A look at tomorrow's opponents
On Boxing Day Bristol Rovers take the short trip down the M5 to the South Devon Coast to visit Torquay United.
Last season the teams fought out a thrilling 3-3 draw on the final day. It was a day striker Matt Harrold will never forget as he returned from long-term injury off the bench to head a late equaliser.
That draw for the Gulls was vital as they still faced the possibility of relegation unless they picked up at least one point and once again this season they are dicing with the bottom of the table. Their first back to back victories of the season has seen them climb back in touch with the bottom group.
On Saturday they earned a hard fought 1-0 victory at promotion challenging Dagenham and Redbridge. The Daggers dominated for most of the first half and Torquay keeper Michael Poke later earned praise for his performance.
The Essex team were made to rue their missed chances when on 50 minutes the Gulls’ Aaron Downes headed home Jak McCourt's cross.
Daggers striker Rhys Murphy hit the post late on as his team looked to prevent their second defeat in a row.
United Boss Alan Knill said after the game, "It was a repeat of last Saturday. We're asking for commitment and effort and this is the toughest place to come, and for us to come away with a 1-0 victory was well deserved I thought."
Asked about outstanding players for his team he commented, "It's hard for me to say one. I thought the team were excellent and in the first half it was a pretty good game.
"I thought they passed it and looked dangerous but I thought when we got it, we did the same. If you're in a dogfight you have to fight first, and we're doing that, so as long as we continue to do that we know that we can compete because we've got some pretty talented players as well who can play. It's so important to be out of the bottom two at Christmas."
Meetings between the Gas and the Gulls go back a long time, the first being an FA Cup tie on 27 November 1926 when the game at Plainmoor finished 1-1. Four days later Rovers won the replay 1-0.
The first League meeting took place on 29 October 1927 and Rovers thrashed United 5-1 at Eastville. It took the Gulls five more attempts before they were victorious on 2 April 1930, 2-1 at Plainmoor.
Rovers’ record in Devon is not a bad one, with 10 wins, 10 draws and 17 defeats in their 37 visits. The one black mark on Rovers' record was back on 29 March 1932 as United ran riot winning 8-1. The irony of this score was that the teams had played out a 1-1 draw 3 days earlier in Bristol.
You have to go back 16 games to find anything greater than a single goal difference between the teams and 22 games to find a greater margin (a 4-0 League Cup victory for Rovers at Plainmoor, their best result there, on 15 September 1983 with goals by Nicky Platnauer, Mike Barrett, Paul Randall and Archie Stephens).
During the late 1960's there were some very close games between the two teams. Torquay included John Bond, Ken Brown (both ex-West Ham players who went on to manage teams with great success), John Benson and the lethal strike force of Jim Fryatt and Robin Stubbs.
Rovers found it so difficult to contain Stubbs that in the summer of 1969 they bought him. He went on to score twice against his former club; both his goals helped his new team to victory in each game.
During those late 1960’s games there was never any more than two goals between the teams. Away victories were rare although Rovers twice collected full points in Devon, in 1968-69, 1-0 and the following season when they won 2-1.
Alan Knill views the upcoming Christmas period as vital to his team “Now the challenge is to stay unbeaten for a spell, especially over Christmas.
“It was just so important to be out of the bottom two at Christmas. Two wins on the bounce is something we haven’t managed before.
"After beating Southend at home, it’s great to give our away supporters something to cheer, which we haven’t done for a while.
“It certainly makes my Christmas Day better – and my wife’s as well! We’ve had two wins against two really good teams, and this one was well deserved again I thought."
Knill will be pleased to have on-loan striker Jayden Stockley available for this match. The 20-year-old AFC Bournemouth forward made his debut as a substitute in United’s 3-1 defeat at Scunthorpe recently, and he then pulled a calf muscle in training.
Stockley returned to Bournemouth for treatment, missing Torquay’s 1-0 wins over Southend and Dagenham, but manager Alan Knill reported: “Jayden is OK now and back training with us, and it’s good to have him available again.
“It’s just so important that everybody, including Jayden, is ready to play during a busy period of games in a short time.”
Winger Jordan Chapell has a toe injury, picked up during the win at Dagenham, but Knill is optimistic that the former Sheffield United player will be available.
Written by Gerry Prewett.