A look at tomorrow's opponents
With four games of the season left Bristol Rovers approach what Sir Alex Ferguson so memorably described as “Squeaky bum time” The first of those games takes place at Portsmouth on Saturday.
They will be hoping for a much better result than their last visit when they came back from Hampshire on Boxing Day 1992 after a 4-1 defeat.
Since being led to FA Cup victory by Harry Redknapp just 5 years ago Pompey have struggled financially and that resulted in a failure to pay players, points deductions and subsequent relegations.
Throughout all this turmoil the south coast team’s fans have been amazing. Whilst seeing near neighbours and bitter rivals Southampton establish themselves in the Premier League, Portsmouth are struggling for League survival. A recent run of three successive victories seems to have given them a very strong lifeline.
A 4-1 victory at Dagenham on Saturday was an indication of just how confident Andy Awford’s team are. Pompey took the lead within 5 minutes, with Danny Hollands finding the target. Just 15 minutes later a Michael Drennan headed goal doubled the south coast team’s lead.
The Daggers hit back on 34 minutes with a header from Abu Ogogo to leave the game finely balanced at 2-1 at half-time.
Within 12 minutes Drennan doubled his personal tally as he lashed in a 25-yard half-volley. Then to round off a convincing away win Jed Wallace made capital of Luke Wilkinson's short back pass to score Portsmouth’s 4th of the afternoon.
Speaking after the game, Pompey’s Caretaker Boss Andy Awford said: "That's the best we've played by a street. I asked them after the Newport game to maintain the levels, and could they nudge it higher.
"We did that against Hartlepool and I challenged them again to do the same. The standard now has gone even higher. They keep raising the bar for me. They've been absolutely superb today, each and every one of them. Not just the 11 and the three we've put on, but every single body in the group. They've been an absolute pleasure to work with.
"It's a great result but we're not quite there yet. It's another big step towards safety. We seemed to come out of the blocks pretty quickly and could have been 4-0 up after 20 minutes.
"We hit the post and had some other chances – I was a bit worried that the ones we missed might come back to haunt us.
“But we got the third and the fourth after the break and it finished up being quite comfortable. The fans have got behind us and the players have been magnificent – when that happens you get a spirit that’s unbeatable.”
Looking at the history of games between the clubs, in total there have been 29, with Pompey dominating, with 14 victories to Rovers' 9.
At Portsmouth in 14 matches Rovers have 2 victories to Portsmouth’s 9. The first time the teams met was on 12 February 1921 when Portsmouth won their home game 1-0, one week later the teams fought out a 2-2 draw at Eastville.
A most remarkable game took place on 6 February 1960 at Fratton Park in a Second Division match. Two goals by Ron Saunders and others by Harry Harris and Reg Cutler gave the home team 4 goals. However doubles by Peter Hooper and Dai Ward along with an own goal by Ron Howells led to a 5-4 away win, their first.
Rovers only other victory at Fratton Park took place on Tuesday 21 October 1975, Bruce Bannister and Gordon Staniforth scored for Rovers and Peter Marinello for Pompey.
An indication that confidence is high on the South Coast is Ryan Taylor’s call for his team to target victories in all their remaining games. They are currently on their best run of results since they won six on the trot under Steve Cotterill in 2011.
Taylor said, “We’re not looking at it that we need to win another game or two. The way we are looking at it is there are four games left, we’ve won three, so why not go and win them all. It’s not unrealistic or out of reach for us to do that.
“‘If we keep playing how we are at the moment we are capable of winning the lot. It’s a big statement, but why can’t we? There are four games left and we aren’t going into them thinking that we are going to lose. Its four games and four wins. All of the games are going to be tough in the run-in.
“It’s not going to be easy for us, but we know what we can do."
Reflecting on the current run he said,”It’s three games and three wins. It’s not bad from the manager. He’s just instilled confidence in us. He’s told us to go out, play with a smile on our faces, enjoy it – and win. That’s what we’re doing at the moment.
“It’s not a bad record and we just need to keep it up. He’s wrote more or less the same things on the board every week. And the bottom thing on the board has said: “Win”. We’ve done that.
“It’s a good start from him, but we need to keep up those standards. The dressing room is a good place to be at the moment. There were a few dancing around after the game on Saturday. But we know we need to keep the standards high and get ourselves safe as soon as possible.”
Written by Gerry Prewett.