By Nathan Bees
I’m a creature of habit, not just in day-to-day life but in football as well. I have to watch Rovers on a Saturday otherwise I feel completely lost. It is bad enough during the summer when there is no football at all but it is even worse when there is a full fixture list elsewhere.
From that perspective I am disappointed that we are facing Southend United at Roots Hall tonight instead of tomorrow afternoon in the traditional 3pm time-slot.
Having said that there is something special about night matches that you just don’t experience on a weekend. The floodlights, the atmosphere and the general experience of a midweek game just adds to the excitement and they seem to create, more often than not, memorable clashes.
It may just be coincidence but some of my favourite recent Gas moments have come in evening games. Yeovil Town at home in 2004, for example. 2-0 down at half-time with 2 men sent off and we seemed destined to lose by a large scoreline given the way they were knocking the ball past us.
Despite the odds being against us we put in a sensational second half performance that saw James Hunt pull a goal back before Junior Agogo netted an 86th minute equaliser. Cue 8000 delighted Gasheads going absolutely wild.
The noise generated was incredible and unlike anything I can recall experiencing at the Mem for any game, especially one in mid-October. Circumstances obviously contributed to the outpouring of emotions in the final minutes but it was the general feel provided by that Tuesday evening under the floodlights that sticks out in my mind.
Then in 2006-2007 we had the Bristol Derby doubleheader, played on consecutive Tuesday evenings, which will be fondly remembered as we progressed 1-0 to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.
Later that season we also had the play-off semi-final second leg against Lincoln City at Sincil Bank. Played on a Thursday night, Paul Trollope’s men ran riot to confirm our place in the League Two play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
If those matches weren’t enough, a few short years later we watched one of the most dramatic away victories in Rovers history. We had just sold star striker Rickie Lambert to Southampton for £1,000,000 and it wasn’t long until we came face to face with him again.
We travelled down to Rickie’s new club in late September after making a promising start to the 2009-2010 season and there was a quiet confidence that we could earn a result. However, nobody could have predicted that night at St. Mary’s would go down to be an all-time Gas classic.
Loanee Chris Dickson and Jo Kuffour equalised twice for Rovers and looked to have secured an impressive away draw ... until 6 minutes into stoppage time when it all changed.
Substitute Andy Williams cut inside on to his weaker left foot 25 yards from goal and curled home a sublime effort into the far corner. The scenes among the 3000 Gasheads in the corner of the ground was extraordinary and the celebrations are unlike anything I’ve experienced since.
I will always remember the night Rovers took over St. Mary’s - it’s one of the best matches I have ever had the pleasure to witness.
I am certainly not suggesting that tonight’s game is destined to be one to remember and go down in folklore but you can never rule it out. After all, our last Friday night game is one that we can all remember.
New signing Ryan Brunt netted an injury-time winner against Edgar Davids’ Barnet to secure a vital 3 points and lift us out of the relegation zone for the first time under John Ward.
The situation isn’t quite so desperate tonight but a win could provide us with a similar springboard to the one we got after defeating the Bees. It is easy to forget that the season is still young and momentum can soon be built with a couple of positive results.
Southend will fancy their chances against us given our away form so far but Ward’s boys can be optimistic themselves given the poor results accrued by the Shrimpers recently.
Phil Brown has publicly lambasted his players following their draw with Bury last weekend and there will be a big pressure on them to start brightly tonight.
It could work in their favour but we’ve seen in the Premier League that Paolo Di Canio’s tactic of publicly criticising players doesn’t always work, so hopefully it proves to have an adverse effect.
Seanan Clucas looks set to travel with the squad for the first time since sustaining a knee ligament injury in February and his return is eagerly anticipated by many.
His team-mates love him, as Michael Smith suggested in his interview yesterday (which can be viewed on Rovers’ Official YouTube channel), his manager likes his combative style and supporters are looking forward to welcoming his tenacity back into the team.
I must admit to being one of Seanan’s biggest fans and I’m delighted he came through the midweek fixture against Cirencester with no problems, even if he did end up with 3 staples in his head! He is exactly the type of character that I want to see representing Bristol Rovers.
11 committed performances tonight will give us a good chance of overcoming the test that will greet us at Roots Hall. I won’t make any predictions or suggest I’m confident because when I do we lose and it comes back to bite me on the backside!
I do think, however, that we’re playing Southend at a good time and the 3 points are there for the taking should we be ambitious enough to go for them. Let’s see how the boys do, shall we?