By Daniel JonesAs many of you will wholeheartedly agree, being a Rovers fan is not easy. And when I say not easy, I mean frustrating, hair-pulling, head-in-hands not easy.
When watching Rovers, I cannot escape the sense that an impending disaster is lurking around every corner. Every ball into the box by the opposition team is met by an “oh please God, spare us” in my head, before the ball is scrambled to safety and I can breathe a sigh of relief, until the next time they so much as enter our half.
This season, I’ve still had these feelings; but the disasters haven’t really been coming. When we lost two of our opening three games, I will hold my hands up and admit that I came to the hasty conclusion that we were in for another year of disappointment, possibly a depressing mid-table obscurity. Thankfully, so far I have been proven wrong.
As a student living in Southampton, I struggle to find the time, but more significantly the money, to come back on a weekend to watch games at the Mem, but I make a point of keeping up with the games as they are going on.
It’s definitely easier to endure a late equaliser or loss when it flashes up on my twitter feed than watching the Rovers net ripple in person!
But in so many games this season, we have shown brilliant resilience and some solid defensive displays, giving us one of the lowest goals conceded totals in the league. For the first time in a long time the Memorial Stadium feels like a little bit of a fortress – having lost just one league game and picking up eight wins from 12 means that I now fully expect us to win the game whenever we have a home fixture.
Despite all this positivity on paper, there is still a lot of frustration amongst fans. The problem is our performances have not been convincing in many games, even when we scrape a win, and the fans know the team is doing well, but could be doing so much better, not settling for below par performances; a sign of good support if you ask me. Being content with a third placed finish is not enough for Rovers fans, and I hope the players can thrive on the expectation rather than fear it.
The Conference is not an easy league to casually saunter your way out of, as many football league club supporters probably suppose it is when they face relegation. I remember watching Forest Green a few times three or four years ago, and remember thinking then that they often played far better football than the many League 2 clubs I used to watch at the Mem, certainly Rovers included.
To gain promotion this year would be a fantastic achievement for us, and I think we definitely have a massive chance of doing so; however, this Christmas period could be make or break for us and for every other team in the top half. The division is devilishly close, especially with teams with games in hand considered. The matches coming up, beginning with Gateshead on Friday night, are absolutely crucial.
This festive period brings with it a very tough run of games, with Gateshead, Macclesfield and Torquay twice over a two week period. Someone who will have a very big part to play is our emergency keeper Fabian Spiess. Injuries to Mildenhall and Puddy are a massive blow to us, so I just hope Spiess is up to the task. From what I understand he is held in high regard by Notts County, and a few big teams were looking at him a few years back, so he clearly has some quality.
His performance on Saturday against Bath wasn’t really telling in what he can do. The opening goal was, I think, disappointingly down to him, bizarrely trying to dive and punch the ball away, rather than jumping up to try and make a catch at the near post, a strange mistake seeing how Artus clearly liked his in-swinging corners.
He was helpless in the second goal, but did make one fine save early in the second half, and so it is hard to tell where we stand with him at this point. I’m sure he’ll do fine, but it’s always concerning when anyone but the first choice keeper is between the sticks.
Elsewhere on the pitch we lacked any of the drive or creativity that is needed to win a game of football, and the chants of ‘what a load of rubbish’ at the final whistle were definitely justified.
But we move on to the next game, and I can see us pulling out a big performance on Friday night in front of the BT Sport cameras with a win, and hopefully that will stand us in good stead to kick on and win the triad of fixtures ending New Year ’s Day. I hate to say it but I think the players quite frankly have a stronger desire to win in the league than they did for the Trophy, which is why I’m remaining optimistic about the games around the corner.
After the game at home to Torquay on the 1st, there will be just 17 matches remaining, and if we can maybe put a little bit of breathing space between ourselves and a few other sides in these upcoming matches, any Gerrard-style slip ups towards the end of the season will, with a bit of luck, not be the end of the world.
Being a gashead can leave you wanting to bang your head against a wall, rip up your ticket and never attend a wretched game again. But for once, I have some confidence that we can come back swinging after Saturday, and maybe, just maybe, start to enjoy a few more games than usual this Christmas.
Bring on tonight!