nd minute but they held on.
Prior to Saturday’s postponed game against Fleetwood, Keith Hill commented about his team’s position, “We’ve got a lot to challenge for this season. Our season isn’t just about the Tottenham game, it’s about making sure that we make the most of our opportunities in the League One campaign to make sure we give ourselves the best chance of avoiding relegation.”
“It seems unlikely at this moment in time, but there’s a real fighting spirit amongst the players and that’s where the unity will give us our best opportunity of surviving.”
The Dale Boss is relaxed about the fixture pile-up, “It’s no concern of mine, the games have to be played and it beats training. We could definitely be the slow burner, the one who everybody takes their eye off and then all of a sudden, we’re there, right in front of them, so that has got to be our mentality. We have to pick up points and we have to be in every game, because we now can’t afford too many off games.”