A look at tomorrow's opponents
This weekend Bristol Rovers entertain Wycombe Wanderers, who sit in a handy 9th spot on 17 points. The Buckinghamshire team have a useful away record so far with 2 wins and draw and just 2 defeats from their 5 away games, with 9 goals scored and just 7 conceded.
Those two away victories came in back to back matches in September when the Blues won at Hartlepool (2-1) and Plymouth (3-0). That run was even more impressive as their previous game was a 2-0 away win at Exeter in the JPT.
Gasheads won’t need reminding how good Wycombe are, as they recently beaten local rivals Bristol City at Adams Park.
In their latest League game the Chairboys achieved maximum points after defeating Torquay 3-2 at home. On 27 minutes the Blues failed to deal with a deep Kevin Nicholson cross and Ade Azeez fired low past Matt Ingram.
It took the home team just 60 seconds to respond as former Gas player Joe Kuffour was played through on goal and held off Krystian Pearce, before shooting past Rice from six yards.
The visitors went ahead eight minutes before the half time break, when Ingram in the home team’s goal misjudged a Lee Mansell corner and Krystian Pearce headed home at the far post, despite the best efforts of Josh Scowen on the line.
Wanderers equalised in the 53rd minute. Matt Bloomfield turned his man wide on the left before sending over an inch-perfect cross that Paris Cowan-Hall headed home from six yards for his second goal for the club.
On 77 minutes the Blues took the lead for the first time when Scowen’s driven corner was headed home by Cowan-Hall via the angle of post and crossbar.
Talking after the game, the Chairboy’s Boss Gareth Ainsworth said, "I'm delighted. I had to have a few choice words at half-time, and we were very passionate in the second half. First half an hour of the second half, we really took the game to them. I'm so pleased because we deserved that today.
"The benchmark is passion and drive and running and closing. We are a high-pressing team, and now we're adding extra little bits of tactics and football and playing through people. When they're both there like in the second half it pays dividends.
"(Paris Cowan-Hall is) a physical nightmare for defenders because he's quick, he can win headers, he's strong. I know he can play left, he can play right, he can play down the middle. He scored two great goals, he really deserved his plaudits today.
"One thing we need is cleverer heads on the pitch. We've got the brawn, but sometimes this game is about thinking as well. It gave me the opportunity to give them a real kick up the backside at half-time and come out and prove that they are a good team.
"I brought him here as a wide right predominantly because we were 4-4-2 and that brought us a lot of success last season. But this season he can play down the middle. As a forward he's a nuisance. He's got pace he's got tricks and he can pop up anywhere.
"I know how good he is in the air, that's why I brought him here, I saw that at Plymouth last year. I was so pleased when we acquired him and I think Paris will be a big player for us this season."
The player himself talking about returning from injury noted, “It has taken a bit of a toll on my legs, but I’m one of the fittest at the club so I should be able to get back into it.
“Games like that, when you’re running around and putting yourself about, are good because come next week I’m even fitter. It was really frustrating and I’m really bad at being injured so that makes it even worse.
“It’s part and parcel of the game and I’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, and I’m having the smooth at the moment.”
The former Portsmouth striker did have one complaint about his two goals, “I don’t like messing up my hair, but I will if it means scoring goals!”
He went on to say that he is open-minded about whether he plays as a winger or continues in a forward role for the Blues this season. “Both roles have their pros and cons, but I like both of them. When you’re up top you’ve got to score or you’re going to lose your place, but as a winger it’s a little bit harder as you’ve got to beat your man and put crosses in. I’d say the harder of the two roles is the wing, but I enjoy both.”
Looking at the history of games between Rovers and Wycombe the ledger is very even with 13 Rovers wins, 4 draws and 13 wins to the Chairboys, 38 goals to Rovers and 37 to the Chairboys.
It was a Wycombe away win that was one of the most significant results in the history of Bristol Rovers. On 2 May 2001 a spectacular Dannie Bulman strike sent Rovers to the basement Division for the first time ever.
