By Nathan Bees
If the Portsmouth game last weekend felt like a big occasion then tomorrow’s game against Wycombe Wanderers will probably feel like a Wembley cup final.
Okay, maybe not for positive reasons but certainly in terms of its importance. I would go as far as saying it is one of the biggest matches in our club’s history given how perilously close we are to losing our Football League status.
A defeat and anything other than Northampton Town losing would send Rovers into the bottom two heading into the final day and it will mean destiny is no longer in our hands. A victory, however, would give us a great chance of staying up and as long as we could match or better Wycombe’s result next weekend we would be safe.
I am sure, like me, you have driven yourselves mad this week going through the different permutations but it really is impossible to call.
We have all seen the unpredictability of this division and the fact bottom side Torquay United have strung a few wins together has proven that anyone can beat anyone, regardless of their position in the table. This should give us hope in spite of our poor form.
The thing I wouldn’t be able to bear is having to rely on other sides after this weekend. That would be absolutely horrific because all the way through this sickening relegation battle we have had the ability to decide our fate.
To lose that at this stage would make next Saturday’s game with Mansfield Town excruciating.
The ideal scenario will be defeating Wycombe and only needing to draw against the Stags to ensure safety. It would mean having to do something we have only managed once in the league this season - winning away - but we go to a side we are level on points with so there is no better opportunity to achieve it.
Gareth Ainsworth’s Chairboys are nothing to fear. They couldn’t beat or even draw against a Fleetwood Town side who were down to 10 men for over 80 minutes on Easter Monday and that will have damaged confidence.
When you are handed advantages like that at this time in the season you have to take them and Ainsworth will be well aware that they passed up a golden opportunity.
It will almost inevitably lead to a nervy atmosphere around home areas of Adams Park and that should be something we seek to exploit.
We will take in excess of 2000 supporters to the game and I have no doubts we will out-sing our Wycombe counterparts for the entire 90 minutes. It should give our team a huge lift and if that helps them to frustrate their hosts then the pressure may become too much for them to handle.
Our tremendous support certainly inspired the team at Fratton Park last week and for the first time in a while we looked dangerous going forward, particularly in the first half.
Matt Harrold looked lively and scored two good goals while David Clarkson possessed a bit of quality around the box which helped to create chances both for himself and his team-mates. It looked promising.
Their partnership has never really delivered in the past two years but there were signs there that it could work if we get the ball down and run at the opposition.
We were direct and energetic in the first period at Portsmouth and we had them on the back foot, as Andy Awford admitted post-match, so if they can rediscover that tomorrow we give ourselves a great chance of scoring.
The Wycombe team are nowhere near as strong as Pompey’s and we more than gave them a game 7 days ago. If the lads can rise to the occasion once more then there is no reason why we can’t score goals and head back home with 3 points.
Easier said than done, of course, but we need to be positive because if we turn up with a defeatist attitude we will get turned over.
Unfortunately we are weakened with Michael Smith, our best player for the past two seasons, ruled our for the rest of the campaign. Hopefully Danny Woodards recovers in time to play because he is a more than able deputy and provides much needed experience in an otherwise youthful team.
I also hope the likes of Chris Beardsley and Steven Gillespie are fit because the more options we have the better equipped we will be to mix things up later in the game.
On top of fighting for League Two survival, every player in our squad is playing for the their future at this football club and if that’s not a big enough incentive for them they do not deserve to be here.
The aforementioned Michael Smith, however, is one man who has already proven his worth and I sincerely hope we give him something to stick around for long-term.
I wouldn’t begrudge him a move away because he is more than capable of stepping up a level but selfishly I want him to stick around and become a true hero here. He cares about the club and, in my opinion, deserves the honour of leading Rovers out in the UWE Stadium next year.
If there was a blueprint for the perfect player then Smudger would be it.
We have two massive games ahead of us to secure our Football League status and that is the immediate focus.
Come on Rovers, let’s do this.
Up the Gas.