All you need to know about today's opponents
A former Rovers’ hero who is now the Community Officer for this week’s opponents, Torquay United, is taking part in the Football League challenge to ride from London to Amsterdam alongside our own Rod Wesson.
Frankie Prince will be raising money for Prostate Cancer UK. Facing just as tough a task will be the side he represents this week as they take on Rovers at the Mem.
The Gulls have lost six of their last eight matches and their latest game, a 1-0 home defeat to high riding Scunthorpe United exemplifies exactly why they are rooted to the foot of the table.
They had all the early pressure, Slocombe, in the Iron goal, made a reaction save to palm away a stooping header from Karl Hawley during a series of corners delivered dangerously into the penalty area by Courtney Cameron, who quickly stood out as the home side’s major creative threat.
With six minutes gone, the Gulls winger robbed Nolan of possession out wide and then easily beat the Irishman to stride towards the box, but he then seemed to be caught in two minds when it came to crossing or shooting and his floated effort glanced against the back post.
Moments of note at the other end of the field were few and far between during the opening quarter. Sam Winnall headed well wide, from a Hayes cross during a neat move of one-touch passing football.
Torquay, and Cameron, responded with a low shot which flew across the face of goal, moments after he had wasted a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area, by blazing it over the stand.
They were, on the half-hour mark, to prove costly misses, as the Iron snatched the lead. Hayes chipped the ball into the box from the left and Sparrow did well to bring it under control before being felled, clumsily, from behind by former United loanee Karl Hawley.
Winnall’s spot kick was precise, almost brushing the inside of the post as it beat Gulls keeper Martin Rice. The goal came against the run of play, but when presented with the opportunity to get back on level terms, the Gulls passed it up.
There seemed an element of fortune when referee Michael Bull pointed to the spot for the second time, in the 44th minute, when Pearce went to ground after having his run checked by Niall Canavan at a corner.
Full-back Dale Tonge took the spot kick, but Slocombe kept up his amazing record from 12 yards, going low to his left to push the ball away and preserve his side’s lead.
Having been devoid of width during the opening 45 minutes, Scunthorpe made a change at the break, sacrificing Collins for the pace and trickery of Hakeeb Adelakun. The teenager was quickly involved too, but wasted a tamely-hit free-kick from 20 yards which he curled over the wall but straight into Rice’s hands.
Despite being in front, Scunthorpe were still unable to force their way into the ascendancy, with the Gulls enjoying much more of the possession, albeit without being able to do anything to further test Slocombe.
Adelakun was involved again in the 56th minute when the Iron went close. He was unable to hit Hayes’ intelligent ball to the back post first time, but did steady himself and dig it out of his feet to flash an effort across the face of goal.
Torquay’s hopes of finding an equaliser looked to have suffered a blow in the 70th minute when Hawley had to come off with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
His replacement though, Stockley, came close to making an instinct impact with a free-kick from 20 yards that Slocombe pushed over the bar. The Iron keeper made the save look easy. As the clock ticked down, both sides resorted to shooting from range.
Bodin skewed one effort wide as Torquay began to get more and more direct and Madden, whose work rate and willingness to chase everything down was again immense, was equally as off target as he whacked the ball goal wards first-time.
In the third of six minutes of stoppage time, Torquay lost their heads as well as the game. And when Stockley brutally elbowed Mirfin as the pair contested a header, he was quickly shown the red card by referee Bull
United boss Chris Hargreaves believes his team still have plenty to fight for, “We can get out of it, of course we can, but we need five wins,” he said after the game, “The players were excellent first half. They’ve got to produce that same tempo and performance in the final five games.
“I was really pleased to see it. For the whole game I thought we were the dominant team, but sometimes you don’t get the breaks. I’ll keep fighting and the players will keep on fighting. We know the fans are behind us, so we’ll try again.
“I come away very, very pleased with a lot of the game, but very disappointed with the result.”
He believed that Niall Canavan should have been sent off for his block on Krystian Pearce, which saw referee Michael Bull award the spot kick to the Devon team.
“If you’re in the Premier League that would have been a red card. The analysis here and the thought process of the referee is different and he’s not given that.”
Talking about the miss from the spot he said, “Dale was the confident one to get on the ball. He wanted it and usually the person who grabs the ball is the one who is confident to take it and score. He just didn’t get his foot through it.
“You’ve got to score when you are on top and the penalty was our chance to get back into the game. In the second half Scunthorpe changed their shape because they could not handle what we were doing. It stopped us a little bit in our tracks.”
United will draw hope from the fact that three of their remaining five matches come against sides also currently in the bottom five. However, they could be relegated as early as this weekend if they lose against the Gas and other results go against them.
They have the worst goal difference in the division (minus 24) and have conceded the joint-highest number of goals (59).
Looking at United’s record in Bristol, it is not a good one with 8 wins, 7 draws and 23 victories to Rovers from the 38 matches played there.
It is over 30 years to find anything greater than a single goal difference between the teams in Bristol. The Gull’s last victory at the Mem was two seasons ago, shocking Paul Buckle’s confident Gas team with a 2-1 win.
Last season saw a 3-2 victory. Two goals in two minutes just on the quarter hour from Tom Eaves and Matt Lund gave Rovers the lead in the first half. Torquay draw level thanks to goals from former Gas players Rene Howe on 53 minutes and Aaron Downes six minutes later.
Then with less than a quarter of an hour remaining Tom Eaves scored his second goal of the game to give Rovers all three points and send the 6,331 crowd home happy.
Welcome news for United is that Shamir Goodwin returns after a three-match ban. The young forward on loan from Brighton was dismissed in the loss to Newport. With Jayden Stockley also now suspended and Karl Hawley out with a broken arm it leaves Hargreaves with some attacking possibilities.
He is left with a problem at left-back after Tom Cruise hobbled out of training with a hamstring problem. Kevin Nicholson could return or possibly a debut for Baily Cargill on loan from Bournemouth.
Hargreaves commented, "Tom Cruise did his hamstring yesterday and we’re also without Karl and Jayden, but we’re delighted to have Shamir back. He has good vitality about him. He’s been a pleasure to train and a really good lad, considering what he’s been through in his life because he’s had a lot of hardship.
"I can’t speak highly enough of him and certainly the type we would be looking to have here next season, but I’m not sure what Brighton will want.’’
Written by Gerry Prewett.