By Gerry PrewettIn a season of firsts Bristol Rovers play Gateshead for the inaugural meeting in a rare Friday night home match. After the shock loss to Bath City in the FA Trophy last weekend Darrell Clarke is looking for his team to redeem themselves by getting back on the winning track.
Rovers’ recent league form has been exhilarating with 9 wins and 9 draws in their last 19 games. Their opposition is having a very stong season, currently in 8th spot on the table and 4 points behind the Gas but with a game in hand. Their real character has shown in Cup competitions. They have progressed to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, where they will meet West Brom after defeating; Gainsborough Trinity 4-0, Norton United 4-0, Warrington Town 2-0. Last weekend whilst Rovers were losing the Bath, the Heed were defeating Halesowen Town 2-0 in the Trophy.
Gateshead was originally founded in 1889 but the club had a very chequered existence. They played in the Football League from 1930 until 1960, but were liquidated in 1973. The present club was formed in 1977.
Current Manager Gary Mills was appointed on 3 September 2013 and took Gateshead to third place in the Conference at the end of his first season as manager, qualifying the team for the end-of-season promotion play-offs. An aggregate win over Grimsby Town took Gateshead to their first appearance at Wembley Stadium.[ However they lost 2–1 to Cambridge United.
Mills says their progress to the FA Cup third round for the first time since 1954-55 is a source of personal pride. "I wanted to be the first to take them to the third round after 60 years so it means a lot It's been hard work mentally and physically for the players."
Although Matty Pattison's goal put Gateshead in front inside eight minutes, they had to wait until injury time to make sure of the victory when Danny Wright grabbed the winner, "You can see why Warrington got here, we had the advantage of being at home," said Mills "It would have been a tough, tough game at their place, I'm ecstatic we are there. The league programme is difficult but to have these breaks is great and we've put ourselves on the map again."
In last weekend’s Trophy game against Halesowen it was 6 minutes before the end of an uninspiring first half that Lewis Guy did admirably to hold the ball up for Craig Baxter, and the right-back delivered a looping cross into the area which Wright rose to glance home.
With half an hour left to play Alex Rodman’s searching cross was flicked on to the post by substitute Rob Ramshaw, but Guy was quickest to pounce on the loose ball, and drilled into the far corner from six yards.
Mills praised Lewis after this game, “When you’re playing against a team who press high and make it difficult for you, sometimes you’ve got to really work hard to get in to games and Lewis has done that today – what he had to do, he did well.”
“He has been excellent for the Reserves recently and he did well again today.”
Guy lined up in a front three to begin with in that game alongside Jon Shaw, and fellow goalscorer Danny Wright. In their previous League game against Southport they took to the pitch without an out-and-out frontman, with the versatile Rob Ramshaw leading the line.
Mills believed his revamped approach paid off and outlined the thinking behind his changes in personnel, “I wanted to see how it would work with the three forwards up there so I gave it a go. With Shawsy and Wrighty up there alongside Guy, the three of them have been used to working together in reserve games. I think it went well.”
“In the end, though, we were actually playing a 4-4-2, because that’s how difficult they made it for us. It was a tough, tough game today. We’ve scored with our only real opportunity of the first-half – that’s how difficult they have made it for us.”