A look ahead to tomorrow's gameThis weekend the Pirates take on the Blades in what will be a cut-throat encounter. The clubs will be in competitive combat for the first time in nearly 25 years. It will be the only the second time they have met in a Cup competition and the last time the Pirates very memorably made off with the silverware!
Although meetings between two of the oldest clubs in the League have been rare, 23 in total, Sheffield United features highly in Bristol Rovers’ club history.
That is because on a memorable summer day in 1972, Bristol Rovers won their only national Cup competition, when they beat United 7-6 on penalties in the Watney Cup Final at Eastville. But more of that later.
On Monday night United moved up to second spot in League One on goal difference as they extended their unbeaten start to the league season with victory over Portsmouth.
A Nick Blackman penalty on 66 minutes sealed the game, after Chris Porter was fouled in the box by a reckless Lubomir Michalik. Portsmouth had earlier struck the Blades’ bar with an Akos Buzsaky's first-half drive.
Danny Wilson's side began confidently, with Blackman firing in an early shot which was saved by Pompey keeper and former Gas favourite Mikkel Andersen.
As United pressed Neill Collins headed over and Chris Porter also saw a headed effort go wide but it was the visitors who looked the more likely scorers in the first half with Scott Allan shooting wide after a strong run into the area and Buzsaky's drive going just over.
United have now won 8 and drawn 7 of their 15 League games this season and have only let in 10 goals in the process. United’s Neill Collins returned to the side for the Pompey game, their third successive 1-0 win and their sixth of the season.
Those narrow victories have been joined by six 1-1 draws, four of which were after United surrendered a lead, and the 29-year-old defender wants his team to give themselves more breathing space in games.
"It's a perfect score at the end of the game but during the game it can be so fragile," Collins said, "If you are playing against any team in the world then it only takes a set-piece or something and they can get a goal, so we are very aware of that, but at the minute we are seeing games out well.
"Football is a funny game, the minute you start thinking you are defensively solid you'll go and concede five and you won't have done a lot different. So we are not getting carried away. As a centre-half I know it only takes a bit of magic or an error to concede, so I would much rather we be winning two or three-nil."
Rovers’ record against the Yorkshire team is amazingly good, having won 9, lost 6 and drawn 8 of the 23 games played. In Bristol and Bath, Rovers have never lost with 7 wins and 5 draws.
The teams did not meet in a competitive fixture until 6 October 1956, in the old Second Division with Rovers winning 3-1 at Eastville and holding out for a 1-1 draw at Bramwell Lane.
However it was that Watney Cup Final at Eastville on 5 August 1972 that most Gasheads hold dear. The pre-season competition was played by the top 2 scoring teams from each division who had not earned a place in Europe or promotion, so goals were guaranteed.
In the Final the full-time score was 0-0! All the first 5 penalties for each team were scored and it went to sudden death. With the score at 7-6 in Rovers' favour, Dick Sheppard plunged to his left to keep out Ted Hemsley’s effort and secure the Cup for Rovers.
The last time the teams met in a competitive game was on 14 January 1989 as Rovers held United to a 1-1 draw at Twerton Park. United had run rampant in Sheffield earlier in the season with a 4-1 victory.
One player who will not be making the journey south to Bristol is Dave Kitson who has a slight hamstring tear. He missed Monday's victory over his former club, Portsmouth, and was replaced by Chris Porter.
United Boss and former Bristol City and Swindon Gaffer Danny Wilson commented: "Dave damaged his hamstring right at the end of Monday's training session. He looks like being sidelined for next two to three weeks. It was a real blow because Dave would have loved to have played against Pompey, but credit to Chris. He was terrific again against two tough centre halves and showed people what he is capable of."
Wilson rang the changes on Monday as Neill Collins returned to the side at centre-half, Matt Hill reverted to left-back and Marcus Williams was deployed on the left of a four man midfield to negate the visitors’ threat down the flank.
Wilson explained the decision, “Marcus did really well; we knew Portsmouth had a lot of pace and trickery down their right. He stuck to his task well and we needed his pace and energy to rebuff their advances.
"We have a fantastic group of players here who will only get better as the season progresses. The fans will always back the lads when they can see we have a real determination and will to win."
There is no doubt that Rovers will have to match their first half effort against Torquay if they are to take the game to the high riding Blades. Performances like those at Wimbledon and Accrington would see an early exit from the Cup.
With the break from League action it is time for the Pirates to show what they are made of and to United that they will not be intimidated by Sheffield steel.
Written by Gerry Prewett.