A look at tomorrow's opposition
For the third season in a row Bristol Rovers travel to South West London to face AFC Wimbledon with a different Manger.
At the start of the 2011/12 season Paul Buckle was at the helm, the following season Mark McGhee was the Boss and this time Darryl Clark will be in charge.
Neither team is in hot form at present; AFC have one win, three draws and two defeats, while Rovers have one win, one draw and four defeats in the last six games. The Dons were actually on a four match unbeaten run until last Saturday when they came unstuck at Mansfield’s Field Mill.
The home team took the lead after just seven minutes, Adam Murray’s free-kick beating Ross Worner in the Don’s goal before his team had chance to settle.
Neal Ardley was critical of his team after the game, “I’m disappointed with the result, this is a results business – but the game was everything we thought it would be in terms of physicality. We lost Darren Jones early on with a cut head, and George Francomb was off the field receiving treatment when they scored.
“The free-kick went exactly where George would have been standing and the ball’s gone under Ross Worner’s body for a really sloppy goal. People often say a keeper gets a bad rap because one mistake can lead to a goal, but I don’t buy into that. If a keeper makes a few good saves, people say how well he played, but keepers are there to make saves. That is what they are paid to do.
“I did not say much to Ross after the game, I did not need to, but it was a sloppy goal and it cost us.”
He also pointed a finger at Sammy Moore after the midfielder picked up a yellow card on the final whistle, leading to a two-match suspension. Moore has collected 10 yellow cards this season, plus one that led to a red card against Rovers earlier this season.
“Sammy got his card for mouthing off at the referee at the end, which is poor from him. We’re now without him for two games and at this stage of the season that is really disappointing because we are entering a vital few weeks.”
Rovers need to be aware of the Don’s ability to score late goals, in each of the three games, prior to the Mansfield defeat , they scored vital stoppage time goals – equalisers from Darren Jones and Sammy Moore against Burton and Northampton, sandwiching Jack Midson’s winner in the 4-3 win over Cheltenham.
Ardley suggested last week he had taken an Alex Ferguson-style stance towards timekeeping. To come back once in that style might be coincidence., to do it three times in a row suggests Ardley has instilled some tremendous resilience and fitness levels into his players.
In 2011/12 Rovers’ opening day fixture saw Paul Buckle’s team visit Kingsmeadow for the South West London team’s debut in League football.
The live televised game provided great entertainment. Goals by McGleish and Harrold had Rovers cruising within 20 minutes. AFC then fought back and Stuart was on the scoresheet 7 minutes before half-time.
On 67 minutes Kingsmeadow erupted as Ademeno pulled AFC level. It was left for Adam Virgo to spoil the party with an 84th minute penalty to take all 3 points back down the M4 to Bristol.
Rovers should have had the game out of Wimbledon's reach by half time, but allowed their hosts to get back on level terms before they settled things with that late penalty. The team contained ten players making their Rovers league debut.
Last season an appalling first half display saw Rovers give away 3 goals in 14 minutes to lose any chance of taking anything from the game. To cap it all they finished the game with ten men after Tom Parkes picked up his second yellow card on 83 minutes.
It was no real surprise when Wimbledon took the lead on 20 minutes. A ball in from the right seemed to catch everyone by surprise and appeared to hit Gary Kenneth on the shin and roll into an unguarded net.
Incessant pressure from the home side saw them rewarded with a second goal on the half hour mark. Midson was the provider, slipping the ball out to the right to Rashid Yussuff who comfortably slid the ball past Neil Etheridge from six yards.
Three minutes later goal number three arrived. Tom Parkes was penalised with a yellow card for a poor challenge out on the right, George Francomb floated the free kick into the area and Antwi was credited with the final touch, though from the stand it appeared to go in off of Kenneth
With just 18 minutes remaining Rovers recovered some semblance of dignity when David Clarkson set up Eaves for the fourth goal of his brief Rovers career. Winning possession some 25 yards from goal, he squared the ball to his strike partner who fired a superb shot into the top corner of the net.
Any hopes of a dramatic fight back were dashed seven minutes from time when Parkes made a rash challenge on Luke Moore and was booked for his efforts. It was his second booking of the evening, and he headed for the dressing room knowing he faced another suspension.
For Saturday’s game the Dons will have plenty of attacking options with Danny Hylton and Jack Midson both vying for selection again. Hylton is back in contention after a bout of tonsillitis and Midson is also available after serving a one-match suspension.
With Kwesi Appiah brought in on loan and Charlie Wyke set to feature for the last time before going back to Middlesbrough, Wimbledon will have four strikers to choose from.
Andy Frampton is doubtful with a calf injury and captain Alan Bennett will also be assessed after picking up a knock. Darren Jones is likely to be given the green light to feature after suffering a head injury in the defeat at Mansfield.
Michael Collins has been recalled by Scunthorpe United and Sammy Moore is suspended for two matches after accumulating those 10 bookings.
Ardley commented, “Sammy and Michael are two midfielders that have been mainstays in there for the last six or seven games. I’m disappointed to lose Michael because I thought he was looking strong. In particular, he was excellent at Northampton.
”But you look at it now and Peter Sweeney, Harry Pell and Jake Nicholson should be saying that they’ve waited for their turns and will not let us down. Danny Hylton has trained all week and worked really hard. He’s looked very fit and strong so that’s good news and Jack is now back after suspension.”
Wimbledon won their last home match against Cheltenham in dramatic fashion by scoring four goals and Neal has called for similar attacking performances to end the season on a high.
“We’re looking for similar statistics with our attacking performance again and that’s what we’ve been trying to work towards,” said Neal.
“If we can avoid falling behind and start well then that will be a big plus. We are trying to make it about us. I always make sure we know about the opposition, but it’s about our performance levels. We have three home games left and we want to try and play well in all of those.”
Talking about his team’s home form he noted, “I think it has played on our minds a bit and that has not helped. The fans have sensed it and the players have felt it, but the last home game against Cheltenham was an exhilarating one. Hopefully we can take that into our last three home games and get what we want out of it.”
Written by Gerry Prewett.