A look ahead to tomorrow's game
Bristol Rovers open their 2012/13 League season when they entertain Oxford United at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The opening of the new season has been eagerly awaited by GasHeads after Mark McGhee’s stewardship steered Rovers away from the potential of a relegation disaster to mid-table security.
At the latter end of last season Rovers produced some thrilling home results, culminating in the 7-1 thrashing of Burton Albion whilst at the same time away form fell away.
There has been much transfer activity over the summer months including the sale of Mustapha Carayol to Middlesbrough for a considerable fee.
Mark McGhee’s transfer target, from this weekend’s opposition, James Constable, has not yet been confirmed but a third approach to the U’s has been made to the U’s for their striker.
Much like Rovers, United will be looking to secure a promotion spot at the season’s end, having come so close to the play-off place last season, picking up just 3 points from their last 7 games. That was put behind them in mid-week as the U’s overcame AFC Bournemouth in the Capital Cup at the Kassam Stadium.
United could have gone ahead in the first half as Shwan Jalal parried shots from Adam Chapman and ex-Gas player Sean Rigg in quick succession. Then Bournemouth's Wes Thomas fired wide when in a good position and Marc Pugh shot over for the visitors after 80 minutes.
With no score in Extra Time the game went to penalties and the Yellows converted all five with full-back Damian Batt scoring the winning spot-kick after Ryan Clarke had saved Marc Pugh's effort.
Oxford Boss Chris Wilder was delighted with the character and application that his side showed “We stuck in there and showed great resilience. I thought it was a decent game for a 0-0 and both sides had a go at it. We came up against a good side tonight.
"There was a lot of quality on show from them and there were a few tactical changes they made which kept us on our toes but the players gave themselves the opportunity to go and win the game and all credit to them.
“We played well and it was a pretty even game, but we came through it. It’s early days but the lads have shown great spirit in pre-season and are a very together bunch. It’s good for everyone in the stands to see that tonight as well.
“The crowd have got a massive part to play for us through the ups and downs of the season but they always give the players the opportunity to produce their most confident and best performances.
"Like Swindon last year where they gave us a massive lift when we were down to ten men, they give the players that confidence, even at the end there: to go out and be positive in a penalty shoot-out.”
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 44 meetings since Oxford first entered the League back in the mid 1960’s, replacing Accrington Stanley.
In terms of results the games between the teams have been remarkably even over the years with Rovers winning 16, United 16 and 12 draws. In all respects it’s the home teams who dominate in these fixtures with 4 United away wins and 5 Rovers away wins. In recent years it is the Yellow’s who have dominated with 4 wins and 2 draws in the last 6 meetings.
The first game between the two teams was played on 18th September 1965 at Eastville. There were four goals scored, all by Jones, one by Oxford’s Tony, but the star of the day was Rovers’ Bobby who bagged a hat tick.
However my vivid memory of that day was the Oxford custodian, Harry Fearnley who was smoking during the game! He used to rush into the back of his net whilst play was at the other end and have a quick puff.
Also in the Oxford team was "Big Fat" Ron Atkinson, who the Evening Post noted failed to keep a tight grip on Bobby Jones.
The most goals scored in a Rovers’ home game was a stunning 6-2 win at the end of the 2000-01 relegation season, which ended up being meaningless as Rovers’ season fell apart at the death.
That 2 goal haul was only the second time the U’s have managed two goals on Rovers territory. However the next time they registered that number at the Mem was in 2002-03 season when they secured a 2-0 win.
Rovers’ worst defeat at Oxford, until the 6-1 thrashing in 2010/11 in the Coca Cola Cup, was a 4-1 loss on only their second visit to the ground on 2 February 1967. Alfie Biggs was Rovers’ scorer.
Rovers’ next visit, only 7 months later, was much more productive, a mid-week 2-0 victory with goals by Harold Jarman and an own goal by John Shuker sending the Eastville faithful home happy.
It wasn’t until September 1995 that the victory was to be repeated when the two Marcus’s, Browning and Stewart scored in a 2-1 win for the Gas. Back in 1982 and 1983 Rovers played two Boxing Day games at the Manor, scored 2 goals in both and lost both, 4-2 and 3-2 respectively.
Rovers had a remarkable spell at Oxford between 1995 and 2002. They played there five times, won four and drew the other game. Amongst those victories was a 5-0 thumping on 22nd January 2000, which looked as though it had set Rovers on the path to promotion.
Recently the advantage has been with the varsity team who have secured four victories and two draw in the last six meetings. The last of those victories being that 3-0 thumping back on 8 October 2011.
On 16 minutes Oxford, took the lead when the ball was played up to the subject of much transfer speculation, James Constable and he hit a left foot shot across Scott Bevan and into the far corner.
The U's second goal arrived six minutes after the restart, Leven converting a penalty after Anthony had fouled Robert Hall. The home side sealed their win with six minutes remaining when Simon Heslop provided the pass and Constable finished coolly.
Transfer news from the Kassam reveals that United have agreed a deal to sign Manchester United defender Sean McGinty on loan until January. The 18-year-old defender has yet to appear for United's first team but gained League Two experience last season during a month-long loan spell with Morecambe.
Injury news is that James Constable has shaken off a dead leg and will play. Michael Duberry, Liam Davis, Peter Leven, Andy Whing and Harry Worley are long-term absentees for the U's but report no new knocks and strains after Tuesday.
Striker Jon-Paul Pittman remains a doubt with a stomach strain but United have now received international clearance for Welsh defender Alex Evans who comes straight into the squad, with youth team captain Sam Long likely to travel with the under 18 squad for their game at Plymouth on Saturday morning.
The opening of a new season always brings excitement, this is especially true for Rovers fans this season. With positive news of a new Stadium and the dramatic turnaround in both the performance and spirit of the club after Mark McGhee’s arrival things are looking bright.
The visit of Oxford United will give an early indication of how well the pre-season preparations have gone for a long hard season.
Written by Gerry Prewett.