Written by Stephen Byrne
As with Rovers’ first post-war Football League campaign, the 2012-13 season can be neatly summarised in two halves.
With Rovers having lost ten games in an eleven-match run through the autumn of 1946, victory over Crystal Palace on 4th January 1947 proved to be the first of thirteen in eighteen games as the club climbed the Third Division (South) table to finish in fourteenth place.
Under manager Mark McGhee, Rovers struggled to find success though the autumn of 2012. Crushing defeats at Gillingham, Port Vale and York City leaving the club rooted to the foot of the Football League at Christmas, before returning manager John Ward, making a number of astute signings, restored the players’ self-belief.
An astonishing run then took the club within shouting distance of an unexpected play-off berth. Spring success enabled Rovers, despite not winning any of their final four fixtures, to complete their second campaign back in the basement division in fourteenth place.
Undefeated at home in 2012, Rovers approached the new season with realistic optimism. Mark McGhee had signed new playing staff and Seanan Clucas, FA Youth Cup winning goalkeeper Sam Walker and former Bristol City player David Clarkson all made their club debuts at Ipswich in the League Cup.
Rogvi Baldvinsson, a Faeroe Islands international, played in the pre-season fixtures before returning to Norway for personal reasons, but several other players were soon to appear in the side.
Garry Kenneth, a rock at the heart of the defence and a veteran of two Scottish Cup Finals at Dundee United, was ruled out initially following a calf injury sustained whilst warming up for his debut at Barnet.
Neil Etheridge, a Filipino international, was a useful and efficient goalkeeper, while Derek Riordan, the third highest scorer in the Scottish premier League, played for the club before returning goalless to Scotland.
Tom Eaves proved a useful loan signing in a struggling side, and squad member Fabian Broghammer, a German midfielder, soon accrued popular status amongst the Rovers following.
However, illusions were swiftly shattered as the club’s unbeaten home record under McGhee crumbled losing 2-0 against Oxford on the opening day of the season.
A fortnight later, Rovers dropped into the relegation zone when the second home fixture was lost 3-0 to Morecambe. Suddenly, from the jaws of a potential promotion campaign, Rovers were clutching at the ashes of a proposed relegation dogfight.
Three goals behind by half-time at champions Gillingham, “toothless Rovers” (Football League Paper) crumbled 4-0. Defeat at Vale Park by the same score included a hat-trick by Tom Pope, the 94th time the club had conceded three goals in a League fixture to one individual player.
Young hopeful Tom Parkes departing early from that game with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.
Three goals were conceded in fourteen first-half minutes at Wimbledon, three in fifteen minutes before the interval at Port Vale and four in a disastrous twenty minutes before half-time at York.
Rovers were, in December, the only side in the division to have received six red cards, both Elliot Richards and Kenneth being dismissed in the defeat at Rochdale.
The side only managed a point after three times taking the lead at home to Bradford City and only 1,794 spectators turned up when Rovers visited Barnet.
When the first victory appeared on the cards, Rovers’ game at Wycombe was controversially abandoned after 63 minutes. Leading 3-1 in a storm with Richards having registered a brace, Rovers found the game called off not by the referee or the police, but by the home side’s Health and Safety Officer and, when the fixture was re-played, crashed to a 2-0 defeat with Matt Lund being sent off.
More than this, Rovers appeared to be having a very poor run with injuries. Top scorer from 2011-12 Matt Harrold had contributed just one goal when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury at Gillingham and Gary Kenneth also underwent knee surgery.
In addition to this, Matt Gill, Scott Bevan and Adam Virgo were long-term absentees with injury, even before Clucas suffered a serious knee injury at Morecambe in February.
Danny Woodards also suffered a cruciate knee injury in April which threatened to keep him out of football for nine months. Encouragingly, Harrold returned to the side on the final day, his late substitute cameo appearance including a headed equaliser three minutes into injury-time.
Yet, amidst the gloom there were a few burgeoning positive signs. Despite the early season poor results, Rovers contrived to pick up four points from their two September trips to Devon.
Victory at Exeter paving the way to a League double, though former Rovers striker Jamie Cureton, aged 37, became the seventeenth oldest opponent to register a League goal against the club, striking on the stroke of half-time at St James’ Park.
Before injury took its toll, new signing Clarkson proved he had an eye for goal and Lee Brown also indicated he was reliable from the penalty-spot; his tally included a twice-taken effort at Oxford, though former Rovers keeper Michael Poke saved his spot-kick at Torquay on the final day of the season.
A morale-boosting 3-1 home victory over Northampton in October featured first goals for the club for Eaves, Man of the Match Kenneth and young Oli Norburn; Eaves, impressively scoring seven times during his loan spell, added two goals as ten-man Torquay United were defeated 3-2.
Two former Rovers men, René Howe and Aaron Downes, both scored for the Gulls in that game, the former thereby equalling a club record by scoring in his seventh consecutive League outing.
When Rovers staged a November book signing of Geoff Bradford’s long-awaited biography, pleasingly against his namesake club Bradford City, loanee central defender Guy Branston scored after 79 seconds with his first touch in a quartered shirt.
As Christmas approached, Rovers had won just four of their 22 League fixtures and relegation from the Football League appeared a distinct possibility.
Shortly before Christmas, Rovers trailed 4-1 before half-time at York and McGhee was removed from his managerial duties; the Scot took on the role as assistant manager of the Scottish national side.
Rovers, for their part, moved swiftly to re-appoint John Ward, whose previous spell at the helm had seen Rovers reach a Wembley play-off final in 1995, and within days the club’s fortunes appeared to change for the better.