A look ahead to tomorrow's game
Bristol Rovers' first home league game of the season sees them face newly relegated Scunthorpe United. An injury depleted start to the season is not what John Ward would have wanted but it has given him the opportunity to thrust some of the younger players into the first team.
On Tuesday evening, having gone behind early on, Ward was able to see the battling qualities of his youngsters, "When we were 3-0 down I was a bit worried we could have been heading for a heavy defeat, but I was more concerned about how our performance would be in the second half," Ward said.
"I was pleased that we tried to play more like ourselves in the second period rather than trying to play like Watford did in the first half. They were the better team - there's no doubt about that - but they have international players, keep the ball and move it about well. We have a very young side out on the pitch at the moment, but this will have been an important part of their education."
United’s Boss Brian Laws believes the signs he has seen during Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Mansfield Town and the midweek Capital One Cup defeat at Championship side Barnsley on penalties offers hope for the coming season ahead.
“I don’t think we could have asked for a much better start, I’m so delighted with the players’ attitudes. I’ve got honest players who are going to give us an honest shift and you can’t ask for more than that.
“I think there’s a real professionalism about the group. They’ve got a great attitude and a desire to win. That has come from some experienced players who are spreading it out to good players. It’s good. I hope it whets the appetite for what is to come – I certainly don’t think it’s a fluke.”
Games between the two clubs have been few and far between as United didn’t gain League status until 1951 and played in the Third Division North until 1958. In their second ever visit to The Old Show Ground; Rovers recorded a stunning 4-3 win with Alfie Biggs, Ray Mabbutt and Ian Hamilton (2) responding to goals by Barrie Thomas (2) and Peter Donnelly.
It was another 13 years and 2 points from a possible 12 (just 2 for a win in those days!) before Rovers recorded their next win in the steel town. A Smash and Grab double (yes Warboys and Bannister as always) kept a 1,784 crowd silent!
During that lean spell Rovers visited the Old Show Ground on 7th November 1964. Rovers had got off to an excellent free scoring start to the season, hitting 4 past Mansfield, Peterborough, Bournemouth, and 5 past Grimsby and Carlisle in consecutive games.
Against Reading on 17th October Alfie Biggs suffered a serious cartilage injury which kept him out for the rest of the season. Rovers came off two wins before their trip to Lincolnshire and an Ian Hamilton goal gave them a share of the points in a hard fought game.
Nearly a year later and it was a different story. Having lost 3-0 at Swansea and 4-3 at Swindon the defence needed to tighten up but it wasn't to be. Without ever looking a good side Scunthorpe won with absurd ease as Rovers defensive marking was virtually non-existent.
The attack wasn't much better and when Ian Hamilton put the ball in the net Referee Egan ruled that Dick Plumb had fouled Geoff Sidebottom in the Scunthorpe goal.
Freddie Goodwin gave Scunthorpe a 25th minute lead with an unchallenged header and then five minutes into the second half Brian Bedford was given equal largesse. Frank Barton sealed the game with a hooked shot just seven minutes later to complete a 3-0 victory.
Rovers gained some measure of revenge as an own goal by Keith Berkinshaw and one by Alfie Biggs secured a 2-0 home win.
Rover’s home record against Scunthorpe is more impressive with 9 wins and 5 draws from the 16 games played. Scunthorpe’s first visit to Eastville saw 24,273 fans turn up to see the new North Stand unveiled.
George Petherbridge, Peter Hooper (Penalty), Dai Ward and Geoff Bradford secured a 4-0 victory to celebrate. The next two visits to Eastville saw the steel city team take a share of the points.
On 10th February 1968 Rovers repeated that first match score with Kenny Ronaldson, Alfie Biggs, Ray Mabbutt and Bobby Jones all getting on the list of scorers.
In 2004-05 season, the Iron ran out winners at a canter, 3-0 in Bristol and 4-0 in Lincolnshire. The following season the away team won both games, the Iron 2-1 on a rare Friday night game at the Mem and Rovers winning 2-0 in the return game on Valentine’s Day 2009 with Darryl Duffy and Jo Kuffour on target for the Gas.
One player looking to establish himself in the team is Sean McAllister who gained a contract after being on trial. Gaffer Brian Laws changed the team line up to pack the midfield and leave Deon Burton as the lone front man, with Michael Collins sitting just in front of the defence in an anchor role.
“I played it quite a lot growing up as a kid, though not too often at first-team level,” said McAllister, “But I like the formation. I’m a midfielder and with the extra man in there, it does help. You can keep the ball quite well. Funnily enough, Barnsley had the three in midfield, so it was near enough a match-up, whereas, sometimes, if they play 4-4-2 you might get that bit more freedom on a nice, big pitch.
“I thought we moved the ball quite well, particularly in the first half, there were some good moves. Even near the end we were creating some good chances. It worked quite well and just gives the manager a seed in his mind that he can use that if need be. It’s another option for him.”
“There’s a good spirit amongst everyone. It seems to have gone right the way through pre-season and into the season,” said McAllister, “Hopefully we can go into the next game with it. You hear some of the other players saying that spirit wasn’t there last year.
“You could see the resilience on Tuesday and supposedly that wasn’t there last year either. Obviously there’s been 11 new signings now with Jordan (Clark) coming on loan. That changed the squad quite a lot.
“I think a lot of the players here are used to winning, myself included. I think that’s started to rub off on the lads who were already here. Hopefully we can go on to bigger and better things this year.”
Iron Boss Laws reflecting on his team’s start to the season, commented, “We didn’t know during pre-season how our season would start because you can never tell.
“You get a little taste or a feel about things, but until that first game comes you don’t really know whether you’ve done enough or too much. The question of balance that we’ve asked ourselves has, so far, been answered by the players. They’ve been spot on.
“Mentally they look ready. They had been waiting for the Mansfield game and took what they did in that first game into Barnsley on Tuesday. Let’s hope we can do it again on Saturday against Bristol Rovers. Again it’s not an easy game, but it is a game we can go into with confidence.”
Rovers will be looking to ensure they don’t start their season on the back foot by securing all three points.
Written by Gerry Prewett.