By Nathan Bees
It was nine months ago that a depleted Rovers team rocked up at high-flying Fleetwood Town mightily concerned about their perilous position in the League Two table. With barely over a dozen fit professionals on the 12th January, very few people would have predicted the type of performance John Ward’s men would put in.
Rovers outplayed Fleetwood for the majority of the game and recorded a tremendous 3-0 win that, in hindsight, proved to be the catalyst to our incredible run of form in the new year. Whilst that was in a different season and between two different sides I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar impact on this campaign if we come out with a victory.
Our last two results have seen us go undefeated and while they have only seen us accrue 2 points there are signs that we are on the right track. There’s no hiding from the fact that the first half performance against Hartlepool United showed this Rovers team at their worst but they came out fighting in the second period and deservedly equalised.
On another day we would have been victorious with the chances that either hit the crossbar or curled just inches wide. The character shown against the Pools gave us enough confidence to go to Southend and pick up our first away point of the season in an energetic display.
It was a very entertaining game but I won’t have been the only Gashead who left Roots Hall really disappointed that we didn’t win it with the chances we created in the final minutes.
What was most pleasing was the interaction between the players and supporters at the full-time whistle. There was a recognition that we had performed well but within the applause and vocal praise was a mutual feeling of ‘we did enough to have secured 3 points here’.
Initial frustration subsided over the weekend and I’m sure that both supporters and players will have taken confidence from the positive display.
It means that we should all head in to tomorrow’s clash with renewed enthusiasm and a belief that we can inflict a similarly emphatic defeat on Fleetwood once again.
We’re unbeaten at home in League Two and regardless of how good the Cod Army have been so far we should be looking forward to taking them on. They have invested significantly and boast an impressive selection of names from which to choose their starting XI but bring it on.
We’ve dismantled them once in 2013 and that will be fresh in their minds as they head to the Mem.
One of the players they will be relying on will need no introduction from Nick Day at 2.55pm. Jeff Hughes, who enjoyed three years at the club between 2008-2011, is one of Fleetwood’s star men and he returns to Bristol for the first time since departing following our relegation.
You won’t hear any complaints from me about our decision to start again with a blank canvas after dropping to this division two years ago but I was gutted that we released Jeff.
It was clear to anyone who knew their football that he was a talented player and he contributed plenty of goals and assists from the left of midfield. He was definitely one of my favourite players during our recent League One era and I am very disappointed that he is part of the opposition tomorrow afternoon!
Many people will neglect the part Jeff played in our best domestic finishes in recent years and he will receive his fair share of jeers when he walks out on to the pitch.
I’m not criticising that because footballers should be mentally strong enough to deal with it - and I think that as supporters it’s our job to make it intimidating for our opponents by getting on their backs - but I hope he doesn’t receive anything too untoward.
Jeff has been around the game long enough to know he’ll receive some stick but I’m sure he’s quite looking forward to returning to his old home. Hopefully we won’t make it an afternoon he remembers for the right reasons, though.
We often see former players come up against us and more often than not they mark the occasion with a goal. Andy Sandell has done so already this season, I’m hoping we don’t see it happen again this weekend... or ever!
John Ward believes we’re in for an entertaining game against Graham Alexander’s charges and he is in a good position to make that call. He says we’re ready for the challenge and I for one can’t wait.
Enjoy the game!