A review of the second half of the season by Stephen Byrne
Suddenly, late winners abounded, a last-minute FA Cup winner at Crawley being followed by O’Toole’s last-gasp goal to secure a 2-1 home victory at home to Exeter City in January, the first time since 2011 that Rovers had come from behind to win in the League.
In the next home fixture, loan débutant Kaid Mohamed scored against his former club, Newport County, as Rovers ran up a 3-1 victory and precipitated a series of home wins and clean sheets in spring, in stark contrast to a run of nine League fixture without a win in the autumn, Rovers were unbeaten in six League matches through February and March.
However, there were too many lacklustre performances and goals were sparse, Rovers hitting April with only ten away League goals to their name.
On 28th March, with Rovers languishing just three points clear of the relegation zone, manager John Ward was moved upstairs to a Director of Football role, with Darrell Clarke taking control of the day-to-day running of the side.
Just the following day, a Mohamed goal four minutes into stoppage-time defeated Morecambe and paved the way for Rovers, with McChrystal captaining the side in Clarke’s first game in charge, to attempt to effect an end-of-season escape from the potential perils of relegation to the Conference.
The venture was not without its twists and turns, though, as Rovers lost three successive fixtures over a frenetic and nerve-tingling Easter period.
Inexplicably this run started with a 2-1 loss at home to a Torquay side already staring relegation to the Conference in the face.
As a disappointing season moved towards a nerve-wracking climax, Rovers scored twice away from home for first time all campaign in an astonishing game at Portsmouth over Easter, when Harrold’s brace twice brought the Pirates level in a frenetic first-half.
Despite taking an early lead, Rovers lost at home to Rochdale on Easter Monday, substitute Joe Bunney scoring just fifty-four seconds into the second-half before the former Rovers player Matt Lund popped up with a winning goal that left Rovers’ Football League status hanging by a thread.
That thread snapped when only a home draw was required on the final day of the season, in front of The Mem’s highest crowd of the campaign. Tellingly, Rovers lost their final three home fixtures when, with hindsight, a draw in just one of them would have sufficed.