By Gerry PrewettJust like last season Bristol Rovers fate will be decided in the final game of the season.
A sale out Memorial Stadium will witness the Gas’ attempt to overcome struggling Alfreton and hope that Barnet fail to secure maximum points at the Hive against Gateshead for them to claim the Vanarama Championship at their first attempt.
Unlike last season Rovers’ fate is not in their own hands. Also unlike last season, if Rovers fail to achieve their goal they have a second chance. Whilst the lottery that is the Play-Off’s is not ideal, as Rovers know, the prize ultimately is the same.
On paper a home game against Alfreton should present Rovers with no problems. The Derbyshire team have struggled all season. On Saturday in a pivotal home game against Welling the Reds gained an early advantage when Welling's Harry Osborne fell on the ball as Karl Hawley latched on to a John Johnston pass. As the Referee pointed to the spot, he also brandished a red card, Dan Bradley cracked home the penalty to give the home team the lead.
After failing to put Welling under any real pressure with the first half drawing to a close Ross Lafayette virtually walk the ball in after Duane Courtney's sloppy clearance had fallen to Sam Corne 25 yards out.
Just 12 minutes into the second half Welling’s Chris Bush netted from close range after Sam Berry headed on a Dominic Vose free-kick, to give the away team an unlikely lead.
It took a further 13 minutes for the Reds to level the game, with Montserrat international Messiah McDonald steering Johnston's driven cross neatly past keeper Michael McEntegart from 10 yards only minutes after coming off the bench.
Speaking about the effect of the sending off so early in the game, the Red’s Boss Nicky Law said, "We set off really well, we guessed what shape they were playing and I think we were set up for it and coped with it well, but I think that was the worst thing that could have happened, because they were down to 10 men and then we struggled"
"We tried that little bit extra; having an extra touch, running with the ball. It didn't work and we defended awfully. We must not kid ourselves Tom Flynn has made two great saves late on. Looking at it on a positive slant, it's a point, and it gives us another chance next week, but we are going to have to go to Bristol and get a win, or a point if the other result goes our way. But we're still alive, still breathing.
"We chucked everything at it we threw everything that we had at it. Give Welling some credit, they've done really well of late. They've come here and played the majority of the game with 10 men and obviously they are going to be a lot happier with the result than we are."
Alfreton Town was formed by a merger between Alfreton Miners Welfare and Alfreton United in 1959. The new club was admitted into the Central Alliance North Division One in 1959, and within two seasons entered the Midland Counties League.
In 1970, after a few seasons of finishing near the top, they won the league title, and won it again in 1973 and 1977. After the Midland League and the Yorkshire League merged in 1982, they won the Northern Counties East League in 1985, division champions in 1987, and joined the Northern Premier League in 1988.
In 2003, the club won the First Division and the Derbyshire Senior Cup. After this turn of events, they won promotion to the Conference North. Alfreton have played in the Conference Premier since the 2011–12 season after sealing promotion by winning the Conference North title.
In their four seasons in non league’s top flight, Alfreton have embraced their ranking of underdogs on numerous occasions and will take inspiration from the fact that they have secured unexpected wins at York City, Cambridge United, Wrexham, Mansfield Town and also recorded wins over Luton Town, Hereford United and several more of the bigger-named, more established clubs over the years.
Reds manager Nicky Law will have the boost of having the combative Bradley Wood returning from a one-game suspension but he will be without central defender Callum Howe whose three-month loan spell from Scunthorpe United ended last weekend.
On 11 November last year Rovers visited the Impact Arena for the very first time to face Alfreton but left 315 Gasheads, who made the long journey, disappointed as the game finished goalless.
The first effort came from a Lee Brown free kick from 30-yards. Brown got the free kick over the large wall and forced a save low down to the goalkeepers left. Rovers had Steve Mildenhall to thank for keeping the game goalless with almost 20 minutes on the clock as Dan Bradley’s shot from distance took a deflection but was denied by a world class stop from the Rovers keeper.
Jamie White had a brilliant chance to score but headed over from a Lee Brown cross from the left. Then Tom Parkes pinpoint ball was plucked out of the air superbly by Jamie White who decided to set up Brunt who could only shoot over as he was falling to the ground.
White had a lively first period as his pace off the mark seemed to cause the Alfreton back line issues on several occasions and it was his acrobatic shot from the edge of the edge of the box forced a good save from Cameron Dawson.
Alfreton were limited to long-range efforts by the Rovers defence, the closest of which fell to Nathan Hicks. The winger found space in the middle of the pitch and tried his luck from 30-yards but fired narrowly wide of Mildenhall’s right hand post.
With 15 minutes remaining a ball deep into the Alfreton penalty area was brought down well by Tom Parkes who forced an excellent save from Cameron Dawson to keep the game level. Rovers pressed for the all-important winning goal but Matty Taylor and Lyle Della-Verde had efforts off target in the final stages.
The Reds have failed to win in their last 8 games, having secured 5 draws and 3 defeats in that lean run. Those 3 defeats all came in the games leading up to their home draw with Welling, they went down, 4-0 at Wrexham, 2-0 at home to Grimsby and then 3-1 at Eastleigh.
Nicky Law’s side occupy the last of the four relegation places and they will have to better Welling’s result at home to already safe Southport if they are to stay up.