Bristol Rovers entertain a Northampton Town team, who like Rovers suffered a mid-week single goal home defeat.
Rovers’ victory at Exeter last weekend gave Gasheads the hope that they would be able to take the game to Cheltenham, but the hoodoo of former players scoring against them hit once again as Chris Zabroski secured all three points for the Robins.
Meanwhile on Tuesday night at Sixfields, just before halftime, Northampton's Chris Hackett hit the crossbar before Gillingham’s Deon Burton collected a clearance from goalkeeper Stuart Nelson and calmly finished seconds later.
Ten minutes after half-time Jack Payne made it 2-0 with a 20-yard shot after Burton's short pass. Adebayo Akinfenwa scored for the Cobblers on 82 minutes, heading in from Ben Tozer's long throw.
Charlie Allen was shown a second yellow card in injury-time leaving the Gills one man short for the duration of time added on.
The result came on the back of Saturday’s 3-3 draw at Burton Albion, another game in which the Cobblers found themselves 2-0 down, with manager Aidy Boothroyd lamenting that the first-half performance at the Pirelli Stadium was one of the worst he had seen from one of his teams.
At the weekend, Town got out of jail thanks to Alex Nicholls’ stunning late equaliser, but there was to be no late rescue act on Tuesday, and there was an air of depression over Sixfields following the game.
As members of the old Third Division (South) Rovers have a long tradition of games against the Cobblers. There have been some stirring games but perhaps none bring such painful memories than the Cobblers’ 1997/98 Play-off Semi-Final victory.
In the first meeting between the clubs in 1907/08 season Rovers ran out 1-0 winners at the County Ground on 11 January 1908. In the first four post-World War II meetings between the teams the away team won the lot!
The 1989/90 Championship season probably summed up the difference between a winning and losing team. In the game at Twerton Park on 29th October 1989, Bobby Brown was running the Rovers defence ragged and the undefeated home record looked in danger. Goals by Devon White and Paul Nixon had the game tied at 2-2.
Late in the game Devon White was controversially brought down in the box and Holloway converted the penalty to give the Gas an unlikely lead. Then with the seconds ticking away an unlucky Trevor Quow guided a clearance into his own net to give the final score of 4-2. It was all 6 points to Rovers largely due to their 'never say die' spirit, after another Ian Holloway penalty secured a 2-1 win at the County Ground.
The previous time Rovers had 'done the double' over the Cobblers was back in 1967/68 season. Two goals in the home game by Stuart Taylor secured the points at Eastville. However it was the game at the County Ground that had been so remarkable.
Rovers’ away record was nothing to shout about, of their first 7 away games they had won 1 drawn 2 and lost 4, the Cobblers had won 5 of their previous 6 games. Converted Left Half (Remember them? They used to wear number 6) Ray Mabbutt had a field day in the County Ground mud.
Frank Large gave the home team an early lead but Rovers were quickly level when a Johnny Williams pile driver was parried by Harvey straight to Mabbutt, who stabbed the ball home. Soon after Large was brought down in the box and Mackin scored from the spot. It fell to Bobby Jones scoring against his old club to restore Rovers to parity.
A 30-yard shot from Johnny Williams gave Rovers a 3-2 lead but that man Large made sure things were all square by half time. It was some while into the second-half before the goals started to roll in again, Mabbutt accepting a simple tap in before Large scored the Cobblers fourth goal and completed his hat trick.
Not to be outdone Mabbutt scored once more to complete the only hat trick of his career and to give Rovers an incredible 5-4 away win
Looking at those 1997/98 Play-Off Semi-Finals, having secured a 3-1 home win many Rovers fans were already booking tickets for Wembley. However the Cobblers thought (quite rightly, as it turned out) that their away goal, scored late in the game, would be crucial. So it turned out to be, the 3-0 reverse at Sixfields was stunning.
Results in the West Country generally favour Rovers with 18 victories and 12 defeats in the 44 games played. In the last four games in Bristol there have been just six goals scored, 4 for Rovers and 2 to Northampton giving 2 wins to Rovers and 2 draws. Rovers have won the last 2 games.
The Cobblers Joe Widdowson says his team will travel in a ‘positive frame of mind’ this weekend despite Tuesday night’s 2-1 Sixfields defeat.
“I have only played at Bristol Rovers once before, when I was at Rochdale, and we won, I don’t think they have made the best of starts to the season, and we have to regroup after Tuesday night.
“We have to look at where we went wrong, work hard on the training pitch, sort things out, and we will travel down there in a positive frame of mind.”
Northampton were dealt a double injury blow this week. Luke Guttridge is set for around three months out after suffering a broken bone in his foot early on in Tuesday’s defeat.
He joins fellow central midfielder Ben Harding on the sidelines. John Johnson, also came off against the Gills and the defender will be absent for between four and six weeks as he is now facing a knee operation.
Chris Hackett could replace Guttridge while Danny East, who has extended his loan spell from Hull until January, is likely to come in for Johnson at full-back. In light of the two injuries, manager former Gas player Aidy Boothroyd is trying to bring in a loan signing ahead of the trip to the Memorial Stadium.
Boothroyd is looking for a quick response to Tuesday’s loss “We’ve got to take Tuesday night on the chin, not sulk about it and quickly move on, if we can get some good results in our next couple of games we can keep ourselves in the pack but first and foremost we’ve got a difficult away trip which we’ve got to make sure we get something out of.
“What I’ve tried to do here is assemble the right calibre of players, nobody can be at their best for 46 games but what I want to get is that 80/85 per cent performance level out of everybody. I just thought on Tuesday night that we dropped off those levels a little bit and that’s why I was disappointed.
“We saw Bristol Rovers on Wednesday night and we know what they are about. Like any other team in this league they can beat or be beaten by anybody on their day so we have got to make sure that we recover quickly from Tuesday night. Bristol Rovers haven’t won at home yet and statistics like that are there to be changed and broken.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re not that statistic and that we come away from Bristol with a positive result. We can see that after 10 games we are well capable of scoring goals and we are very capable of keeping clean sheets but what we don’t seem to be able to do is put all that together at the same time.
“That will come and as I’ve said all along it will take time. It is going to take some time for us to really click into gear and to have that you need to have everybody fit and at it and until then we just have to ride with the punches.”
Mark McGhee will be urging his team to get that first home win on the board as soon as possible. Although Northampton are in mid-table they have recorded just one win from their five away games this season.
With both teams anxious to put disappointing mid-week results behind them all Gasheads will be hoping that their team collects all three points.
Written by Gerry Prewett.