A look at tonight's game
Bristol Rovers showed the steely side to their game under John Ward when picking up a point at Morecambe on Saturday. At the same time this evening’s opposition Northampton Town were showing a battling side to their game to wheedle three points out of Plymouth Argyle.
The points came the Cobblers’ way at Sixfields when the Pilgrims goalkeeper Jake Cole condemned his side to defeat with a second-half mistake. Cole fumbled a corner under pressure from Cobblers’ skipper Kelvin Langmead, allowing Clive Platt to force home. Prior to that Cole has saved attempts from Roy O'Donovan, Harding and Bayo Akinfenwa.
Northampton Town manager Aidy Boothroyd commenting after the game said, "We were made to scrap for it. We didn't play very well today, but it's about winning. Only Lee Collins and Roy O'Donovan played up to their normal levels and the rest were a tad below par, but that's how it is sometimes.
"There was a bit of fortune with the goal, but we didn't get very much fortune at AFC Wimbledon, so it's evened itself out. Everyone has their favourites on team selection, but it's me who picks the team. At times today, we looked good, but we know we can play."
Meanwhile giant striker Clive Platt is confident his team’s home form will see them to a promotion berth this season. The win over Argyle was their 9th win from 10 attempts at home taking them to within a point of third-placed Burton Albion five ahead of Southend.
Since the 22nd December the Cobblers have played 12 games and picked up 25 points from the 36 on offer.
Platt noted that the home games are becoming increasingly difficult, “Teams are coming here and they’re just trying to get a point or just see the game out,” he said. “It is a difficult place for any team to come to now and if we maintain that and keep picking up points away from home then we’ve got every chance of being successful this season.
“Any team that is right down the bottom is hard to play. I’ve been in that position with teams myself and you’re fighting for your lives. It becomes a lot harder. You want a couple of mid-table teams who have nothing to play for really, they are the games you want but they’re few and far between at this stage of the season."
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
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, the 3-0 reverse at Sixfields was stunning.
Earlier this season Rovers beat the Cobblers 3-1 at the Mem. At Sixfields their last victory was on 6 November 2007, since then they have had a 0-0 draw and last season they lost there 3-2 on 6 March. At Northampton of the 43 games played the home team has won 23, there have been 9 draws and 11 Rovers’ victories.
Cobblers Boss, Aidy Boothroyd worked with John Ward at Colchester before he moved to Coventry with taking over the Manger’s chair. Talking ahead of tonight’s game the former Gas full back noted,
“I thought we got what we deserved when we played down there earlier in the season, Tom Eaves caused us all sorts of problems but he’s gone back to Bolton now, and gone back out on loan again.
“They are a team that has been struggling for most of the season, but they are a big club for this division and the bookies fancied them for promotion this season. I know how big a club it is because I’ve played for them. They’ve got some good players and a good manager and it doesn’t surprise me that they’ve picked up.
“They’ve brought some good loan players in and we’ve got to make sure we don’t become another statistic on their record and that they become one on ours. We’re due a good performance and I’m looking forward to the game.
“Both teams seem to be better in the first half so maybe the fans should go to the cinema for the first half and then turn up at half-time. It will be an interesting game because I’ve seen them a couple of times under John and they’ve got players that can counter-attack and that can play a bit.
“The games against Plymouth and Wimbledon were difficult games but it’s really all about what we do and we certainly need to tidy up one or two individual performances.”
Looking at possible team selections Boothroyd talked about recovering midfielder Luke Guttridge., "Luke is fine physically but I don't think he has been in the form he was in before he got injured. He is a terrific player and it shows you the quality of Lewis Hornby and his recent performances that I didn't think I could leave him out.
"Luke will get back in that team at some point because he is so determined or tenacious to do so. When you leave a player of Luke Guttridge's quality out it says to the rest of the squad that nobody is safe and that everybody must perform at all times."
Joe Widdowson will complete a two-match suspension while fellow defender David Artell is back to full fitness after an Achilles injury.
This will certainly be a stern test of Rovers’ resolve, but after the stirring second half performance on Saturday they showed they were able to take it up to the other form team in the Division and trade blows. A point from Sixfields would be a very creditable result.
Written by Gerry Prewett