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23 February 2019 Venue Memorial Stadium Attendance

Kick off 15:00 (UK)

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English Football League - League One

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Match Previews

Focus On: Sunderland

21 February 2019

This weekend Bristol Rovers welcome Sunderland to the Mem with three points to be fought over for two teams at different ends of the division.

When the fixture list came out ‘the Sunderland home game’ was the first that most Gasheads would have been looking for.

The Black Cats have not torn up the division as some would have expected but Jack Ross seems to have steadied the ship and a promotion whether automatic or via the play-offs looks very possible. Rovers know from their own season in the Conference that being the big fish in the small pond is not much fun if you stay in the small pond!

The Wearsiders have been at the top end all season so far but have struggled since their last away win at Blackpool on New Year’s Day. Draws at Charlton, Scunthorpe and Oxford are reasonable but these have not been backed up by home wins. Until Tuesday evening’s 4-2 win over Gillingham, a 1-0 defeat of AFC Wimbledon was the only victory since the start of the year. Luton, Blackpool and Accrington have all visited the Stadium of Light and come away with a share of the points.

At least Jack Ross seems to have rid the club of the poison that was evident during the fascinating Netflix documentary “Sunderland til I die”. The fly on the wall style showed some players in a bad light and the utter frustration of many loyal supporters who felt their allegiance to the red and white stripes was being taken for granted.

On Tuesday evening as Rovers were battling away at Fratton Park for a hard-fought draw the Black Cats ended their frustrating run of draws when they disposed of Gillingham 4-2. Within five minutes the home team were ahead. Grant Leadbitter whipped a corner towards the penalty spot, where Jimmy Dunne had done well to get the run on his marker. He looked to be hauled to the ground but as the referee let play run on, Lee Cattermole, recalled to the side after a long spell out with an ankle injury, thumped home the loose ball.

Before the game Jack Ross had stressed the importance of getting ahead and not having to force it. Having finally done so, his team were pegged back within a minute. The defence switched off and allowed Tom Eaves to run free, the striker cleverly taking the ball round Jon McLaughlin and as Tom Flanagan challenged, the ball was turned into the bottom corner.

Just four minutes later the home team were back in front; another excellent Leadbitter delivery found the unmarked Flanagan, who headed home well.

The Black Cats were set on their heels five minutes before half time when they failed to deal with a Gillingham corner and Brandon Hanlan was left free to strike a firm effort past McLaughlin.

In the 66th-minute a cross to the back post cleared the Gillingham defence. Luke O'Nien looked set to fire home at the back post but was brought down by a clumsy challenge from Leo Da Silva Lopes. Grigg chased to gather the ball and after Aiden McGeady stepped aside, finally got off the mark by firing the penalty straight down the middle of the goal.

McGeady on the scoresheet with 13 minutes left when O'Nien was again brought down in the box by Regan Charles-Cook. This time Grigg let the winger step up and he replicated the striker's effort, scoring straight down the middle.

Speaking after the game Jack Ross said, "It's worth mentioning that I thought the supporters were terrific. I know we speak all the time about their loyalty and their passion. I thought their patience and their support for the players throughout the game was terrific. Even when Gillingham got themselves back in it, and even when we went 20 minutes in the second half without getting ourselves ahead, throughout the game they were really good.”

"They deserve a lot of praise for that and I know the players are extremely grateful. We've mentioned how determined these players are to bring success to the club and it is going to be a collective effort. The patience and support of the fans made a big difference."

Whilst five points from nine has not been a great return for the Black Cats, but Ross has been hugely encouraged with the output of his players over the three games. "I know I have said I have been pleased with large parts of the last two home games and that is the case, and we continued in that same vein," he said. “There was times when it looked as though it was going to be frustration again but I am delighted for the players. They put a lot into the three games, it's a bit frustrating to only take five from nine but the performance level and amount of chances created has been good.”

Looking back over the history of games between the teams it is somewhat surprising that it is all evens with 10 victories to each team. Looking into those statistics a little more deeply there is a massive bonus for the home teams, Rovers winning 9 of the 14 games played in the West Country and just one win on Wearside, whilst Sunderland have 9 victories at home and 2 away.

Now that is quite a remarkable record against a team of Sunderland's calibre. Certainly in these games home advantage is everything. Most of those meetings have been in League games whilst the two teams have been on an equal standing.

Let us look at the two Cup games between the two sides. Firstly they clashed in a 2nd Round League Cup tie back on 7th September 1971. Rovers were on a high, having just disposed of Bradford City 7-1 on the previous Saturday. Sunderland were riding high in the Second Division (and eventually finished 5th). A 15,262 Eastville crowd saw Harold Jarman, Wayne Jones and Sandy Allan all scored to put Rovers through 3-1.

