By Nathan Bees
Tomorrow’s game definitely falls into the ‘long old poke’ category, I’d say.
Hartlepool United is over 270 miles away from Bristol and is by far the longest away trip of the season. We still have two lengthy trips north to Fleetwood and Bury in the coming month but neither are anywhere near as far away as Victoria Park is.
As much as it is a daunting prospect to be stuck on a coach for over 10 hours there and back, it’s actually the sort of occasion I really look forward to. There’s little better as a football fan than travelling around the country with your mates in the hope that your team can win. It’s what Saturdays are all about.
The outcome of almost all our away games have been very similar this season but the days themselves don’t actually feel repetitive at all, especially if you have never been to the ground before.
It gives you an insight into how football is experienced by other supporters and that’s always refreshing because you can sometimes spot things in a game that you are oblivious to at The Mem.
Of course, when you play in the same division for so long you end up frequenting some stadiums more than once. That will be the case for me tomorrow although my previous visit to Victoria Park was around 7 years ago and it’s one I look back on with very fond memories.
Most Gasheads will know exactly what happened when the Pools entertained Rovers at the end of the 2006-2007 season but in case you are a younger Rovers supporter I shall explain what made that day so special.
We headed up to promoted Hartlepool in the knowledge that we would make the League Two play-offs if we could better or match Stockport County’s result in nearby Darlington.
There was a strange mix of nerves, excitement and anticipation amongst supporters pre-match but there was a definite optimism in the air. We had been on an incredible run of form leading into the game and it just felt like it was going to be our year for some reason.
Things didn’t look too positive half an hour into the game, though. Pools took the lead through Joel Porter and news was filtering through that County had gone ahead against Darlington.
That meant we needed to score twice without conceding again if we were to break into the play-off pack and given the fact Hartlepool rarely lost at home it seemed like our dreams may be just beyond our reach.
It then became apparent during the second half that Stockport had gone 2-0… then 3-0… then 4-0 up against Darlo, who were also reduced to 10 men. It made things simple - we had to do it for ourselves and win the game. A huge rallying cry let the team know that we needed to attack and commit men forward in a bid to get back in the game and then it was a case of keeping everything crossed.
All of a sudden fan favourite Craig Disley broke into the box before being brought down by a defender, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. Up stepped the reliable Walker to send Dimi Konstantopolous the wrong way and raise the roof off the away stand. It was game on.
Hartlepool wanted to win just as much as we did, however. At 1-1 they had done enough to secure the League Two title and ground staff began constructing a winner’s podium with 10 minutes remaining ready to carry on to the pitch at full-time. It was as if it had already been decided that the score would remain level and the final few minutes of game time were pointless.
Thankfully this was not the case and we managed to find a winner to complete the comeback.
Full back Ryan Green got the ball on the right hand side and whipped in a delightful cross that Lambert guided past Konstantopoulos for 2-1. Cue unbridled celebrations like I had never seen before.
It was a beautiful moment. It certainly ranks as one of my best Rovers memories and I long for a day that comes anywhere near to delivering the same feeling.
It was with that goal that Lambo wrote himself into the Rovers history books and it proved to be the catalyst he needed to develop his game, and his name, in English football.
We all know how his career has progressed onwards and upwards since then but unfortunately for us things haven’t gone so well. It just goes to show how quickly the landscape can change.
The midweek defeat to Dagenham was tough to take. It wasn’t quite the smash and grab that Accrington criminally carried out a few weeks ago but it was a similarly narrow scoreline. We buckled under the pressure and expectation of being favourites to win the game.
For whatever reason we are simply not capable of breaking down a team that have 11 men behind the ball and that’s a problem when quite a few teams set up that way against us at the Mem.
While walking back to the car on Tuesday night I was absolutely gutted but it soon struck me that the Judicial Review is a million times more important in the grand scheme of things.
Everything else pales into insignificance, really. The JR is where we really need a result and the judge’s verdict, it was announced yesterday, will be delivered on the 20th of March at 2pm.
It does mean we have another small wait but it’s nothing compared to the delay we have endured so far. It’s frustrating because I half expected a decision today but hopefully our patience pays off.
It would be brilliant to head into a tough Friday night game against Southend United next week with the news that the stadium is going ahead. Let’s get Hartlepool out the way first though as they have to be our priority in the short-term.
Come on Rovers, let’s make it a week to remember!