Bristol Rovers entertain Accrington Stanley in their final home game of the 20012/13 season this weekend in a repeat of last season’s final home fixture.
There is great parallel between the two seasons. In both Rovers got off to an indifferent start before imploding leading up to Christmas. Just as last season a change of Manager turned the season around.
The change brought about by John Ward has seen his team take on Championship winning form and after pulling themselves away from the very foot of the table surged towards the edge of the Play-Off positions. If Ward is able to retain the bulk of his squad there is every reason the hope for a much more cheerful season to come.
On Friday this week’s opponents Accrington Stanley secured a vital win over Morecambe to move five points clear of the relegation zone. In a lacklustre first half, the home team grabbed a 28th minute lead when Lee Molyneux's free-kick went in off Peter Murphy.
Thirteen minutes into the second half poor Morecambe defending allowed Rommy Boco to run through on goal and his scuffed shot was slotted home by Padraig Amond to double Stanley's lead. The win took Stanley up to 18th in the table, although they have played at least one more game than the six teams below them.
Stanley are in good form going into their penultimate game with four wins, two draws and just one defeat in their last seven matches. Stanley Boss Leam Richardson noted, “With every win it takes you one step closer to where you want to be.
"A lot of managers, a lot of players and a lot of coaches have all said you’re one of the teams we’d want to stay in. You do feel it, not just from our own supporters. It’s no secret around the country, and around football, we have the lowest budget – going down a couple of divisions below us even – so we compete every single week and every single day against something far greater, far bigger and far superior.
“But we have a really good fight, and people like that I think, especially in our country they like to see the underdog up against something and being greater than the odds. You can either bury your head in the sand or you can stand up and have a fight, and I think we’ve done that for years.”
There is the possibility that former Everton star Franny Jeffers may be able to put in an off the bench performance as he nears match fitness. Richardson commented “If it was up to Franny he would have trained the day after pulling his hamstring. He’s fallen out with the physio numerous times, but the physio’s only got his best interests at heart.
“It’s tough when you’re injured because he desperately wants to be out there. For Franny to feature again would be great for us because he’s a very good player and professional and he’s desperate to be out there to continue helping the cause.”
Rovers and Stanley have played one another 7 times before. The very first time was an FA Cup tie on 14 December 1929 at Eastville, the home team running out 4-1 winners. Four years later at the same stage Rovers visited Peel Park and came back out of the Cup, losing 1-0.
Fast forward over 70 years before the rejuvenated Stanley were back into the League after their 1961 demise and visited Bristol once again.
The very first league meeting again took place in December 23 2006. Once again Rovers hit 4 goals but this time Stanley were scoreless. The return game in Lancashire on 6 March ended in a 1-1 tie.
After the 2-1 loss in Lancashire last season, Rovers finished their home programme with a flourish as they disposed of Stanley with a 5-1 victory. Earlier this season Rovers went down to a 1-0 defeat in October in Lancashire.
Commenting ahead of Saturday’s game Richardson said, “The lads enjoyed the win on Friday and the elation showed that. But the sole focus is on Bristol Rovers now because we know there’s still a long way to go.
"Through the staff we’re taking note of what’s going on in and around us because it’s important. But we’ve told the players just to focus on themselves, and they have done for a good period.
“It’s no surprise that results have gone either which way, but in general terms it’s in our hands and if we win the next two games we’ll finish very strong. It’s a plus that the onus is on us. I’d much rather be in our position than four or five other teams. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are.
“But the hard work starts now because it’s sometimes harder to continue to be good so we must address that and get our heads down as we have done this week. We’ve had a couple of meetings, rest and a good couple of sessions geared towards Bristol because it will be a tough game down there, but we’ll look to bring a positive result back.
“It’s good that it’s come at this point,” he said of Stanley’s form. “We did find ourselves in a position where we needed to play well and get the performances and the points on the board. But the line’s not crossed yet, there’s still a lot of football to be played and still some very good teams around us so we must be better than them.”
John Ward will be looking to his team to finish off the season with a flourish, there should be a carnival atmosphere at the Mem to celebrate a strong finish to the season.
Get your Early Bird tickets before 5pm today and save £2 on match day prices for our last home game of the season!