By Nathan BeesFrom disappointment on Monday because of the gutting draw at Chester to sheer delight this midweek after toppling league leaders Barnet courtesy of a stoppage time winner from debutant Angelo Balanta. Once again it has been a crazy old week at Rovers!
I couldn’t hide my frustration in the immediate aftermath of our 2-2 draw at the Swansway Stadium last weekend because at 2-0 up we were absolutely cruising. We played some terrific football high up the pitch and utilised Nathan Blissett in his first start to great effect. It actually felt as though we were going to score every time we broke forward and that is not something I have been able to say very often, if at all, this season.
Things were looking good for a rejuvenated Rovers side early in the second half.
Bliss had a dream debut, scoring a proper striker’s goal at the near post following a low cross by Matty Taylor, and Tom Parkes doubled the advantage with a predatory effort following another ball into the box. It was looking like the perfect away performance in every respect until…
We hit self-destruct for a mad 5 minute spell that ended up costing us two points.
As Darrell Clarke referred to post-match, our game management was not at all good after we scored our second. Defensively we allowed two crosses to get flung into our area from out wide and we simply did not deal with them adequately and got punished for it. Whereas some sides may not have had the attacking prowess to force the ball home in those situations, Chester most certainly did and managed to nick a draw when they seemed destined to get beaten.
Come full-time you could see the team were every bit as disappointed as the 500 Gasheads who had made the long trip up. What was both noticeable and morale-lifting, however, was the fact the lads were applauded and sung off the pitch. There was a much stronger sense of unity between the players and supporters in comparison to recent weeks and while the trip home was inevitably going to be tinged with disappointment, everyone will have been buoyant ahead of the huge game with Barnet.
And it was clear that was the case given how brightly we started on Tuesday night in the pouring rain. From the very first whistle we looked to get at our opponents and the atmosphere cranked up a couple of notches as a result, which instantly made life that bit tougher for The Bees.
Martin Allen’s men were simply not prepared for the Gas onslaught and with less than 5 minutes on the clock we got our noses in front. Matty Taylor was played in on goal thanks to a defence-splitting pass from Andy Monkhouse and he did well to compose himself and steer the ball home.
I was understandably thrilled but not just for the obvious reason we were 1-0 up. Iwas just as pleased for Taylor himself, because we all know his performances have warranted a better goal return than he has so far provided. To dispatch the one-on-one with such confidence, though, will have done him the world of good and whilst it has been a long time in coming, he has now scored twice and registered one assist in the last three games. That is an impressive stat for any striker.
Rovers continued to press and put pressure on a shellshocked Barnet back-line and they simply could not cope with it. I think we were doing to them what they have done to every other side in the last few months and I genuinely fancied us to go on and score two or three more goals. Unfortunately we couldn’t find that crucial second breakthrough when we were on top - Blissett's overhead kick that was cleared off the line (by head or by hand? You decide!) was the closest we came.
To sum up our recent misfortune, our visitors found a route back into the game that nobody of an amber persuasion could say they deserved. Tricky winger Luisma Villa struck a delicious curling free kick through the four man Rovers wall and into the bottom corner from 35 yards, leaving Steve Mildenhall stranded.
There are question marks as to whether there was a deflection that may have wrong-footed Mildy. That may have been the case but I think the biggest problem was the fact the wall didn’t do enough to stop the ball from making its way towards goal. You have to hold your hands up and say it was a good strike but I think we could, and should, have prevented it.
Any attempts of an instant response were crushed by Barnet’s expert game-management in the remaining few minutes and we had to settle for being on level terms at half-time, even though we should have been out of sight. The question on everyone’s lips as they tucked into their pasties: ‘could we keep it up in the second period?’.
The answer to that was no. That isn’t to say we had handed the initiative to Barnet, though - far from it. Possession was evenly shared and both sides cancelled each other out for the for the next 35 minutes. There were a few crosses at both ends that required good interventions from the likes of Mark McChrystal and Bondz N’Gala but aside from that there was very little goalmouth action.
All that was to change in the final stages as we desperately pushed for a winner, though. A couple of corners came to nothing initially but Tom Lockyer did well to force one final set-play in the 93rd minute and it was to prove decisive.
Barnet had every single man back defending as Lyle Della-Verde whipped in a left footed ball towards the front post, however, not one of them tracked the run of substitute Angelo Balanta. The winger directed a deft header towards goal that Raphael Spiegel didn’t deal with and the ball crossed the line before a defender could hack clear.
Now, from my position towards the back of the North Terrace, I couldn’t make out what on earth was going on through all the bodies, so it was with utter joy that I spotted the linesman waving his flag to signal for a goal. Cue wild celebrations all around The Mem and some of the loudest cheering and singing I have heard at a home game for a long, long time. A last minute winner is one of the most euphoric feelings any football fan can experience - the joy is indescribable.
When the broken Barnet forwards kicked off, the referee took a look at his watch and immediately blew the final whistle. The sense of relief that we got the result we deserved was incredible and I have to say I was buzzing afterwards. The players deserved the adulation they received as they exited the pitch and the 3 points has definitely reignited belief that we can overturn the deficit between ourselves and Allen’s league leaders.
It will be difficult to do, without a doubt, but if we can beat the side running away with it then we can beat anyone.
Welling United are next up tomorrow afternoon and it is vitally important that we record back-to-back victories to ramp up the pressure on the few sides directly above us. You can be sure Clarke’s men will not underestimate the Conference strugglers yet he will know his charges should have more than enough about them to come out on top.
Alex Wall has linked up with us on loan from Luton Town and I would imagine he will go straight into the match day 16 this weekend, while Ryan Brunt, Jamie Lucas and Pierce Mitchell have departed the club on loan deals to Stevenage, Gloucester City and Weston respectively. Good luck, lads.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!