By Nathan BeesAfter all the build-up to the start of the new season and our return to the Football League, it has been a bad week results-wise.
There has been a turnaround in mood in the last few days, though, and that will give everyone confidence ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Yeovil Town.
The defeat to Northampton Town was bitterly disappointing. Not because we deserved anything from the game, but because we didn’t do ourselves justice. We started well enough but got sucked into their way of playing and, as we found out, long ball football doesn’t suit us. Their centre half Ryan Cresswell dealt with everything lumped his way and they were able to hold the ball up a little better than we were.
Admittedly both Matty Taylor and Ellis Harrison should have done better with their chances when through on goal - and the game would have been different if the former had put us in front in the first half - but we can’t have any complaints that we lost.
It was typical that John-Joe O’Toole netted the only goal, and I am sure many of us predicted that he would score when we saw his name on the team-sheet. Anonymous for the vast majority of the match, he popped up with a vital goal after getting on the end of a cross. Sound familiar?
It is an unwritten football rule that players must score against their former clubs, and given that O’Toole was the pantomime villain last weekend, there was no way he wasn’t going to grab a goal. As much as it pains me to say it, when you aren’t solely relying on him to carry your team through games as we were, having a player with his qualities can make all the difference.
The general feeling as we left The Mem on Saturday was one of frustration at how poorly we had played, and with Championship side Birmingham City visiting on Tuesday night, you can be forgiven for thinking we may be on the end of yet another demoralising defeat.
Whilst we were beaten by Gary Rowett’s men, the performance we put in was incredibly positive.
There was a fluidity to our play, aided by our switch to a 3-5-2 formation, and we got the ball down and attacked with purpose, which was pleasing to see. Unsurprisingly this gave us a much better chance of scoring, and we caused the Blues’ back-line plenty of problems over the 90 minutes.
It was against the run of play that we fell a behind, and whilst we should have defended it a lot better, our response was perfect. Heads didn’t drop; we continued to ask questions and got our rewards when Harrison bounced a shot over goalkeeper Adam Legzdins into the back of the net.
The excellent Rovers support enjoyed the moment and I think every single one of us thought that we were well placed to go on and win the tie, so to see us concede another and go 2-1 down was massively deflating.
We continued to push, though, and came close to forcing a second equaliser, but Birmingham managed to see the remaining minutes out and book their place in round two.
As disappointing as it was, it just highlighted the difference between a Championship outfit and a League Two side. They took two of the few second half chances they created whereas we only took one of ours. Goals win games, so no matter how much our performance warranted a positive result, we didn’t do enough to go through.
That isn’t to say we can’t take a huge amount from our efforts, though. Every single one of the lads battled hard and proved they can compete with strong teams, which bodes well as we turn our attention back to the league.
Dan Leadbitter was terrific and will no doubt take huge confidence from how he handled the occasion, whilst as an overall attacking unit we were a lot more dangerous than we showed on Saturday. I have no doubt that everyone is now chomping at the bit to get going against Yeovil tomorrow.
As far as opening away games go, playing a south west rival is as good as we could have hoped for when the fixtures were released. A Gas following of well over 1000 will descend on Huish Park and whilst being on an open terrace isn’t conducive to making a lot of noise, I have no doubt we will get right behind the boys.
I have to admit to not liking Yeovil much, which may sound strange given that they don’t really mean anything to us as a club. Younger supporters may not remember this, but the Glovers employed deplorable anti-football tactics under previous manager Gary Johnson during the early to mid-noughties, and it was horrible to watch them get away with it.
They attempted it at The Mem a number of times, and whilst we overcame their ugly tactics in a superb 2-2 draw after being two behind and reduced to 9 men back in 2004 - a game I remember vividly to this day - I have always thoroughly disliked them.
That is why I will take extra satisfaction if we are able to beat them tomorrow.
Paul Sturrock’s squad has been hit by a number of injuries at this embryonic stage of the season, but it will be a difficult game for us. They have scored a couple goals already away at Exeter and will no doubt be looking to build on that in their opening home game.
Hopefully we will start brightly, stamp our authority on proceedings and go on to claim our first victory of the campaign. It would set us up nicely for a very tricky looking trip to promotion favourites Luton Town on Tuesday night.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!