By Gerry Prewett.
After a frantic last day’s action in the January transfer window Graham Coughlin takes his Bristol Rovers team up around the M25 to face Southend United.
Currently sitting right in the middle of the table the Shrimpers last six game sequences has been, Won, Lost, Won, Lost, Won. Lost. The Shrimpers have actually lost one more game than Rovers, but have accumulated nine more points because they have drawn only twice.
United Boss Chris Powell has had to contend with something of an injury crisis but is frustrated by the lack of consistency.
In their latest game, the Shrimpers went down to a narrow 1-0 loss to in form Luton (on a 16 game unbeaten run), who completed the double over the Essex team and moved to the top of the table. Hatters defender Matty Pearson netted the only goal of the game midway through the first half at Roots Hall.
The visitors came close to taking the lead in the 20th minute when Jack Stacey's low effort was pushed wide of the left post by Shrimpers goalkeeper Nathan Bishop. It was nine minutes later that James Justin's right-wing corner found the head of Pearson who nodded home from eight yards.
Luton came close to doubling their lead at the start of the second half, when Bishop did well to keep out Sonny Bradley's low volley before Justin fired inches over from 20 yards. In reply, Southend rarely threatened but Shrimpers striker Simon Cox did see a well struck long-range effort tipped wide by James Shea in the 71st minute.
Chris Powell was left frustrated that a moment on inattention was the undoing of his side,“It was a tough game but we’ve been beaten by a set play and that’s it. It was a good ball in but one of our defenders isn’t marking Pearson and that gave us a mountain climb.”
“Luton are a very good side but we were prepared for that. You can see why they are where they are and they’re strong all over the pitch. Maybe our final ball was lacking and we didn’t fashion as many chances as we would’ve liked but it’s obviously frustrating.”
However, Powell was again left ruing the Shrimpers’ injury situation after both Luke Hyam and Stephen Hendrie were forced onto the sidelines during the week. “We lost another two players this week and that’s the way it’s gone for us,” said Powell.
“Luton haven’t changed much at all since Nathan Jones left and you can see the benefit they get from being able to name the same side. I can’t remember the last time I was able to do that but we just have to get on with it because I have every trust in the players we have available. We were close today but just not close enough in the end.”
In previous meetings the Essex team have a distinct advantage, having won 47 of those games to Rovers’ 40 victories. 32 of those Rovers’ wins have been in the West Country, so just 8 wins for Rovers at the seaside town. The Shrimpers have a better away record than Rovers with 13 wins in the West of England.
The very first meeting between the clubs took place during the First World War as they tied 0-0 at Eastville on 16 January 1915 in an FA Cup match. In the replay at Roots Hall, Southend ran away with it 3-0. Rovers had a shocking record in the seaside town, taking 18 visits to record their first victory and there were only 4 draws in that sequence. In the first 27 games between the teams Rovers only won 8 and Southend 15.
Looking at some of those previous meetings, in 1964-65 season Rovers were looking a strong prospect for promotion. During that spell they had a visit to Southend on 24th October. Rovers Manager Bert Tann described the match as a nightmare.
Ian Hamilton gave Rovers a 3rd minute lead but then it was all downhill for the Gas, McKinven (2), Smillie and Smith all scored before half-time to give the Blues a 4-1 lead. Hamilton scored two more in the second half, but McKinven and Smith also scored to give a 6-3 final result. Rovers recovered from that to win 3 and draw 2 of their next 5 games.
By the end of April, they had dropped away from the leading pack. The day after a dull 1-1 home draw with Exeter they needed to beat Southend in their final home game of the season to give themselves a realistic chance of going up. John McKinven gave Southend the lead early in the second half, but then in the last 10 minutes the game exploded into life, Harold Jarman and Alfie Biggs gave Rovers a 2-1 lead with just 2 minutes left, but Watson equalised a minute later.
It was the following season when Southend suffered their first ever relegation, Rovers gained their revenge on 5th March 1966 for a 2-0 defeat inflicted at Roots Hall less than a month before. Harold Jarman, Dave Stone and Johnny Brown hit the net for Rovers with John McKinven once again proving the scourge of the Rovers defence. The score would have been closer had Slack not missed a penalty in the 88th minute.
Perhaps the most memorable game between the two clubs as far as Rovers fans are concerned was on 19th April 1974, a 0-0 draw at Roots Hall. Whilst the match itself was not especially exciting the one point was enough to secure promotion to Division 2. Rovers last win at Roots Hall was on New Years Day 2008 when they recorded a 1-0 victory. In the games since there have been 3 single goal defeats and 5 draws.
In the game on the 20th August 2016 Rovers went close to scoring at the end of an uneventful first half when Ollie Clarke saw a 20-yard shot pushed wide of the left post by Shrimpers goalkeeper Mark Oxley. After the break, Southend winger Stephen McLaughlin had an effort easily gathered by Steve Mildenhall before Matty Taylor's 20-yard shot was tipped over by Oxley on the hour mark.
Rovers netted from the resulting Chris Lines corner from the left-hand side as an unmarked Hartley headed home from inside the six-yard box. Southend drew level in the 81st minute when referee Gavin Ward harshly adjudged Ellis Harrison to have handled Jack Bridge's left-wing cross and Cox confidently stroked the penalty past Mildenhall.
In last season’s end of season match Rovers played for more than half the match with 10 men after Ollie Clarke was sent off for two bookable offences, the second of them for a foul on Sam Mantom. Simon Cox came closest to a Southend winner before Clarke's dismissal, striking the crossbar with a volley, while Ellis Harrison forced home goalkeeper Mark Oxley into a fine second-half save.
United defender Elvis Bwomono remains perplexed by his side’s inconsistent form. The loss to Luton Town at Roots Hall on Saturday means they have not won back to back games since October, “I don’t know why it’s happening but we’re working hard to try and stop it. We want to win games back to back and I just think it’s unlucky we haven’t done that yet.”
“We were all on a high after winning at Bradford and it’s frustrating we haven’t been able to build on that by getting another victory. It was a disappointing game and one we felt we fell just short in unfortunately,” said the 20-year-old defender.
“The goal we conceded was from a set piece but we stayed in it as long as we could. We had a few chances at the end and we nearly got a point. A couple of times the ball went across the box but it just fell behind or in front of someone and it didn’t go for us which was also frustrating.”
Bwomono was impressed by the Hatters, “They’re up there in the table and they’re a very strong team. They play the same way no matter who they put out. They’re doing well and they’re definitely one of the best teams we’ve played.
“But we’re a strong team too and we felt as though we could’ve taken something from the game. You can never say never about anything in this League because you don’t know what could happen, League One is a tricky League and if you put a few wins together you can get up the table quite quickly. We obviously want to finish as high up as we can.”