By Gerry PrewettWith just 3 games of the season remaining Bristol Rovers entertain low-lying Southport at the Mem on Saturday looking to claw back the one point advantage held by leaders Barnet.
With 15 victories and just two defeats at home, Rovers have the best home record in the Division.
Whilst the Lancashire seaside team are virtually assured of their place in the Vanarama Conference next season Darrell Clarke will be acutely aware that mid-table Mansfield seemed to have little to play for last season when they delivered Rovers their final day defeat to send the Gas tumbling out of the League.
On Easter Monday, Southport went down their second defeat of the Bank Holiday weekend as they were beaten at home against bottom of the table and already relegated AFC Telford United and it was the Sandgrounders first defeat in six home matches.
Paul Carden’s side were left to rue a disastrous four-minute period either side of half-time during which they conceded twice and had Will Beesley sent off.
The opening goal took 43 minutes to arrive when former Southport striker Tony Gray, the former Southport striker, gave Bradley Reid a simple chance at the far post. The Soundgrounders’ misery was compounded in first-half stoppage time when the home team’s Will Beesley was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on Adam Farrell.
The away team doubled their lead at the start of the second-half when Reid returned the compliment to Gray who scored with ease. Just before the hour mark another former home team player Sean Clancy laid on a chance for Sam Smith to score from the edge of the area.
Formed in 1881 Southport joined The Football League Third Division North in 1921. In 1931, Southport became the first club from the Third Division North to reach the sixth round (quarter-finals) of the FA Cup, where they lost 9–1 to Everton. A year later the club recorded its record attendance, when 20,010 watched them play Newcastle United in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Having finished in the bottom half of the table at the end of the 1957/8 season, the club dropped into the Fourth Division following the reorganisation of the Third Division North and Third Division South into Third and Fourth Divisions. The club's first promotion came at the end of the 1966/7 season, when they finished as runners-up in the Fourth Division it was during this time they payed 6 of their 9 games against Rovers.
They were relegated back to the Fourth Division in 1970, but won promotion again in 1973 when they finished as Fourth Division Champions. Relegation back to the Fourth Division followed the very next season during which they came across Smash and Grab for the first time as Alan Warboys plundered a hat-trick in the home game.
In 1978 the club was voted out of the Football League following three consecutive 23rd (out of 24) placed finishes. Since falling out of the League the Lancashire team has yo-yoed between the Conference and the Conference North.
Rovers’ record against the Sandgrounders is very even with 4 victories to each team and one draw of the nine games played. The first game was on 23 September 1967.
Kenny Ronaldson gave Rovers a 28 second lead but the goal feast did not eventuate and an Eric Redrobe double and goal by Alan Spence sent the away team back up the motorway with both points. On 3 February they completed the double when goals by Terry Harkin and George Andrews for the home team and Ray Mabbutt for Rovers left the Gas pointless.
Rovers first victory over Southport came the following season when a Bobby Jones double (including a penalty) secured both points with that man George Andrews responding for Port.
Earlier this season Rovers made it five wins in a row when they won 1-0 at the Merseyrail Community Stadium. Rover took the lead as early as the 13th minute. Following great link up play between Adam Cunnington and Matty Taylor, Jake Gosling found himself free on the edge of the Southport penalty area and curled the ball past a rooted David Raya-Martin off the underside of the cross bar.
Prior to Easter, Southport had their third consecutive victory against Torquay United and it lifted them nine points clear of the relegation zone with a superior goal-difference on the bottom four as they entered the final six matches of the campaign.
Paul Carden’s team had managed three victories and two draws in their last five home games. Caren said, “People ask me about how many points we need to stay up but for me it’s not about that. It’s about seeing how many points we can get and seeing how many teams we can climb above.”
“There are some clubs in this league who know they can’t go anywhere now and are letting their season fall out. I want to get to a position where we can overtake those clubs. Hopefully we can now reach a stage where we are better on the eye because at times we are showing glimpses of our ability.”
Those two defeats have thrown the Sandgrounders back in the relegation mix especially as they also have to face our rivals Grimsby Town.