A detailed look at tonight's matchBristol Rovers return to League action on tonight when they entertain a Southend United outfit who moved comfortably into the second round of the FA Cup after deposing of Stockport County 3-0 on Saturday.
The Shrimpers have 5 more points than Rovers but have played one game more, so a win for Rovers would close the gap considerably.
On Saturday, United took the lead in the 33rd minute when Michael Timlin's diagonal pass was headed back across goal by Chris Barker, and Barry Corr headed in from six yards.
It took the Shrimpers until the 85th minute to double their lead as Timlin again delivered a defence splitting pass, this one a low left wing cross which picked out Laird and the on loan Leyton Orient midfielder fired into the bottom left hand corner of the net from six yards.
Substitute Freddy Eastwood gave the score a more emphatic look, as the Hatters chased the game, when he blasted the ball in to the roof of the net from just inside the penalty area.
Speaking ahead of the game Mark McGhee spoke of his friendship and rivalry with Southend Boss Paul Sturrock, "Paul Sturrock is an old adversary of mine - both as a player and as a Manager. I know what to expect from his teams. He's a thinker about the game.
"When they are playing teams that we have played, he'll phone me for half an hour and pick my brains about what I saw. Regardless of their start, we know they are going to be one of the [play-off] contenders this year so it will be a difficult game."
The Essex team has had a disappointing start to their campaign this season and have picked up just one point from their last three league games. However their last victory was an impressive 3-0 away win at high-flying Rotherham.
United’s record in the Bristol and Bath against Rovers is nothing to scare the home side, with 30 home wins to 11 away victories and 10 draws from the 51 games.
Last season ‘normal service’ was resumed in this fixture as Rovers recorded a 1-0 victory with an 88th minute Matt Harrold penalty. Prior to that game United’s previous two visits to the Mem saw them go home with 4-3 and 4-2 losses (the latter a 4 goal Rickie Lambert performance). However in the previous 8 games neither team had scored more than two goals in close and low scoring games.
Looking at some of those previous meetings, back early in 1964-65 season Rovers were looking a strong prospect for promotion. 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 any hope of going up.
McKinven (who had scored a hat-trick in the previous fixture) 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 the drama was not over as Watson equalised a minute later.
It was the following season when Southend suffered their first ever relegation and 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.
Team news from Roots Hall is that Sturrock is considering his options, “Britt (Assombalonga) and Tamika (Mkandawire) are available Tuesday. The pair of them weren’t allowed to play on Saturday in the FA Cup but I actually think that will prove a benefit to the team.
“More so for Britt who has been able to have a bit of a rest and that hopefully will mean we see him back to his best. And then having Tamika now means I have more options in midfield also.”
Scorer Barry Corr is expected to make way for Assombalonga by dropping to the bench. Assombalonga, United’s leading scorer, with nine goals to his name this season, was denied permission by parent club Watford to feature in Saturday's win over Stockport.
Mkandawire, who arrived on loan from Millwall for a month last week, seems likely to make his debut for the Essex team. Other options for Sturrock include, Michael Timlin, Marc Laird and Alex Woodyard. He will also be sweating on the fitness of Ryan Cresswell, after the centre-back temporarily lost vision in one eye after a clash of heads against Stockport.
“I’ll be giving Ryan every opportunity to be fit,” he said, “He has a wee headache but someone like Ryan is made of hardy stuff and I’d expect him to be available.”
Defensive replacement Luke Prosser will not be in contention after picking up his fifth booking of the season, meaning he now serves an automatic one-match ban.
Speaking about Rovers Sturrock noted, “They have had couple of players come back from injury and have won their last two home league games, the boy Eaves has given them a presence up front but we have some fresh legs to bring in also after a hectic cup tie which could give us an edge.”
Rovers lead up to Christmas could prove vital to the outcome of their season with fixtures against teams still within their reach. A victory over Southend would certainly bring a smile to Mark McGhee’s face.
Written by Gerry Prewett