By Gerry PrewettThis weekend Bristol Rovers travel up the M5/M6 to Cheshire to face Tranmere Rovers, in an FA Cup First Round tie. The Merseyside team welcome the break from League struggles after their relegation from Division One Last season they find themselves rooted to the basement of Divison Two. Rovers have won just two of their 16 League games so far this season.
Ex-Bristol City player Rob Edwards lost the Manager’s job on 11 October after a 1-0 home loss to Plymouth. Three days later Micky Adams replaced the luckless Edwards. Since his appointment Adams has seen his team gain just 3 points from 4 games.
Adams asked supporters to show some patience while he works at turning the team’s fortunes around and eliminating the threat of a second relegation in 12 months, “Everyone knows this is a good football club, the facilities, the stadium, the pitch and the history are good. The problem we have is we are trying to sell the club to people who only look at league tables.”
“If I look at the squad and it looks imbalanced. I say that without decrying the work of the previous manager. I have a plethora of strikers and in other certain areas there is very little in terms of backup and cover. We have to decide with the players I have available to me what system I’ve got to play, because that will dictate it.”
“When January comes around we can perhaps play a system and style of play I want. For the moment I am dictated by the players I have in the dressing room.”
Defender Michael Ihiekwe left it late to redeem an early error as Tranmere salvaged a 2-2 draw with Stevenage.
On Saturday Rovers defender Michael Ihiekwe gave Stevenage Town a 14th minute lead when he turned a cross into his own net in the 14th minute . On 64 minutes Lee Barnard had made it 2-0 for the away team when he ran on to keeper Chris Day's long ball.
It took just two minutes for Steven Jennings to reduce the arrears his a shot from some distance. Ihiekwe became a hero when he notched the equaliser in the sixth minute of injury time.
Adams talking after the game expressed his pleasure with his team’s second half display, “We got something out of the game, which I think we deserved. It was terrific character from the boys. We kept going. But I’ve got mixed emotions. I was disappointed with the first half, and I let them know at half time.”
“We needed to rally the troops. We kept going. In the second half we forced them backwards and I think we deserved to get something out of the game.
“You don’t really want to go on about the opposition, but I’ll let other people decide what they think about Stevenage. It was stop-start and the ref fell for a lot. We warned the players, that was the type of game that would suit them, rather than us.”
The Gas’ first game against Tranmere took place as long ago as 12 December 1931 as the Birkenhead team ran out 2-0 winners at Prenton Park in an FA Cup tie. It was 36 long years before the teams crossed one another again, this time in the League and the honours were shared with a 3-3 draw in the Wirral. Alan King, Joe Pritchard and Kenny Beamish scoring for the Merseysiders and a Ray Mabbutt double and a goal from Bobby Jones for the Gas.
Rovers’ best victory over the Prenton Park outfit took place on 30th September 1969, when they ran out 3-0 winners at Eastville. The last time the teams met on the Wirral was 8 March 2011, with Chris Lines ensuring all three points went south.
Overall the Gas has the better of the results from the 29 games played with 14 victories to Tranmere’s 8.
The games are rarely high scoring affairs, in the 23 games since Tranmere’s 5-2 thrashing of the Gas in 1969/70 season; no side has scored more than 2 goals. The aggregate number of goals in those games is 40, less than 2 per game!
One member of the staff at the Mem really looking forward to the game will be Steve Yates, who appeared for both teams. It will be his first visit to Prenton Park in a decade, “I could not have wished for a better draw than this one,” Yates said, “In fact there were only two clubs I would have worked for when I came back into football: Bristol Rovers and Tranmere.”
“I have not been back to Tranmere in such a long time. On the last occasion, when I was with Huddersfield, I was injured and wasn’t in the squad. So this is a great tie for me.”
“I really enjoyed my time at Tranmere, they have such a big reputation in the FA Cup and it made my name too. Beating Southampton 4-3 after being 3-0 down at half-time was something special but it’s the Everton game Tranmere fans always want to talk about.”
The Everton game that Yates talks of was a 3-0 victory for the away team at Goodison with the blond haired defender scoring with two headers.
“There was a great spirit in the dressing room at the time. We were able to raise our game for the big cup ties. We should not have needed to, but for some reason it happened.”
“John Aldridge was the manager and he was a great motivator because he just wanted to win. It helps when you go into games without fear. No one worried about making mistakes.”
Tranmere were 2-0 ahead at half-time. Yates remembers his first goal on 21 minutes settled nerves and the second, by Jason Koumas, killed Everton’s spirit.
Yates notched the first of those goals with a looping header from a right wing cross. Koumas, swept in the second, before another powerful Yates header from a Koumas corner just after the hour sent many Everton fans heading for the exits early.
Yates does not have a DVD or a videotape of the game, “The memories are all inside my head. I don’t have many highlights in my career because I’m a defender. My game is to get in tackles, head the ball away. So when you score a couple of goals against a Premier League team in an FA Cup tie that is also a local derby, it’s bound to be a highlight.
“I can remember everything about those goals: the balls coming in, the way I jumped, the headers going in, the celebrations. I don’t need anything else.”
Yates is looking forward not only to his reunion with Koumas but with Tranmere’s supporters.
He said: “Tranmere have great fans and they are the heart of a football club. They are always there, in good times and bad and Tranmere have had a tough time in the last couple of years.”