By Gerry Prewett.
After collecting maximum points from their last two home games, things are looking much brighter for Bristol Rovers as they head up to the Pirelli Stadium to face the team immediately above them in the table Burton Albion.
The Midland’s team finished last season strongly and also had an epic journey to the Semi-Finals of the EFL Cup. The club was only formed in 1950 and gained League status as recently as 2009. Their rise up the ranks to the Championship by 2016 was not only remarkable for its speed but also for the limited financial resources with a capacity of fewer than 7,000.
They were in Cup action once again in mid-week when they hosted League Two side, Morecambe. The home team could have been behind inside a minute but Kieran O'Hara did well to deny Shrimps forward Lewis Alessandra at close range before Albion's attack put some serious pressure on the Morecambe goal.
Mark Halstead made a number of good saves to keep them out until the 34th minute, when he was unable to prevent Liam Boyce from powerfully heading home a Scott Fraser corner.
Boyce and Lucas Akins were then denied by Halstead before Boyce struck again on the stroke of half-time steering Oliver Sarkic's cross home. A blistering start to the second half saw the busy Halstead deny Akins once again before Ryan Edwards scored his first goal in a Burton shirt finishing off John Brayford's low cross.
Kevin Ellison and Alessandra went close to getting Jim Bentley's side back in the contest before Boyce completed his hat-trick to put the game to bed in the 74th minute. Although Halstead saved Akins' header, the Northern Ireland striker hooked in the rebound from close range.
Interviewed after the game the Irishman said, “I didn’t have the best of starts, I think I gave the ball away every time I got it for the first 20 minutes but yeah I just kept playing. It was brilliant, at the start of the season I’ve been having chances and stuff and for whatever reason I haven’t been getting them in.
“It will give anyone confidence if they’re a striker and they score a hat-trick. I’ve got one in Ireland, a couple in Scotland and one in England now so it’s a good collection to have.”
The hat-trick for Boyce comes just a week after the 4-2 win against Oxford which also saw another hat-trick, this time by Scott Fraser.
Boyce said, “To have two people score a hat-trick in a week it shows our confidence to get goals so it takes a bit of pressure off the defence as well because that’s two clean sheets in a row.”
“We have players that are good footballers, you just have to be in the right position as a striker and you’re going to create a chance and you just have to be able to take it. We want to get points and we have some big games and were trying to win all of them obviously and we’ll be all focussed on that for Saturday. Hopefully I can keep scoring goals.”
With Albion being such recent members of the League, the clubs have only crossed paths 8 times, all in League Two. Rovers have won 3 games at the Mem (including a Memorable 7-1 thrashing on 14 April 2012 when the half-time score was 1-0!) but have picked up only one point from 4 games at the Pirelli Stadium.
Rovers’ first visit to Burton was on 22 October 2011. After Matt Harrold gave the Gas a 14th minute lead, Cleveland Taylor and Billy Kee gave the home team a 2-1 half-time lead which they maintained.
Just under a year later and Rovers once again took the lead, David Clarkson on 30 minutes and once again that man Billy Kee pierced the Rovers backline, this time on 50 minutes to bring the scores level.
On 23 November 2013 Rovers, on a 5 game unbeaten run, were reduced to 10 men when Chris Beardsley was shown a straight red card on 37 minutes. Albion could have been ahead straight from kick-off but Steve Mildenhall brilliantly kept out Chris Hussey's searing low drive.
The visitors had a chance of their own in the ninth minute when Ollie Clarke was denied by Burton skipper Ian Sharps on the goal-line. Mildenhall did well to adjust his feet and deal with a deflected shot as Hussey threatened again.
Rovers held out until 59th minute when Robbie Weir hit a superb 25 yard blast into the bottom corner of the net. The game exploded right at the end, the hosts were reduced to 10 men themselves when winger Jimmy Phillips picked up a second yellow card in added time, and Rovers then had John-Joe O'Toole sent off for a clash inside the Burton penalty area.
Last season’s game, Ben Fox's first league goal snatched all three points for Burton, on as a second-half substitute, he turned smartly inside the box as the game went into added on time to take Lucas Akins' pass and fire home at the near post.
In a frustrating second half both Will Miller and Kyle McFadzean rattled the Rovers woodwork as Albion looked the more likely to break the stalemate in a game of precious few clear chances.
Miller was a bright spark for the Brewers out on the left side, making his first start since January after a serious knee injury, whilst Rovers looked for the skills of Alex Jakubiak to try to get them going.
McFadzean forced Jack Bonham into an excellent save with a dipping shot after 39 minutes before Tony Craig thought he had broken his side's recent goal drought from a scramble inside the Burton box only to be denied by the offside flag.
Burton Boss Nigel Clough has stated that his sights are set firmly on the game this weekend. The Brewers have won two, drawn one and lost two so far in 2019-20, with both of those defeats coming at the Pirelli Stadium.
That is a record the Burton manager wants to rectify this weekend, as they look to end the first month of the season in the best possible way, "It was our first win at home this season against Morecambe, we're at the end of August and we've already lost a couple of League games here, in unlucky fashion," Clough told the Derby Telegraph, "So it was good to get that first win.”
"It's a big week for us with the three games. Bristol Rovers is by far the most important one on Saturday, then the EFL Trophy game against Crewe is next Tuesday, "We go now and get ready for Saturday, because that's the one we really need to win.
"When you come off the pitch after the week we've had, with four points on the road in the League against Oxford United and Shrewsbury Town, and now we've had two clean sheets and we've scored eight goals, anybody who doesn't want to get out there and play again tomorrow and Thursday shouldn't be playing football.
"Hopefully it will be a bit cooler on Saturday, it's going to drop a few degrees. Night games are always lovely, you've got the zip on the pitch, a bit of dew, the ball moves nicely, so we just want to take the same sort of patterns and the same things we did on Tuesday into Saturday."