By 1977-78 season Rovers had climbed into the Second Division themselves. They'd travelled to Roker Park on 12th November and been on the end of a 5-1 thrashing. When they drew the Rokerites (as they were then known) in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup there weren't too many people who thought Rovers were going far in the Cup that year. However they were wrong, despite Graham Day getting himself sent off, 10 man Rovers battled their way to a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Bobby Gould goal.

Looking back at League games the match played on 24th February 1988 was equally remarkable. Rovers were in poor form and high riding Sunderland arrived at Twerton Park with high hopes. A crunching tackle early in the game by Armstong on Kenny Hibbitt, broke Hibbitt's leg and it seemed to Galvanise the Rovers team. They took Sunderland apart that night and goals by Ian Holloway, Devon White, David Mehew and Gary Penrice gave the Gas a 4-0 victory.

On 7 September 1974 there was an early season lesson for Rovers with a Billy Hughes hat-trick (including a penalty), Pop Robson and a Peter Aitkin own goal giving the home team 5 goals with just as Alan Warboys response.

Following that 12th November 1977 5-1 loss, the Rokerites were at it again on 2 December 1978 as they once again put 5 goals past Martin Thomas, this time, Bob Lee, Gary Rowell and a Wayne Entwistle hat-trick sent Rovers facing the long journey home pointless.

The Black Cats were disappointed when Josh Maja left to join Bordeaux in the January transfer window, but were buoyed with the signing of Will Grigg from Wigan. Aiden McGeady said at the time of Grigg’s arrival, “It’s hard to take that many goals out of your team midway through the season, regardless of what you thought of Maja’s all-round game. If you get him a chance in the box, he scores. He’s an unbelievable finisher.”

“Griggy’s a different kind of striker who probably runs more channels than Maj, a different type of hold-up play. In the last couple of games he’s just been unlucky, he’s not got that goal. He had a few chances and it just didn’t fall properly for him but now he’s scored, which is great.”

“I understand we’re on paper probably seen as the strongest team in the division and when you’re not winning games everyone inside the club, not just the fans, feel the pressure. Everyone wants to be promoted, that’s where we want to be. Sometimes you have to be patient.”

“The positivity from the manager and in the group over the last week or so is that the performances have been better, albeit we’ve not been getting the rewards. Tonight overall I thought we played really well, it was disappointing to lose a couple of goals which obviously sets us back a bit but I think the performance clicked tonight.”

“Tuesday was a much-needed three points, especially seeing other results. Let’s just see how we go. I can understand playing at a big club when things aren’t going right on the pitch, the crowd and everything else around about it can suck you in a little bit. I understand that because I’ve played at Celtic, Spartak Moscow and Everton, you can feel it on the pitch sometimes It’s down to the individual whether he can rise above that.”

“There’s still almost a third of the season to go. We’re going to treat it like 14, 15 games to get ourselves promoted.”

Jack Ross was without striker Duncan Watmore for Tuesday night's clash with Gillingham, after the speedster had completed his first 90 minutes since returning from injury the prior week. But the Sunderland boss is hopeful that he will recover in time to form part of his squad on Saturday, "Duncan had a slight groin problem, we could have risked him," Ross said. "All being well he will be back on Saturday in the squad."

Chris Maguire, was withdrawn early on at the Stadium of Light, in what was his return to the starting line-up, Maguire lasted less than 20 minutes before he was force to leave the field, Ross noted, “It was an impact injury to his calf, he was quite sore,"I thought he started really well, he is a bit sore. He will be assessed. Sometimes they can clear up quickly, we will have to wait and see.”

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Match Reports

Match Report: Rovers 0-2 Sunderland

23 February 2019

Rovers suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of promotion-chasing Sunderland at the Mem on Saturday afternoon.

Graham Coughlan’s men gave a spirited display, but goals from Luke O’Nien and Aiden McGeady sealed the game for the expensively-assembled visitors.

Jonson Clarke-Harris, having scored from the spot on his full debut on Tuesday at Portsmouth, kept his place in the starting line-up, joined by Gavin Reilly. Alex Jakubiak was the man to make way to bench, where he was joined by Ed Upson and Joe Partington, whose places were taken by Ollie Clarke and Alex Rodman.

The game started at a ferocious pace, with Rovers clearly intending to prove they were not intimidated by their lofty opponents. The visitors were allowed no time on the ball as the home side pressed and harried from the first whistle, looking to pin Sunderland back towards their busy away end.

In front of the travelling Black Cats, good work from Alex Rodman drew a free-kick that Liam Sercombe clipped a little too high for those in the area.

Sunderland, via Aiden McGeady, lifted a trip of crosses into Rovers territory, but two were easily pouched by Jack Bonham and third broken up by a crucial Tony Craig header.

