By Nathan Bees
A trip to York City this weekend may not be as glamorous as our midweek trip to Birmingham City but, all things considered, it’s more important.
It’s the second time we will have visited Bootham Crescent this season after our memorable 3-2 win there in November set up a second round FA Cup meeting with Crawley Town.
That particular game was a replay after a 3-3 draw at the Mem and we also played the Minstermen at home in the league back in August, recording a 3-2 victory. Goals are almost a certainty, it seems, when these two sides meet and it would be good if we can remain undefeated against Nigel Worthington’s men this campaign with a positive result tomorrow.
It’s mid-January, it will be cold and it’s a long way from home but it’s exactly the sort of situation that we have to overcome if we’re to improve our league position.
No Rovers fan will need reminding of our awful away form where only one league victory has been achieved in the opening 5 and a half months of the season. A depressing statistic, yes, but perhaps our recent victory at Crawley in the FA Cup indicates that the team are ready to rectify it over the coming weeks.
It should certainly breed confidence because beating Crawley is no mean feat. They are a solid League One side and should be better than any team we face between now and May in League Two.
Having come from behind to win there the lads should now have the confidence and belief that they can go out and win football matches at this level. Confidence is a huge part of football, as we all know, and it’s one of the most difficult things to obtain mid-season, but hopefully now it will continue to grow and bring about improved results.
People often tell me that I should know better than paying £30+ every other weekend to watch Rovers away from home when the likelihood is they will lose, but I always think ‘we’ll win next time and I don’t want to miss it’. What fuels this hope? Love for Bristol Rovers, mainly, but I also now have added encouragement from our performance at Crawley.
The mindset of the team changed when John Ward sent on Chris Beardsley to partner Matt Harrold up front and there seemed to be a genuine desire to go on and claw the game back from 1-0 down.
As soon as Eliot Richards equalised it lifted everyone and there wasn’t the usual dropping off from our defence - we continued to press and look for the winner and, on this occasion, fortune favoured the brave.
We got our rewards and the smiles on the faces of both the players and the fans should inspire greater belief going into every game we now play.
We have seen many false dawns at Rovers over the years when it comes to results but at some point things have to change for the better and the last minute winner against Exeter City last weekend may support our new-found optimism.
It’s questionable given our second half performance against the Grecians that we actually deserved to snatch a winning goal - we looked lethargic in the final third and Exeter were dealing with us comfortably - but we did and that’s an indicator that the tide may be turning for us.
It was a massive 3 points, particularly as the teams around us picked up points too, and it keeps us within touching distance of those directly above us.
It would have been a travesty to see us drop into the bottom two when our recent performances don’t warrant it but we’re paying the price for a sluggish start to the season that lasted until the beginning of November.
We have only lost 3 of our last 15 games since then though and it’s pivotal that we now build on it. York are more than beatable, as we’ve shown in our previous meetings, and the team need to ensure they are better than them on the day.
Adding 3 points to our total tomorrow afternoon would be great heading into what is a hectic period where we play Newport County, Accrington Stanley and Chesterfield inside the next fortnight.
I can’t end this week’s blog without reflecting on our midweek trip to St. Andrews to play Championship side Birmingham City. The 3-0 scoreline was harsh on our performance but it shows the difference between the second tier of English football and the fourth.
Lee Clark’s team were clinical and had more quality than us all over the pitch. We didn’t disgrace ourselves, however, and the lads could hold their heads up high at full-time.
If we had more composure in front of goal we could easily have gone ahead very early in the game but it wasn’t to be and Birmingham made us pay. The better team won.
Having said all that, Rovers won the battle of the two sets of supporters hands down. It was an absolute pleasure to be stood amongst 2800 Gasheads who sang their hearts out for the boys from well before kick-off until well after the final whistle.
Lee Clark labelled us ‘phenomenal’, several Birmingham fans on Twitter said it was by far the best away support they had seen at St. Andrews all season and Paul Robinson clearly felt the need to respond to the noise we were making by gesturing to us after opening the scoring. All of these are massive compliments in my book.
Nights like that remind me why I am always very, very proud to be a supporter of Bristol Rovers. We did ourselves, the team and the club proud.