By Gerry PrewettIn their first ‘return’ fixture in the Vanarama Conference Bristol Rovers entertain near neighbours Forest Green Rovers on Saturday. Rovers draw at Nailsworth on the August Bank Holiday Monday to collect their first away point in the Conference. Since then the Gas have pushed on to establish themselves as serious contenders to bounce straight back into the League.
Since their shock and shocking loss at Braintree, the Gas has established a momentum which has seen them collect 21 points of the 27 on offer and propel themselves into 4th spot on the table just 4 points behind leaders Barnet. Forest Green are only two points behind Rovers and have lost just one away game so far this season.
There are a lot of playing connections between the two clubs. Forest Green defenders David Pipe and Danny Coles were team-mates at the Memorial Ground for two campaigns in League One, while striker Matty Taylor swapped Nailsworth for the Gas during the summer. The most eye-catching confrontation could come in midfield, with Forest Green’s Rob Sinclair up against his older brother Stuart.
There is a lengthy list of players who have reported for duty at both Forest Green and Bristol Rovers. There is of course little surprise in that given both club’s close geographical links. Defender Billy Clark made over 200 league appearances for the Gas and also served Forest Green well in his time in Nailsworth. Oxford United and former Gas keeper Ryan Clarke had a season-long loan with Forest Green whilst Byron Anthony also spent time on loan at Nailsworth when a Cardiff player before joining the Gas.
Kaid Mohamed who was on loan at the Memorial Stadium last season had a permanent spell at The New Lawn. Josh Low, Guy Ipoua and Dennis Bailey are other players to have represented both clubs. Sean Rigg progressed through the youth system with FGR before making his name with the Gas. Julian Alsop is another striker to have worn both outfit’s colours and David Mehew played for both too.
David Pipe is hoping to overcome a niggling injury to ensure he features in the game which is certain to draw a big crowd to the Mem. Speaking ahead of the game he said, "My situation with Bristol Rovers has been very well documented. I've been back once since I left (with Newport County) and I had a great reception off the fans, and the occasion itself was very good.”
"I'm sure it will be a very good game. I think the last time we played them both teams were a little bit cagey but this time it will be a bit more open Both sets of players know themselves a bit more and hopefully we can come away with a result."
Gas boss Darrel Clarke noted, "It's a good game to look forward to, Forest Green have picked up of late and are right in the mix. It was a tough game in front of the TV cameras at their place and I'm expecting more of the same for Saturday's game."
FGR was founded in 1889 as Forest Green by the local Nonconformist church minister. The club became founder members of the Mid Gloucestershire League in 1894. Then moved to the newly formed Stroud & District League in 1902 where they remained for 32 years, also playing in the Dursley & District League. They were founder members of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League in 1922 alongside Cheltenham Town and won the league three times in 1938, 1950 and 1951.
In 1968 they were founder members of the Gloucestershire County League where they remained for seven seasons when they earned promotion to the Hellenic League in 1975.
The 1981–82 season saw the club win the Hellenic League championship and the FA Vase under manager Bob Mersell at Wembley, beating Rainworth Miners Welfare 3–0 in the final. The same season the club moved upwards into the Southern League where they finished third in their maiden season in the Midland Division.
However in subsequent seasons the club failed to make much of an impact and in 1989 the club changed its name to Stroud F.C. in an attempt to revitalise the football club. The name was changed back to Forest Green Rovers for the 1992–93 season thanks to the introduction of new chairman and investor Trevor Horsley, who worked alongside Andy Coburn and new secretary Colin Peake to re-introduce the club's former title. The arrival of Horsley changed the fortunes of the club and performances on the pitch improved significantly as did the development of The Lawn. In 2006 the club moved 400 yards away to their new ground appropriately named The New Lawn.
The Green’s most successful spell came under Jim Harvey who led them to their highest ever league finish of 8th in the 2007–08 season when they also reached the FA Cup 2nd round losing 3–2 against League One outfit Swindon Town. In 2008–09 they reached the FA Cup 3rd round for the first time but lost 3–4 to Derby County on 3 January 2009 after leading 2–0. This game also saw Forest Green record their highest ever attendance with 4,836 watching the match.
In their latest game Forest Green stretched their unbeaten run to four matches with a 1-1 draw at home to Gateshead.
It took until the 22nd for minute for Rovers to click into gear, James Norwood latching onto Rob Sinclair's raking diagonal pass and attempting a clipped shot that was smothered by goalkeeper Adam Bartlett and landed on the roof of the net.
Bartlett's opposite number Sam Russell had to produce a brilliant point-blank save to foil Jon Shaw at the other end after a tricky cross by Tom Allan.
The breakthrough came in the 71st minute, substitute Dale Bennett sprinting onto Luke Rodgers' clever lay-off and whipping the ball over for Jon Parkin to tap home his sixth goal of the season and give the home team the lead.
Just five minutes later the Tynesiders were level, Eddie Oshodi's headed clearance from Jon Oster's free-kick dropping perfectly for Callum Howe to volley emphatically past Russell from 15 yards.
Parkin flicked a header wide from Marcus Kelly's cross, and in stoppage time the big striker was unfortunate to see a scrambled effort tipped around the post amid a scramble in the six-yard box.