By Nathan Bees
The significance of last Saturday’s victory over York City cannot be underestimated.
To finally register those first 3 points of the season will have come as a timely boost to everybody connected with the club, not least manager John Ward, who has had to field inexperienced teenagers in the absence of his injured senior players.
Chasing that first win is a mental hinderance so the fact the team have now achieved it should mean we see a more confident side emerge from the tunnel tomorrow afternoon.
A weight will have been lifted from their shoulders and with the returns of Ryan Brunt, Matt Gill, Garry Kenneth and Matt Harrold to the first team squad, Bristol Rovers will be a much stronger opponent.
Last weekend will have done wonders for the personal belief of individuals as well as the team. David Clarkson, restored to his favoured forward position, clinically converted the two real chances that fell his way and he looked to have the makings of a very profitable partnership with Brunt.
The cool, calm and collected way in which he dispatched his two goals will give him plenty of encouragement heading into the Northampton Town game and if similar opportunities fall his way I wouldn’t bet against him finding the net again.
It is always the way with attackers. As any striker will tell you the first goal of a new season is always the most difficult to score, but Clarkson no longer has to contend with that nagging worry of getting off the mark. This will make him a formidable opponent for the Cobblers defence to face.
Similarly, John-Joe O’Toole will have benefitted greatly from his match-winning contribution against York. After his protracted transfer - and the hype created as a result - he has yet to reach the standards he displayed last season.
I do, in fairness, sympathise with the pressure that JJ inherited after signing permanently. He has a lot to live up to. You can see the players looking up to him to drive the team on and that is a big responsibility for a 24 year old to carry.
However, when in-form there are no better midfielders in the division and he justifies the plaudits Gasheads readily thrust upon him. Hopefully he’s ready to become our talisman again having scored the winning goal against the Minstermen - his season may just have got the springboard it needed to burst into life.
Every single member of the squad will have taken huge pleasure from the result and will be looking to build up momentum heading into the three away games we face in the coming fortnight.
The big Bristol derby is just 5 days away now and nobody needs to be reminded just how important the fixture is (if you do, check my blog from last week!). It will occupy all our thoughts after the full-time whistle sounds tomorrow afternoon but we mustn’t forget that we have another big away day 3 days later at Plymouth Argyle.
This is the first time in several seasons that we travel to Home Park on a Saturday afternoon and it should ensure a very healthy number of Gasheads make the trip down.
Positive results between now and September 7th, when we face the Pilgrims, would represent an encouraging opening month of the new season and stand us in good stead for the challenges that lie ahead in the build-up to winter.
Before we concern ourselves with our massive clash with City, let’s enjoy our match with Northampton tomorrow. The league is our bread and butter (apologies for the cliche) and the game provides us with an opportunity to register a further 3 points to our total. It will be a tough game but in comparison to visiting Ashton Gate on Wednesday night it will be a walk in the park.
From Saturday evening we can all start dreaming of how we will defeat our red neighbours and paint the city blue for the night. Once home from the Mem tomorrow we can dust off our scarves, buy blue and white balloons and iron our lucky jeans in preparation for our biggest fixture since 2007.
It becomes perfectly acceptable to feel a combination of nervousness, excitement and apprehension at what will unfold in the days ahead. Soak it all up and enjoy it, situations like this don’t arise very often!
I shall end with this, my message to the players ahead of the game: This match will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. The home supporters will vocally demonstrate their hatred from the moment you arrive at the ground whilst Gasheads will roar their support for each and every one of you from the minute you start your warm-up.
This isn’t just a JPT first round tie, this is Bristol Rovers against Bristol City.
It means everything to us and to them. Forget footballing ability, there’s merely one thing that will determine the winner at full-time and that’s desire. If you want it more than they do then you will win, it’s as simple as that.
This is an opportunity for you all to gain hero status in the eyes of Rovers supporters and demonstrate your commitment to the club. Believe in yourselves and do the blue and white quarters proud. We’re right behind you.