By Nathan Bees
So far this week has been a good week for Bristol Rovers I’d say. We responded to our goalless draw with York City at the Mem last Saturday by stuffing Dagenham & Redbridge 4-2 away from home on Easter Monday.
That result saw us reach a campaign high of 13th place in League Two ahead of another home game this weekend against relegation threatened AFC Wimbledon.
Factor in Wednesday night’s tremendous 1-0 win for our U18s against Watford to send them in to the national final against Carlisle United and the past few days have certainly been fruitful.
The youth team’s success under the guidance of Alan Walsh is particularly pleasing as it ensures the future of the Rovers first team looks very promising indeed. His players defeated a club who are renowned for developing local players so to defeat them is quite an achievement.
It highlights just how impressive our young players have been this season as they also retain hopes of winning the league title - they need to win their final 3 games to make that a reality, and fell just short in the FA Youth Cup against Birmingham City earlier in the year.
It’s fair to say we have a squad of talented players and that certainly bodes well for the future, particularly as John Ward has proven this season that he will hand young players a chance if he thinks they are good enough.
I extend my congratulations to Alan and the boys and hope they can finish off the job against Carlisle and win the league ahead of rivals Oxford United as well.
For the current first team squad the demolition job carried out on Dagenham will rank as one of the best performances of the season. They controlled the match from start to finish and scored 4 goals in 90 minutes for the first time this season.
It was a good team performance from everybody but particular praise must go to young goalkeeper Conor Gough who made his first start of the season when called upon at the last minute following an injury to Steve Mildenhall.
Ironically his Rovers debut came in the same fixture on the final day of last season. He handled the situation very well and can be pleased with his performance.
However, Oumare Tounkara was the star of the show in what was his first ever Gas start. He netted an impressive brace and caused the Daggers defence all sorts of problems from start to finish. He played like a young Didier Drogba!
His presence in a two-pronged attack allowed Ryan Brunt to express himself a lot more and the forward profited from that by playing a significant part in all 4 of our goals. Their partnership showed plenty of potential and it will be interesting to see how it progresses over the final few games of the season.
Of course, no Rovers game in 2013 would be complete without an all-action display from loan midfielder John-Joe O’Toole and he certainly provided it, but he also conjured up our only lowlight of the otherwise happy week.
The influential midfielder was unfortunately playing in his final match before returning to parent club Colchester United for the rest of the campaign. The impact he has had on our turnaround since Christmas has been phenomenal and he’s a hugely popular character with his team-mates and with supporters.
He has epitomised everything that has been great about Rovers since John Ward took over and cemented his place as one of our best ever loanees by signing off with a goal, firing in after just 4 minutes of the match.
A standing ovation and a chorus of ‘John-Joe, John-Joe John-Joe’ awaited him as he walked towards the tunnel at full-time and hopefully it acted as a reminder of just how fond we are of him.
John Ward has already stated that he would love to keep the central midfielder on a permanent basis so hopefully the fact he is idolised here will stand us in good stead.
It certainly leaves a void that we need to fill for the remaining month of the season but there’s no need to be too concerned. Oliver Norburn has returned from injury and will be available for Saturday’s game against AFC Wimbledon should he be selected, which seems likely given his appearance on the substitute’s bench on Monday.
Tomorrow’s game provides us with the opportunity to round off a good week with another 3 points in front of a good Gas crowd. If we can win the game then we give ourselves a good chance of finishing in the top 10 of the table, an achievement that would have been considered unfeasible as little as 12 weeks ago.
It’s our penultimate home game so let’s head to the Mem in good voice and generate the sort of atmosphere that will make life difficult for Neal Ardley’s Wombles.
Up the Gas!