By Nathan BeesThe Southport game last weekend seems like a long time ago now but the 3 points we accumulated up there were mightily impressive.
Not because we played slick, stylish football for 90 minutes but because we were resolute enough to grind out a 1-0 win despite not being anywhere near our best. Bar Jake Gosling’s moment of brilliance a quarter of an hour in to the game to broke the deadlock, we spent long periods having to defend high balls into our box and we did so admirably.
It would have been easy to cave in and succumb to the aerial bombardment we faced but that doesn’t fit in with the attitude or winning mentality that Darrell Clarke has instilled in his team. We dug deep and dealt with everything that was thrown at us and in Tom Parkes and Neal Trotman we have centre halves who will win almost everything in the air.
They were so dominant that very few chances emanated in and around our penalty area. Thankfully when an effort did make its way towards goal Steve Mildenhall was equal to it. He made one save in particular that had every Gashead at Haig Avenue singing his name and it reminded me just how lucky we are to have a goalkeeper of his undoubted quality as our number 1.
He received thoroughly deserved praise in the press post-match and featured prominently in the match report after Tuesday night’s exciting game against Eastleigh as well… but for all the wrong reasons on this occasion.
The referee sent him off for a last-ditch challenge following a poor pass across the back-line by Tom Parkes and it felt for all the world like it was going to cost us a result. The decision, in my opinion, could have gone either way because I was sure at the time that Mildy got to the ball first but the striker threw himself to the ground in such a way that it looked like a foul.
Unfortunately the officials saw it as I feared they would and sent our reliable goalkeeper for an early shower.
It meant Will Puddy was called into action for the first time since his only other appearance away at Barnet and I’m sure many Gasheads were concerned that his lack of game time may see him come unstuck. Fortunately, though, he put in a solid second half performance and looked as if he was growing in confidence with each passing minute. He made a couple of timely saves from set-pieces and helped to slow the game down as and when it was necessary.
That gave us the platform to be able to ask questions of our hosts and it was good to see that we hadn’t written the game off. In fact, we looked just as threatening as Eastleigh did and we caused them a number of problems with the pace and power we had up front.
Ellis Harrison worked his backside off on his first start of the season and chased absolutely everything played forward. Whether the ball was within close proximity to him or 25 yards away at the goalkeeper’s feet he chased after it and believed he could force a mistake. That pressure helped to create the opportunity that opened up for Ollie Clarke just before the hour mark and I hope that isn’t overlooked by anyone who watches the highlights.
Harrison’s harrying forced goalie Ross Flitney into a poor clearance and the ball fell kindly to the feet of Clarke around 30 yards out. The midfielder proceeded to hit a wonder strike that had ‘goal’ written all over it from the second it left his boot and when the inevitable happened it sparked joyous celebrations both on and off the pitch. Clarke and his team mates went wild and the reaction on the away terrace was just as animated, which showed just how much it meant to everyone connected with Rovers.
In all honesty we could probably have nicked a winner had we been a bit better with our end product on the counter attack but a 1-1 draw was a superb result in the circumstances. Clarke’s dismissal in stoppage time put pay to any last minute heroics in their penalty area but thankfully it was so late in the game it didn’t really have much of an impact. For that reason I think we can all forgive the 20 year old!
On the trip back home I was really pleased with our all-round performance. Under previous managers a red card would have been the signal for ultra defensive tactics to keep the score down, as defeat was considered inevitable, but it is really refreshing to see that under Darrell Clarke we don’t have the same defeatist attitude. We retained a belief in our ability to take something from the match and that positivity helped make it a reality.
Overall the lads gave a very good account of themselves and I’m sure the rest of the league will have looked at the result and taken note. 16 points from a possible 18 is an excellent return and I have no doubt that Darrell is proud of the efforts of his side in the past month.
We are well placed in the table to kick on now and we have two home games in quick succession to look forward to. Both Dover and Dartford will relish playing against Bristol Rovers and you can be sure they will have players wanting to impress in front of a big crowd, but that’s no different to any other side that have played at the Mem already this season.
We are going to need to demonstrate the same spirit we’ve displayed in the past four weeks if we are to be in with a chance of taking 6 points, however, that has to be our aim. There will be a good atmosphere come 3pm tomorrow afternoon and I can’t wait to get back on the terrace again to cheer the team on.
Come on you blues!