A look at tomorrow's opponents
Bristol Rovers take a short trip across country but a long trip up the Division 2 table to take on leaders Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
The U’s have picked up 26 points from their 14 games this season. They have won half their games this season and have suffered just 2 defeats, the type of form that establishes a table topping team.
Since their last League defeat on 5 October, 2-0 at home to Southend, Chris Wilder’s team have won 2 and drawn 2 of their 4 games.
Last weekend they went to the top of the table after securing a 2-0 win at AFC Wimbledon. James Constable opened the scoring after only six minutes with a header from Asa Hall's cross.
Oxford secured all three points when substitute Deane Smalley right footed penalty into the right hand side of goal 8 minutes from the end of normal time.
Talking ahead of Saturday’s game Wilder said, "It is a completely unpredictable league so we just have to make sure we keep our part of the bargain and keep the hammer down.
"Everything about the performance was good and the only thing I was unhappy about was the last 10 minutes when we put undue pressure on ourselves by giving the ball away.
"We have worked hard to get top and that is why we are in that position. We are a hard-working side and we were lucky that our defenders kept up their side of the deal."
The game could be the story of two Alfie’s. With Alefe Santos starting to establish himself in the Rovers team, United have their wide man Alfie Potter back in full training and likely to be involved again.
The U’s will also have striker Dave Kitson in contention as well as Deane Smalley who is now fully fit. Kitson served a one-game suspension for the AFC Wimbledon game.
With Potter, Kitson and Smalley available and James Constable looking for his 100th goal in United’s colours it gives manager Chris Wilder plenty to think about, a luxury that John Ward could only dream about.
Although the late signing of Chris Beardsley on loan from Preston should give the Gas some much needed presence ‘up front’.
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 46 meetings since Oxford first entered the League back in the mid 1960’s, replacing Accrington Stanley.
In terms of results the games between the teams have been remarkably even over the years with Rovers winning 17, United 17 and 12 draws. In all respects it’s the home teams who dominate in these fixtures with 5 United away wins and 6 Rovers away wins.
In recent years it was the Yellow’s who had dominated with 5 wins and 2 draws in 7 meetings. Then last season to throw everything into chaos, the away teams won both games 2-0!
It was Rovers who, until recently, had never scored more than 2 goals, but they had scored 2 on 7 occasions. Rovers’ worst defeat at Oxford, until the 6-1 thrashing in 2010/11 in the Coca Cola Cup, was a 4-1 loss on only their second visit to the ground on 2 February 1967.
Alfie Biggs was Rovers’ scorer, with doubles by Grahame Atkinson and Mick Morris for the U’s.
Rovers’ next visit, only 7 months later, was much more productive, a mid-week 2-0 victory with goals by Harold Jarman and an own goal by John Shuker sent the Eastville faithful home happy.
It wasn’t until September 1995 that the victory was to be repeated when the two Marcus’s, Browning and Stewart scoring past Timmy Carter in the U’s goal and Chris Allen scoring for the home team in a 2-1 win for the Gas.
Back in 1982 and 1983 Rovers played two Boxing Day games at the Manor, scored 2 goals in both and lost both, 4-2 and 3-2 respectively.
Rovers had a remarkable spell at Oxford between 1995 and 2002. They played there five times, won four and drew the other game. Amongst those victories was a 5-0 thumping, with a hat-trick from Jamie Cureton a Robbie Pethick goal and another by Nathan Ellington, on 22nd January 2000, which looked as though it had set Rovers on the path to promotion.
In last season’s game at the Kassam, Rovers took the lead on 54 minutes. The ball was played up to Ryan Brunt, who cut into the area where he was brought down by Oxford skipper Jake Wright.
Brown stepped up to send Luke McCormick the wrong way with his spot kick, but the referee had seen a player encroaching into the area and ordered the penalty to be retaken. Brown kept his nerve, and put his spot kick in the same place as the first, with McCormick again going the wrong way.
Rovers wrapped things up in stoppage time. Once again Brunt was fouled and, as the Oxford defenders switched off David Clarkson found Richards with a quick free kick. The young striker did the rest, running through on goal and beating McCormick in a one on one situation.
Talking ahead of this week-end’s trip to Oxford John Ward commented, "I don't think their league position holds any fears. We played well against Chesterfield who were high-flying at the beginning of the season.
"We know what we are going into and they'll see it as a home win but we've got to make that difficult for them. They're the best team at the moment so we've got to play well."
The U’s James Constable scored his 99th goal last Saturday with the opener in a 2-0 win at AFC Wimbledon and is hoping to reach three figures this weekend. The goal brought him within eight of Graham Atkinson’s all-time record and one behind Tony Jones in second place.
Constable, who was the subject of multiple transfer bids by the Gas last year, is focused on helping the U’s stay there and would love to round off a century of goals in front of a big crowd at the Kassam Stadium.
He said “It would be a great occasion to do it in. We will work hard and look forward to it. If I score, that would be great, but winning is the main thing.
“It’s a local derby, they will bring a few and I'm sure with the position we’re in, we’ll have a lot of fans there. It makes for another good game where everyone is going to be desperate to perform well. We need to start like we did against AFC Wimbledon and try to do it for 90 minutes.”
U’s Boss Chris Wilder said, “It’s always been a tough game with Rovers. They will bring some support and hopefully there will be a great crowd cheering us on and giving us that push and drive to stay top.”
Written by Gerry Prewett.