By Nathan BeesThe Easter weekend couldn't have gone much better really.
Not only did Rovers record two emphatic victories but Grimsby Town dropped two points and surrendered second place to us, which is one of the two slip ups we need to see take place in order for us to win the league. Next we have to hope for Barnet to do the same.
That, of course, is out of our hands and whatever happens we need to win our last three matches to give ourselves any chance of claiming top spot. Having swept aside Chester and Kidderminster Harriers with clinical goalscoring displays, we turn our attention to a tricky looking home fixture with Southport tomorrow afternoon.
Paul Carden's side arrive at The Mem with Conference safety all but assured, however I have a feeling that until they are mathematically safe they will continue to fight for points like their lives depend on it. Unlike what some of you may be thinking, this will not be an easy game.
Although the league table does not lie and Southport are clearly down towards the bottom for a reason, they are likely to provide a much tougher test than mid-table Chester offered. Whenever a team has something to play for they are dangerous opponents regardless of league placing, and we will have to be prepared to battle hard.
That is not to say we can't start fast and take the game to them though. With the pace we have in our side and the options Darrell Clarke has available to him up front, it makes sense to show our intent from the first whistle. Sitting back only invites them into the match and helps to remove any nervousness they may have had about playing in front of a large, vociferous crowd.
It is important that we do not approach the game like we did in the reverse meeting in September. As was the norm early in the season, we became nervous after taking the lead and concentrated more on defending what we had rather than continuing to take advantage of our dominance. Jake Gosling scored a beauty that day and it won us the game, but a poor Southport side put us under a fair amount of pressure in the second half as we allowed them to pump balls into our box.
In truth they did not have the quality to equalise, but there was a couple of heart in mouth moments when a game of pinball broke out 10 yards away from goal in the dying seconds. Thankfully we got away with it and claimed all 3 points, but we definitely made life more difficult for ourselves than it really needed to be.
I think a large part of the reason for our defensive approach back then was because everyone was incredibly nervous in August/September. We had not started the season well and the need for points made us too scared to go in search of further goals in case we conceded at the other end.
Darrell Clarke managed that fear within his squad very well and now, seven months on, we are playing with confidence and are winning games much more comfortably. Ironically, there is more pressure on us at this stage as a result of being in promotion contention than there was at the start, but the team have learnt how to deal with it. In fact, they look as though they thrive on the pressure and that can only be a good thing.
The key now, obviously, is to continue playing with the same freedom over the final three games of the season and see where it takes us. Who would have thought last summer that games against Southport, Dover Athletic and Alfreton Town would be so important and incite so much excitement?
We look set for another huge crowd at The Mem tomorrow and if we could beat the attendance of last Friday then that would be mightily impressive. Gasheads have got behind the team all season and I have no doubt that will continue to be the case over the next fortnight.
I can't wait for 3pm to roll around tomorrow and I hope that the big occasion is matched by another big Rovers victory. It may not be easy, and as much as we want one an early goal may not be forthcoming, but it is vital that we support the lads from the first minute until the last regardless of what happens. If we do that, I am sure we will win the game.
Let's do our bit Gasheads and create an atmosphere that will not only spur our lads on, but intimidate Southport as well.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!