By Daniel Jones
Rovers returned to winning ways in style as the came from 1-2 behind to beat Gateshead 3-2 at the Memorial Stadium in front of the BT Sport Cameras.
Goals from Ollie Clarke, Lee Mansell and Stuart Sinclair secured all three points for Darrell Clarke's men who twice came from behind thanks to goals from Matty Pattison and Alex Rodman.
Darrell Clarke made five changes to the side that lost to Bath City just six days ago bringing Tom Lockyer, Lee Mansell, Andy Monkhouse and skipper Mark McChrystal back into the starting 11.
The opening exchanges saw Rovers struggle to touch the ball in the first two minutes, with their only contact with the ball being clearances. It was the visitors who had the first real chance, when John Oster knocked the ball into the box, where Matty Pattison nodded over from around 10 yards.
Angelo Balanta found himself out wide with time on the ball a number of times, but spurned his opportunities to get a cross into the box, smashing them over the heads of the forwards. The Columbian was involved in a good move on nine minutes, combing with Stuart Sinclair in the middle to play the ball out wide to striker Alex Wall, who like Balanta wildly over-hit his cross.
Gateshead enjoyed a long period of possession after Rovers’ few chances, spraying the ball around nicely, thoroughly frustrating Rovers’ players and fans alike. It looked as though the north-eastern side were doing little with their large share of the ball, but on 17 minutes, their possession was rewarded.
Former Welsh international John Oster received the ball on the right hand side, and picked out Pattison with a powerful low drive across the box, leaving the Gateshead forward with the simplest of tap-ins from three yards out to give them the advantage.
Rovers began to gradually force their way into the game following going behind, but Balanta still looked Jaded on the right, struggling to make an impact on the game. Darrell Clarke had enough, and on 28 minutes took off Balanta for Ollie Clarke, prompting a shift in formation to a midfield diamond spearheaded by Sinclair.
Alex Rodman caused problems for Tom Lockyer all half, who only returned to training mid-week due to illness, as the Gateshead winger beat him on a few occasions to put in some dangerous balls, which the centre backs managed to deal with.
Rover’s best chance of the half fell to veteran midfielder Lee Mansell, with a strike that made a number of fans roar in delight, thinking they had scored. Mansell gambled on the bounce of the ball in the box, and free in space attempted an audacious bicycle kick which hit the side netting, with the keeper beaten.
In the second half Rovers started far better, dominating the opening fifteen minutes of play. Sinclair was at the centre of a lot of Rover’s bright spell, winning back possession, driving forward with the ball and creating chances with some good passing. Rover’s almost had an unlikely goal scorer in the form of Lockyer, who tried an ambitious drive from 30 yards that inched past Adam Bartlett’s post.
The increased pressure paid off just before the hour mark when substitute Ollie Clarke, who couldn’t pass up the space afforded to him, teed himself up and hammered a low strike into the left hand bottom corner from 25 yards, an effort the keeper had no chance of saving.
Rovers’ euphoria was short-lived however, when just three minutes later Oster galloped down the right and played a pin-point ball into the feet of the advancing Alex Rodman on the left, who coolly slotted the ball beyond Fabian Spiess in the Rovers’ net, sparking an inquest into why the Gateshead man was unmarked in the box.
Neal Trotman replaced McChrystal in the defence to try and prevent anymore leaks, and what ensued next was something few Rovers fans would have had a hard time believing from the first half performance. The team has been struggling for goals this season, but a mere five minutes after Gateshead regained the lead, Rovers won a free kick in a tantalising position, just outside of the area. Up stepped Lee Mansell, who curled his effort with vicious pace around the wall, adding a second stunning equaliser for the hosts.
But the gas were not done yet in the back and forth of the second half. Rover’s advanced again on 70 minutes, and Matt Taylor raced onto a through ball. The keeper rushed out to meet the striker, and beat him there, but at the cost of his composure. He spilled the ball into the feet of Sinclair, whose brilliant performance was rewarded as he tapped the ball past the helpless Bartlett, and emphatically thumped the ball into the top left hand corner, the ball eluding the defenders desperately trying to keep the ball out.
Gateshead tried to rally, and stepped up the intensity, but Rovers put out sparks in the midfield to quell the resurgence. Ellis Harrison replaced the tiring Wall with five minutes remaining, who had ran hard up front throughout the contest. The away side continued to push, but struggled to break through the resolute Rovers defensive effort, and rapturous applause met the home team at the full time whistle.
In the end Gateshead never really looked like equalising, and Rovers secured the three points in what was an explosive second half. Next up for Rovers are Torquay United on Boxing Day, where they will be hoping to continue to gain ground on leaders Barnet. The result will certainly damage Gateshead’s push for the play-off places, and they will be kicking themselves for losing the lead, but in the end Rovers’ second half performance was easily enough to deserve the three points.
Up next for Rovers is a trip to Plainmoor on Boxing Day to take on Torquay United before returning to the Mem on 28th December as they entertain Macclesfield.
Rovers: Spiess, Lockyer, McChrystal (Trotman - 64), Parkes, Brown, Balanta (Clarke - 30), Mansell, Sinclair, Monkhouse, Taylor, Wall (Harrison - 84).
Unused Substitutes: Gosling, Goldberg.
Gateshead: Bartlett, Baxter, Curtis, Clark, O'Donnell, Pattison, Chandler (Rankine - 63), Turnbull, Oster, Rodman, Ramshaw (Wright - 72)
Unused Substitutes: Guy, Allan, Gjokaj.