Last season the home teams won both games, 2-0 at Wycombe (after the first game was abandoned with Rovers 3-1 up) and 1-0 in Bristol.
The very first League fixture between the clubs was unique, so far, as it is the only 0-0 draw in the fixture, the game took place on 27 August 1994. In the return fixture on 11 March 1995 Gareth Taylor scored the only goal at Twerton to give Rovers all 3 points.
On 9 November 2010 Jo Kuffour who is now in a Chairboys shirt, had a game to remember at Adams Park in a JPT tie. His two first half goals set Rovers up for what looked like a good away win, but on 58 minutes, Scott Rendell pulled one back for the Bucks team. Within a minute Kuffour had hit back to restore Rovers two goal lead and to complete his hat-trick.
Chris Lines added goal number four with a surging run into the area which took him past three home defenders and he comfortably beat Bull from eight yards. Rovers fifth goal came from the penalty spot after Alan Bennett brought down Kuffour and Jeff Hughes sent Bull the wrong way with his spot kick.
A foul on Rendell by Lines enabled the home striker to add his second goal of the evening from the penalty spot on 83 minutes. Five minutes later Rendell completed his hat trick when he headed home a cross from Matt Bloomfield.
That wasn't the end of the scoring as Ben Swallow got in on the act, cutting in from the right and unleashing an unstoppable shot that flew past Bull and into the roof of the net and secure a 6-3 away win.
Whatever side Wycombe field Rovers will have to be wary. Their record in Bristol speaks for itself with 7 wins from 14 games. Rovers cannot afford to put in anything less than 100% if they are to overcome the Chairboys.
The Blues Boss Gareth Ainsworth has revealed that his squad was hit by a virus in the build-up to the victory over Torquay. Four of Ainsworth's players had earlier pulled out of the game through illness.
"There's a little bit of illness flouting about," Ainsworth reported. "I had four players call in sick this morning, including Gary Docherty and Matt McClure, big players for us.
"Jo Kuffour actually played with an illness so I think there's something going around here and energy levels are down. But we've proved we have a team of real workers and togetherness and I thought we thoroughly deserved the win.
Meanwhile Stuart Lewis has expressed his belief that the added responsibility of being Wanderers captain is helping to make him a better player. He was handed the responsibility at the start of the season but got off to an inauspicious start after being sent off in a defeat at AFC Wimbledon in his second league match.
Since then he's led by example and avoided a booking since his return to the side despite his combative, all action style of play. Lewis said, "I didn't get off to the best of starts against Wimbledon but since then it's gone really well. It's a great responsibility to be captain of a great club like this, it's a massive honour.
"It gives you that little extra half a yard when you think, 'I'm captain, I have to lead from the front'. It's great to have that armband on. I'm always on the front foot and going for it."
He revealed that he had an input into the half time team talk that prompted the comeback win against Torquay "I don't think you can repeat what he said because we were way off it in the first half. It was a bit sloppy and we were second to the second balls. All over the pitch we weren't at it. Gaz got us fired up and we gave him a good response second half.
"Even before I was named captain at the start of the season, I've always been quite vocal. I said to the lads we need to show a bit of spirit and get it going here, otherwise we are looking at two losses at home. You've got to do that as captain.
"Gaz wants everyone to be positive and that's mostly what we tried to do, look at the positives and say, 'Come on, get our spirit going'."
Lewis said that doesn't mean Ainsworth isn't afraid to give out a rollicking if it's needed though: "There are times when even I need it and the players need it but erring on the side of positive is always the best way to go.
"Going 2-1 behind, to come back to 3-2 shows great spirit. It's a great three points. We weren't at our best but winning under those circumstances shows that resilience we have.
"Games like this really shape your season and shape you as a squad. After Burton last week we had to bounce back and we did that. We showed real desire to get back into it."
Since that 3-0 away win at Plymouth the Blues have had just one away game, a 3-2 loss at Rochdale, where they came back from 3-0 down in 15 minutes to almost snatch the draw. This is a fixture that could easily put Rovers’ season back on track but equally they will have to be wary of a very efficient Wycombe side.
Written by Gerry Prewett.