With 12 games of the season left in what is sure to be a tight finish at the bottom of League One, Bristol Rovers head up to Lincolnshire to face a Scunthorpe United team who are four points and five positions above the Gas.
So tight is this division that there are only seven points between Rovers and 11th placed Burton Albion and Rovers have a game in hand! Having said that, as Rovers know to their own complacency can easily lead to downfall. Things are so tight that for the teams from Burton downwards there have been only 19 wins between them in their last 6 games (84 games in total), 28 draws and 37 defeats.
In recent seasons Glanford Park has not been a happy hunting ground for Rovers’ but if they do manage to secure three points this weekend, it would not only help haul Rovers up the greasy pole but would drag Scunny back into the mire. With just one point from their last three games, the Iron have started to falter. On Saturday they went down to a 2-1 defeat to Oxford at the Kassam Stadium.
Scunthorpe were quickly out of the blocks with Funso Ojo having a low shot saved in the first minute. In an uninspiring first half the home side's best opportunity squandered by a heavy touch from Mark Sykes when Jerome Sinclair played him through.
After the break Oxford had more attacking threat when Gavin Whyte came off the bench and Sinclair took full advantage, first heading in a left-wing cross from Sykes in the 65th minute. He doubled the U’s lead when he headed home John Mousinho's cross in the 80th minute.
Substitute George Thomas turned in Tom Pearce's cross in added time to give the Iron some hope. Speaking after the game Iron Boss Stuart McCall said, “I am really frustrated, disappointed and angry. It is a game we never should have lost. We took the sting out the game, had controlled the game, kept them quiet and had a couple of opportunities.
“We coped with their threat but they had two attempts, and scored twice from them, both from free headers. We have got to pick up those men and take responsibility in the box. We have done it all week in training but we have not done it today.
“For all the ball and play we have had, we haven’t created enough. We had bits and bobs but set plays were poor. The corners and free kicks going into the box weren’t good enough. But the thing that has made me most angry is the two free headers their kid has had to score. I expected them to have more than they did which makes it doubly frustrating that we’ve lost the game.
“It was certainly a game that we should be going back up the road with something which makes it more frustrating, disappointing and anger more than anything.”
Looking back at the past games between the two clubs the first meeting didn’t take place until as United didn’t gain League status until 1951 and played in the Third Division North until a 1-1 draw in January 1959. In their second ever visit to The Old Show Ground; Rovers recorded a stunning 4-3 win with Alfie Biggs, Ray Mabbutt and Ian Hamilton (2) all on the score sheet with Welsh international wing wizard Barrie Thomas (2) and Peter Donnelly replying for the home team.
It was another 13 years and two points from a possible 12 (just 2 for a win in those days!) before Rovers recorded their next win in the steel town. A smash and grab double (yes Warboys and Bannister as always) kept a 1,784 crowd silent!
During that lean spell Rovers visited the Old Show Ground on 7th November 1964. Rovers had got off to an excellent free-scoring start to the season, hitting 4 past Mansfield, Peterborough, Bournemouth, and 5 past Grimsby and Carlisle in consecutive games.
Against Reading on 17th October Alfie Biggs suffered a serious cartilage injury which kept him out for the rest of the season. Rovers came off two wins before their trip to Lincolnshire and an Ian Hamilton goal for Rovers and a Barry Lindsay goal for the home side, gave the teams a share of the points in a hard-fought game.
Nearly a year later and it was a different story. Having lost 3-0 at Swansea and 4-3 at Swindon the defence needed to tighten up but it wasn't to be. Without ever looking a good side Scunthorpe won with absurd ease as Rovers defensive marking was virtually non-existent. The attack wasn't much better and when Ian Hamilton put the ball in the net Referee Egan ruled that Dick Plumb had fouled Geoff Sidebottom in the Scunthorpe goal.
Freddie Goodwin gave Scunthorpe a 25th minute lead with an unchallenged header and then five minutes into the second half Brian Bedford was given equal largesse. Frank Barton sealed the game with a hooked shot just seven minutes later to complete a 3-0 victory.
In 2004-05 season, in their final home game of the campaign, Scunthorpe needed a win to keep their hopes of automatic promotion alive. It was a whitewash for the hosts, who then went on to gain the point they needed at Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury the following week. Steve Torpey grabbed a brace within the first 14 minutes to get the ball rolling, producing two pin-pointed back headers which bounced into the net in front of a very strong crowd behind the goal.
That was the end of the goals for the first half, but it took just 46 seconds of the second half to add to the scoring. After a long Paul Musselwhite goal kick, Hayes found himself in the clear, with the Iron striker sending a side-footed lob over Ryan Clarke in Rovers goal.
A dampener hit the game seven minutes later though, as Richard Kell was stretchered off with a broken leg, which saw the Pirates’ Craig Disley dismissed for a second bookable offence by referee Scott Mathieson. The win was completed in the 69th minute though; Rovers cleared a corner to the edge of the area, but it was sent back in with vengeance, Cleveland Taylor heading home from 20 yards as the ball looped into the goal to the delight of the fans to secure a 4-0 home win.
In the 2013/14 season, both games were drawn, 0-0 in Bristol and 1-1 at Glanford Park. In 2016/17 Rovers opened their season with a 3-1 loss at Glanford Park having led 1-0 at half-time. Last season saw Rovers recent poor form continue with a 1-0 defeat. Late drama saw the Iron take all three points thanks to a Neal Bishop header in stoppage time. He put his attempt into the corner of the net, after Lee Novak’s cross into the area.
Rovers overall record at Scunthorpe is won six, drawn six and lost seven.
The importance of the Saturday’s game and the following game against Saturday has not escaped McCall, “Every game is important and we’ve got to focus on ourselves and get as many points as we can as quickly as we can,” he said, “We are where we are. We are a mid-table to lower-end table team at the minute.”
“Large parts of the game against Oxford were OK for an away performance. But when Oxford had their little moments, we did not defend well enough and that was the crucial part of losing the game.”