Rodman had the first shot of the game, on 14 minutes, picking up on the ball after a superb burst by Abu Ogogo, but not catching the ball cleanly, and dragging wide.

Controversy reigned at the midway point of the first half, stemming from an O’Nien tackle on Reilly. The Scottish forward neatly flicked sideways to Sercombe, but caught a cruncher from O’Nien as he laid the ball off. Sercombe’s touch was a little heavy, and as Sunderland intercepted, Rovers anticipated the award of a free-kick, with the referee’s advantage having broken down.

Referee James Linington did stop the game, to caution O’Nien for his recklessness, but decided Rovers had been their own downfall as far as the advantage went.

Inside two minutes, O’Nien the man to put Sunderland in front.

McGeady and Leadbitter took a short corner and lifted the ball to the far post, where Will Grigg had read the play best. His knock down found O’Nien sniffing around, and the full-back forced home from close range.

The goal settled the visitors, with experienced central midfield dup Leadbitter and Cattermole helping to dictate the play, but their apparent control did not equate to chances, and Rovers began to forge their way back into the affair.

It may not always have been pretty, but the inclusion of Clarke-Harris gave the Gas an outlet they have not always had, and a series of direct diagonal balls found the new man’s head. However, few flick-ons found colleagues, as relationships, in their early days, continue to develop.

Rodman cut inside, beating a couple from the right before shooting weakly wide, then was involved in the build-up along with Sercombe, Reilly and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis as they linked to tee up Ollie Clarke, who sliced wide.

Reece James made it a pair of Sunderland full-backs to go into the book, just after the interval, as he plunged his studs into the abdomen of Rodman, but another set-piece delivery missed everyone.

At the other end, though, Sunderland made the dead-ball count.

As a scramble ensued just outside in the Rovers’ penalty, a prone Sercombe’s instinctive handball was spotted by the referee, who gave the visitors a free-kick exactly on the edge of the D. From 22 yards, McGeady flipped a ball over the wall and down into the unguarded corner of the net.

Graham Coughlan brought on Alex Jakubiak for Reilly, and the substitute quickly won a corner from a long ball by Tom Lockyer, following an excellent piece of defending by the skipper. Sercombe’s corner was met by Tony Craig, who headed just over.

Cattermole made an uncharacteristic mistake to present the ballot Clarke-Harris, who was hacked down by Jimmy Dunne to give Rovers a free-kick about a yard closer than McGeady had scored from. Sercombe tried the same free-kick, and put it about a half a yard over.

Rovers continued to apply pressure in a search for a goal that would give a flicker of hope, and gave Sunderland plenty to do defensively – but they did it well.

Late in the game, their forays forward increased, and were threatening, too. On three occasions substitute Charlie Wyke looked to capitalise on good work by his fellow replacement Lewis Morgan, but was just off target each time.

There can be no qualms about the result, but this was no one-sided affair. When Sunderland visit again in 10 days’ time, they will face no easy route to that famous arch in West London.

Rovers XI: Jack Bonham, James Clarke, Tom Lockyer (c), Tony Craig, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; Alex Rodman, Ollie Clarke (Ed Upson 67), Abu Ogogo, Liam Sercombe (Tom Nichols 83); Jonson Clarke-Harris, Gavin Reilly (Alex Jakubiak 56).

Unused Subs: Adam Smith (gk), Joe Partington, Stuart Sinclair, Sam Matthews.

Sunderland XI: Jon McLaughlin, Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Jimmy Dunne, Reece James; Lee Cattermole, Grant Leadbitter; George Honeyman, Duncan Watmore (Lewis Morgan 67), Aiden McGeady (Max Power 83); Will Grigg (Charlie Wyke 75).

Unused Subs: Robbin Ruiter (gk), Adam Matthews, Alim Ozturk, Dylan McGeouch.

Booked: O’Nien 22, James 49, Dunne 70.

Attendance: 10,009 (1,408 away).   

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Ticket News

Ticket Information: Sunderland (league)

13 February 2019

Rovers host Sunderland at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday, 23rd February, in what will be an ALL TICKET fixture.

Supporters can purchase tickets in person at the Mem from our Superstore - which is open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. 

Please note, all seated tickets have completely sold out, with only standing allocations still available.

Online tickets for this fixture will be available until midnight on Friday, 22nd February and we are now able to offer a 'Print at Home' service for tickets purchased online (please note that these tickets must be printed at home or shown on a compatible mobile device). More information on how to use our Print at Home service can be found HERE.

There will no availability of tickets on the day of the game.

To purchase tickets online please click HERE.

Family stand tickets are now available for purchase online, but we remind fans you must be accompanied by at least one Under-16 supporter for entry to this stand.

For more information on the ticket prices for the various sections of the ground - please click HERE.

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