By Gerry PrewettBristol Rovers take a trip to the Swansway Chester Stadium on Saturday. The Romans are 8 points and 10 positions behind the Gas in the Vanarama Conference but head into this game after a recent upturn in their fortunes. Four victories in their last six games, including a victory away to Division Two team Southend United will fill them with confidence.
On Saturday they faced high flying Gateshead at home. Gateshead had lost once in 14 games before this defeat and Alex Rodman and Matty Pattison both forced Chester's Jon Worsnop into two smart saves early into proceedings.
John Rooney got the decisive goal on 68 minutes, a sweet strike from the edge of the area that flew past keeper Adam Bartlett. Gateshead finished the match a man down after James Curtis was dismissed following a foul on Josh O'Keefe.
Chester manager Steve Burr said after the game, "It was a great finish, and that's what he is capable of. I'm really delighted with the three points. We didn't get what we deserved on Tuesday and I think these (Gateshead) are the best side we've seen this season.”
""Both sides want to play out from the back and try to start with the ball and finish with the ball ending up in the back of the net. We had to do things tactically at half-time to nullify their three in the middle and I thought it worked very well for us. We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us, it's about getting stronger and improving and I think we're doing that."
Praising defender Matty Brown he went on to say, “Browny reminds me very much of Larry Lloyd, the younger ones won’t remember Larry Lloyd, but he was a no nonsense centre half.
“Michael Kay was available but it shows that if lads go in and perform then you’re going to have to bide your time getting back in the team. Michael has been outstanding for us this season but he got himself suspended and Matty has come in and done very, very well and that’s what you want from your players.”
Chester has had a proud and turbulent history; the club was founded as Chester FC by the merger of Chester Rovers and Old King's Scholars in 1885 and played at two other grounds before moving to a new stadium on Sealand Road. Called simply The Stadium it became their first long-term home and provided them with their first league success, as they won the Combination League in 1909.
In 1910, Chester moved to the Lancashire Combination League and stayed there until after World War I, when they became founder members of the Cheshire County League (which they won many times in the 1920s).
But in 1931, Chester achieved their goal of being elected to the Third Division (North). During this spell they featured in some goal scoring record games; Stockport 8 - 5 Chester City (6 May 1933 Div 3N), Oldham 11 - 2 Chester City (19 Jan 1952 Div 3N), Chester 12 - 0 York (1 Feb 1936 Div 3N).
When the two Third divisions were unified into national Third and Fourth divisions in 1958, Chester found themselves in the lower Fourth Division
In 1975, they achieved their first ever promotion and moved up to the Third Division, but were relegated back to the Fourth Division in 1982. In 1983, they changed their name to Chester City FC and proceeded to returned to the Third Division in 1986.
In 1990, they moved out of their The Stadium and temporarily shared Macclesfield's Moss Rose ground before moving to the brand new Deva Stadium (now the Swansway Chester Stadium) in 1992 (the stadium is notable for crossing the England-Wales border: it has one goal in England and one goal in Wales).
By 2000 Chester finished bottom of the entire League and were relegated to the Football Conference.
Life in the Conference was hard and Chester were almost relegated to the regional Northern Premier League in 2002. However, they survived and steadily improved, especially after the arrival of manager Mark Wright in January 2002. In 2003, they finished fourth in the Conference, but failed to win the playoffs and therefore promotion.
They began the 2003/04 season as favourites to win the Football Conference and duly delivered.
There is little history of games between two clubs who have spent much of their time in the lower Divisions. They met for the first time in 1980/81 season; Rovers had suffered a disastrous relegation season from the old Division 2 and had suffered the ‘Eastville fire’, which destroyed the South Stand. In the opening fixture of a season which saw 3 points for a win for the first time, the clubs shared a 2-2 draw at Eastville. The following January the clubs played out a 1-1 draw at Sealand Road.
Rovers’ first victory in the Roman city was on 5th March 1988 when goals by Devon White, Phil Purnell and David Mehew secured a 3-0 win. 364 days later Phil Purnell and Dennis Bailey helped the Gas secure a 2-0 win.
In 2004/05, the home game with Ian Rush’s team proved to be a real turnaround for the Gas. Having taken the lead as early as the third minute Rovers were pegged back but ran out 4-1 winners. Later in the season it was an optimistic Gas team who went to the Deva Stadium and having raced to a 2-0 lead their confidence seemed well founded. But Rovers let a two goal lead slip as Chester pulled the score back to 2-2 in what proved to be Rovers’ final draw of the season (a record 21st for the club).
A 4-0 rout at the Deva Stadium saw the end of Ian Atkins Rovers career on 17 September 2005. Rovers gained some measure of revenge with a 2-1 home win on 21st January 2006. Christian Edwards and Craig Disley had given Rovers a half-time lead before a last minute Ben Davies strike for the visitors narrowed the score-line.
The last times the teams met in Chester was on 30 September 2006. The opening goal came after 18 minutes. A free-kick, awarded for handball against Stuart Campbell, saw Kevin Sandwith's 25-yard effort beat the despairing dive of Steve Phillips, hit the post and then hit the goalkeeper on the back before crossing the line.
The second goal of the game arrived as Rovers' defence hesitated when a long ball was played into their area and a half-hearted clearance reached Roberto Martinez on the edge of the box. The former Swansea City midfielder produced a superb piece of skill to beat Phillips with a curling shot which nestled in the top corner of the net.
With more of the possession sand more shots on goal than the home team it was a game from which Rovers should have at least shared the points.
Rovers overall record against the Romans reads, 18 games played, 8 Rovers wins, 7 draws and just 3 Chester wins. On Deeside there have been 3 home wins, 4 draws and 2 away wins.
Chester’s hero John Rooney has started a record something like Ian Rush’s at Liverpool where if he scores this season, Chester win. Rooney got his third of the season in the 1-0 win against Gateshead; his others came in wins over Macclesfield Town and AFC Telford United.
“As long as we’re winning then it doesn’t matter who’s scoring, winning games is the main thing,” said Rooney, “I’ve been playing a bit deeper this season with Sean (McConville) in front of me and Kingsley (James).
“Sometimes I prefer playing in a deeper role because you get more time on the ball and you’re more involved. If you play as a number 10 then it can be hard to get into the game but at the end of the day as long as you’re playing then that’s all that matters.”
Rooney, like older brother Wayne started his career at Everton but unlike his brother didn’t make the grade at Goodison Park. He moved to Macclesfield and then headed overseas to New York Red Bulls and Orlando City. He came back to the UK in 2012 at Barnsley and later Bury.
Talking about his goal on Saturday he said, “The ball sat up perfect for me and I hit it first time. It started a bit wide but then it came back in and I saw the keeper dive but I knew he wasn’t getting it.”
“In the first half I thought Gateshead were ripping through us and we struggled to deal with them. At half time the gaffer changed things up and we matched them. We dominated them in midfield in the second half and Matty Brown and Kieran Charnock were different class again at the back and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
Speaking ahead of this week’s game he said, “Our fans have been great all season and to be fair the fans were great last season too even though we were struggling. The noise from the fans definitely carries over onto pitch, it gives you a lift and we enjoy playing at home.”
“We have got a good group of lads here and we all get on with one another. You can see that on the pitch with the way that we all fight for each other. I don’t think we have got anything to fear from anyone in this league.”