By Nathan Bees
The trip home from Scunthorpe United on Tuesday night was one of contrasting emotions.
I was delighted with the impressive performance and result, first and foremost. We were as good, if not better, than a side who are unbeaten in 17 games and scored a deserved late equaliser to give us a share of the spoils.
Knowing the 8 hour round trip was worth the time, effort and money is a great feeling and not one I’ve experienced much this season, so I tried to make the most of it.
Despite this, however, the evening was tinged with disappointment following the nasty-looking ankle injury Alan Gow sustained at the end of the first half. It’s never easy to watch on as a Rovers player (or any professional) gets stretchered off but when it’s an important and exciting player it becomes an even bigger sucker punch.
It will have come as a relief to us all that Alan has not fractured his ankle but it still seems likely his scan will show ligament damage that will keep him out for several weeks. He will be a huge miss and I sincerely hope his recovery is a speedy process because we want our playmaker back out on the pitch orchestrating play.
Overall, though, I think everyone is rightly chuffed with what the lads produced at Glanford Park. The whole team played with a cohesion that has so often been lacking away from home and we looked capable of inventing clear openings in the final third.
All this bodes well for the rest of the season because it is just our away form that is keeping us in and around the relegation scrap.
It’s frustrating that we’re only now beginning to show signs of picking up points on the road. Just a couple more wins earlier in the year would have had us dreaming of promotion rather than fearing a drop to the Skrill Premier.
It’s probably beyond us to gatecrash the play-off party now but the division is so tight that just a couple of wins can propel a team languishing around the bottom to within touching distance of the top 7.
We fall into that category and considering we picked up a superb point against a title-contending Scunthorpe side in midweek, we should be confident that we can achieve positive results against Northampton Town, Plymouth Argyle and Dagenham & Redbridge in the next 10 days.
Cobblers boss Chris Wilder has been very complimentary about Rovers in his pre-match press conference and has warned his players not to expect an easy afternoon at Sixfields tomorrow.
The former Oxford United manager pointed at our injury problems as the reason why we are not 10-15 points better off and believes we will travel with every intention of winning the game.
John Ward has basically confirmed this himself by stating the importance of victory. He admitted he has a lot more belief in our attacking play now we have a more experienced team and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is buoyed by his comments.
It’s what most of us have been hoping would happen for months. As regular readers will know I am an eternal optimist but even I have found my belief wavering at times this season when it comes to away matches. Thankfully our newfound sense of adventure in attack is beginning to restore my hope.
Now that Steven Gillespie is match fit I think we will prove to be a lot more potent in and around the penalty area. He looked lively and direct in his 50 minute run out against Scunthorpe and scored a deserved equaliser in the final minute to get himself off the mark for Rovers.
It was a smart left footed finish from the type of cross that a striker dreams of meeting in the 6 yard box and if the lads can supply each other with more deliveries like that then we won’t struggle to find the back of the net.
It will be interesting to see if Gillespie starts in behind the lone striker or whether he occupies that role himself. I would imagine that John Ward would want him at the very front of the pitch but in all three of his appearances from the bench he has demonstrated a great willingness to track back and put in a tackle.
It’s that sort of work ethic that will help to free up space for the likes of Kaid Mohamed to get on the ball and run at Northampton’s back-line.
Anyone who was at the game on Tuesday will know that this should be encouraged, as he was a constant menace cutting in from the right flank. In full flow he is a real danger man and we need to utilise his pace and trickery as often as possible.
Ward will also have to decide whether to risk Tom Lockyer or opt for a now fully fit Ollie Clarke in the middle of the park alongside John-Joe O’Toole. Seanan Clucas is the other player in contention and many would argue he should be favoured as he brings the best out of JJ.
It will provide a slight selection headache for Ward but it’s certainly not something he will be complaining about. We’re very lucky to have two talented young players capable of stepping into the team.
Confidence will be high both on and off the pitch tomorrow afternoon and we need to take advantage of that by claiming all 3 points. Lose and we offer Northampton hope of catching us but win and we can pull further away from the bottom two. It’s a big game and it’s going to require a big performance.
Let’s make it away league win number two, Rovers.