A look ahead to tomorrow's game
Bristol Rovers' game against Northampton Town this weekend will give the home team the opportunity to record back to back victories for the first time this season. John Ward will be hoping that the victory over York will provide a springboard for his team as the league table starts to take some shape.
Northampton have picked up just 3 points from their 4 league games this season from a 3-1 victory over Newport County. There is some concern that the East Midland’s team may be suffering some sort of hang-over after losing out 3-0 to Bradford City in last season’s Play-Off Final.
Town's number 10 Roy O'Donovan insists that isn’t the case, with 8 new players in the squad, he said: “We've got a different team. It's not a hangover - just the team gelling and making mistakes at the wrong time."
Last weekend the Sixfields club went down 2-1 at home to Torquay. The home team had been given a 30 minute lead from a Jacob Blyth header and that’s how it stayed until 20 minutes from the end when there was a double whammy from the Gull’s Jordan Chappell.
On 72 minutes Chappell put the ball past the Cobbler’s custodian and former Bradford City keeper Matt Duke for the equalizer as his team broke quickly from defence. Then just 6 minutes later Chappell was picked out by a Callum Ball pass to once again beat Duke.
Speaking after the game O’Donovan said, "That's the most frustrating game of football I've played in a long time. You can make all the excuses you want but we've got to start gelling quicker now and learn from our mistakes.
"We looked dominant. We looked strong and in control and we blew it in the second half. We sat too deep and the goals came from our attacks - that's the most frustrating part."
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.
Rovers biggest ever win over the Midlanders was a 7-1 result on 16 January 1935. Wally McArthur, George McNestry (2 including a penalty), Jimmy McCambridge, Bert Taylor (2) and Irvine Harwood all scored for Rovers, with Tom Bell scoring for Northampton.
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.
Results in the West Country generally favour Rovers with 18 victories and 11 defeats in the 43 games played. Rovers have won the last 3 games played in Bristol, including their first home win of the season last year a 3-1 victory on 6 October.
Before the half hour mark, Northampton were down to 10 men after Anthony Charles was sent off after holding Riordan back. Three players scored their first Bristol Rovers goal in that game, where no goals were recorded until the 53rd minute.
Tom Eaves netted the opener from close in, before Garry Kenneth doubled the lead minutes later from an Eliot Richards corner. Adebayo Akinfenwa pulled one back for the Cobblers heading home from a long Ben Tozer throw, but Oliver Norburn rounded off the scoring with a glancing header from a Lee Brown cross.
Following that Play-Off defeat, Cobbler’s Boss and former Gas player Aidy Boothroyd did not rest on his laurels. He looked for a different style of play, speaking before the season kicked-off, he said, "I'm not a purist, but I do believe in good attacking football. I think we've got variety now.
"I'm not going to start saying you'll see Barcelona at Sixfields, but certainly we are looking to play a different game. What we've got is players who can handle a ball. I have gone on record to say that a domineering centre-half is crucial to their promotion chances but now I think priority must be given to finding that elusive goal-scoring striker.
"That's not to say the ones before couldn't, but these are a little bit better than anything I've ever had, particularly in the midfield.
"I can't do anything about people's perceptions. We think the grass is greener over the side of the channel and their way is the best way to play. But I think the English way is the best way to play, as long as we realise it's about coming up with a strategy and a structure. I like penetrative football, whether it be on the floor or in the air."
Since the season has got underway he has started to look at bolstering his defence, "We may need some new blood to toughen us up a bit. Every team needs that balance of artists and soldiers and we haven't got that balance right yet."
He continued: "You can't have a load of fancy dans because at some point or other they'll be found wanting in the physical side. And you can only get so far with a team of brutes. I've highlighted a couple of players and it's just a matter of whether we can do something.
"In the first few games we've beaten ourselves, which is irritating from a managerial point of view. We're creating chances but we're not defending with the intensity I want us to consistently enough and I would prefer us to be more threatening at set-plays.
"Bristol Rovers are similar to us in many ways. They have been missing some players but they are coming back now and it should be a good game. I know John Ward well, I worked with him at Colchester and I have a lot of respect for John. I also know John Joe O'Toole, who I had at Colchester and Watford. He is a good player, but they have a number of good players and it will be a tough game."
Boothroyd’s assessment of the nature of the game will almost certainly be mirrored by John Ward. With Matt Harrold keen to get back into the fray for the first time he will have the kind of selection problem he is relishing after David Clarkson’s double against York.
Written by Gerry Prewett.