By Nathan Bees
Winning football matches when you’ve not played well is a sign of a good team. Players past and present will tell you that grinding out results when they aren’t necessarily deserved is a characteristic of a successful squad.
Very few will have left the Mem rating the game against Rochdale as one of the best of the season, certainly in terms of our performance, but the final score will have ensured we were all smiling.
Sure, we’re not gunning for promotion, but since John Ward took over we have been successful in matching, and beating, many of the top teams in League Two.
However, during a 90 minutes that saw torrential rain, hailstones and lightning Rovers were well below-par and were fortunate not to have conceded on a number of occasions.
However, whilst the usual offensive spark wasn’t on show the players did display a resoluteness and never say die attitude that ultimately proved too much for Rochdale.
They will have been aggrieved as they were the better side for long periods but if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net more often than your opponents then you can have no complaints if you lose.
For any team in any division you need to have a matchwinner in your ranks for the occasions when a game is tight and the initiative is there to be seized. If you do, you’ve always got a chance of a positive result in any game you play, no matter how poor the performance has been.
They are quite hard to find and are highly sought after - you only have to recall the Mustapha Carayol pursuit of last summer to know that. He was irreplaceable at the time but judging by what we saw last weekend the void finally looks like it has been filled.
Step forward Ellis Harrison.
Having burst on to the scene under John Ward, Harrison is now a first-team regular and has offered a new dimension to our attack in recent months. Much like his aforementioned predecessor, Harrison has the ability to make things happen and provide goals, something he has proven already.
He netted his first professional goal away at Rotherham with a solo run that Gareth Bale would have been proud of to seal a 3-1 victory and that give an indicator of what we could expect from the confident forward.
He has supplied goals too, notably assisting Danny Woodards at Fleetwood and Eliot Richards at home to Burton Albion in two standout performances.
His most impressive display to date though came on Saturday when he decided to take matters in to his own hands during the second half.
He broke the deadlock after an hour by embarking on a run that saw him skip past a couple of Dale players on the halfway line, before cutting inside 20 yards out and slamming the ball beyond Josh Lillis.
Gasheads were on their feet applauding the young winger but he was to have a bigger part to play in settling the match 20 minutes later. Following Rochdale’s equaliser it seemed that they were the team in the ascendancy and looking the more likely to win but Harrison wasn’t about to let them steal all 3 points.
Following Ryan Brunt’s effort that was somehow clawed away on the goal-line, he nipped in to a crowded six-yard box to slot the ball into the bottom right hand corner and win us the match. Cue pandemonium, not only in the terraces but on the pitch too. It had become the Ellis Harrison show.
Afterwards his performance was creating a frenzy on Twitter, with his team-mates and manager quick to laud the Welsh winger. It wasn’t just everybody connected with Rovers who sat up and took notice of his outstanding performance though.
The goals were enough to persuade the Welsh national side to give him a call-up to their U21 squad for a match against Moldova in Llanelli tonight. It’s fantastic news that one of our players, who has come up through the centre of excellence system, is being given the opportunity to make an impression on the international stage - the club can be very proud.
I’m sure we all hope he gets some game time to represent Bristol Rovers in the front of the world. I have no doubt that he will return a better player for the experience.
Having said that, and purely from a selfish perspective, it may not be a travesty if he wasn’t to feature because it would ensure he is ready for action against Bradford tomorrow.
Nobody would begrudge Ellis his international debut at U21 level but we could certainly do without losing the in-form winger when we’re already down to the bare bones in wide areas.
There is every possibility we could be without a natural winger and that would force a reshuffle in our approach when on the attack. I wouldn’t be as confident of us scoring if that was the case.
Still, whatever happens tonight the 19 year old will enjoy the experience and be pleased his good work has been recognised. With the way he is progressing it’s a massive shame that the season will be over in just 5 weeks time. I bet he’s the only player who can’t wait for pre-season! Good luck Ellis, show your country what you’re all about. Rovers are right behind you.
Up the Gas!