A look ahead to Saturday's game
This weekend Bristol Rovers entertain Nigel Worthington’s relegation threatened York City team.
When Rovers lost their away game 4-1 at Bootham Crescent ground on 15 December they had recorded 4 victories from 22 starts and 12 defeats, it spelt the end of Mark McGhee’s time in the Managerial seat.
Since John Ward took over, in 17 games there have been 10 wins and just 4 defeats. A remarkable turnaround.
Having won the Blue Square League Promotion Play-Off Final last season, York City have struggled as the season has worn on to get to grips with football at the higher level.
Although they started the season well, the Minstermen’s form has slumped since the turn of the year and they have picked up just 7 points from the last 15 games, just a 16% return. In fact, their last victory was a 3-0 defeat of high flying Burton Albion on New Year’s Day.
On Saturday they found themselves in even deeper trouble after going down to a 2-1 defeat at fellow cellar dwellers Torquay United’s Plainmoor. On just 6 minutes, the Gull’s Elliot Benyon pounced on the ball and forced it home after Lee Mansell's corner was not cleared to give the home team an early lead.
On 23 minutes Ryan Jarvis went from the edge of his own penalty area to the opposite end and unleashed a right-foot rocket to put the Devon team 2-0 up.
It was 20 minutes from the end that a Tom Cruise foul on Josh Carson gave Richard Cresswell a penalty strike, to bring the score back to 2-1 and resulted in a red card. Despite facing 10 men City were unable to press their advantage.
Talking after the game City Boss Nigel Worthington said, "The game is 90 minutes long, it's not 20, and you cannot give the opposition a two-goal start because it’s tough going getting back into it, but I think they showed a lot of spirit.
"They passed the ball a lot better today than what we have done, which I was very pleased with, but we need more conviction around the opposition's goal. I probably think that maybe a little of the self-belief and the confidence is being jolted a little, so it's just about being brave and taking the responsibility on and making it happen."
Looking at the history of games between Rovers and York the record of matches between the clubs is pretty even overall, with plenty of away wins; so home advantage is not all it usually is.
Meetings between Rovers and the Minstermen didn’t start until 1965-66 season as York were either in Division 3 North or the 4th Division up until then apart from 1959-60 season when they had one year in Division 3 (and Rovers were still in Division 2).
That first meeting between the clubs was worth the wait, it was a real stunner. After 15 minutes of the Bootham Crescent game on 10th September 1965 York keeper Tommy Forgan suffered a broken finger and had to leave the game. Right back Alan Baker took over goal keeping duties and he performed brilliantly at times.
Once Alfie Biggs had opened his season’s account in the 35th minute there was only going to be one winner. Terry Oldfield and Harold Jarman added goals that would have beaten any keeper. York fought hard and in-form centre forward Paul Aimson pulled one back but two goals in two minutes by Alex Munro and Harold Jarman gave Rovers a 5-1 victory.
The return game at Eastville on 26th February was tremendously disappointing for Rovers. In a real mud bath Tommy Forgan stopped good efforts by Alfie Biggs and John Brown.
Andy Provan for York could have secured a hat trick with better finishing, but the game ended 0-0. York went straight down that season finishing bottom by five points and conceding 106 goals.
It wasn’t until 1971-72 that the teams met again. After a dull 0-0 result at York the Eastville game on 16th October was a real nail biter. A Harold Jarman hat trick and a Kenny Stephens double saw Rovers come in with a 5-4 win. That result is by far the highest score in these matches.
On 12 March 1986 Rovers went down to a 4-0 defeat at Bootham Crescent, but just over two years later on 15 April 1988 turned the tables with a 4-0 victory. Rovers’ last home game against York was on 27 March 2004 when they ran out 3-0 winners. Rovers’ record at home to York reads Played 19, Won 8, Drawn 5, Lost 6.
In a bid to stave off the threat of relegation Worthington has called on the services of fellow Irishman Martin O’Neill, just up the road at Sunderland to take the 21 year old midfielder Adam Reed on loan until the end of the season.
Reed, who recently returned from a loan spell at struggling Portsmouth, has been told he will not be given a new contract when his present deal runs out in the summer.
Worthington commented, “He is very good on the ball, has good energy and can put his foot in. He’s got decent league experience and the reports I have had tell me he did exceptionally well for Portsmouth. Their manager has told me he did a fantastic job for them so hopefully he can come in and do the same for us. He just wants to play football and has an enthusiasm for the game.”
City director Sophie Hicks speaking ahead of this weekend’s game said, “What we need is that one win. That can kick-start everything, as it would break the cycle. In that respect, the second half at Torquay was encouraging. I thought we played very well and were unfortunate not to get a draw.
“We remain very confident. Everyone is working very, very hard to make sure we stay in League Two. Every game is absolutely crucial. Everyone – from the players to the manager to the office staff and the board – are giving absolutely everything to make sure we stay in the Football League.
"We worked so hard over eight years to get back into the Football League and we can’t let that go to waste. We have got a great manager who we believe can take us forward.
“We have six huge games coming up. We remain extremely positive. OK, you wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and start thinking, ‘What can I do to help us get out of this?’ But this is a very tight team. There is no disharmony and everyone is sticking together. That gives us a great chance.
“So, too, do the signings Nigel has made. It isn’t easy to get players in at this stage of a season, but Nigel has, through his contacts and knowledge, managed to do so. We have brought quality players in over the past couple of weeks.
"Richard Cresswell was a big addition, as was Josh Carson. We feel the squad is stronger for the presence of all these signings. And we feel more confident to have these players at the club.”
Rovers will be anxious to continue their winning run at home, which extended to four consecutive games after the defeat of Rochdale. With a total of 7 games remaining there is a gap of just four points between Rovers and a top 10 finish, 3 points this weekend would go some way to making that position much more achievable.
Written by Gerry Prewett.