By Nathan BeesNow that is more like it, Rovers!
The excellent late victory at Yeovil Town last weekend got us up and running for the season, before an even later winner at promotion favourites Luton Town on Tuesday night left us with a very respectable 6 points after three testing League Two games.
The winning goals may have come in the dying moments of both fixtures, but they were no less than our performances deserved. Neither Yeovil or Luton could get to grips with the way we played and it meant we dominated proceedings at both Huish Park and Kenilworth Road for near enough the full 90 minutes plus stoppage time.
Darrell Clarke stuck with the 3-5-2 system that served us well against Birmingham City and it had the desired effect. We won the midfield battles and were able to pin both sides in their own halves of the pitch, which meant we were able to create numerous goalscoring opportunities. You just have to look at the match stats to see just how many efforts on goal we had.
You can argue with some justification that we should have been more clinical given the chances we had, but we came up against a goalkeeper in the form of his life in Artur Krysiak and a Luton defence that managed to deflect a lot of our efforts wide of goal.
They managed to keep us at bay… until both Ellis Harrison and Stuart Sinclair were given clear sights of goal with time running out in both games.
Harrison struck a thunderbolt into the roof of the net to defeat the Glovers, before ex-Hatter Sinclair laced a close-range effort into the top corner against his former club to secure an impressive back-to-back away double. The celebrations on and off the pitch at both stadiums showed just how much it meant to everybody involved, and I can say with some confidence that they will live long in the memories of the many Rovers fans who were present.
You cannot beat a last minute winner; I would go as far as saying there is no greater feeling as a football fan. In the Yeovil win the pressure we put on their back-line was relentless so you believed a goal could come at any time before the referee sounded the final whistle, but against Luton it felt like we were going to have to settle for a 0-0 draw. As disappointing as that would have been given how we played, everyone was conceding it would have been a good point all things considered.
So when Sincs somewhat surprisingly raced through and scored in the 93rd minute, the feeling amongst Gasheads at Kenilworth Road was one of utter euphoria. We had won away at a side with a budget two or three times bigger than ours and thoroughly deserved it. It was a fantastic moment and I think everyone got an idea of what could be achieved in the year ahead if we can continue in the same vain over the coming weeks.
It also sends a message to the rest of League Two: Bristol Rovers should not be underestimated. The fact we were in the division below last season counts for nothing; we can compete with everybody at this level regardless of their financial backing.
We have 6 points on the board and we can now look forward with plenty of confidence. Next up on the fixture list is a home clash with our old Conference foes Barnet, which presents the opportunity for us to record our first Mem victory of the campaign.
The Bees may have pipped us to the title by one point back in April, but they have only picked up points from one of their league games so far, although that did come in the form of a home triumph against Northampton Town on Tuesday night. They got off the mark in that game through - you guessed it - John Akinde PEN, and our former loanee then sealed the points with his second in the 90th minute. He will no doubt be looking to add to those strikes with goals at The Mem tomorrow - something he never achieved in Rovers colours!
Whilst he certainly carries a threat, our defence have been imperious in the past couple of games. Tom Parkes, Tom Lockyer and James Clarke have been outstanding as our three central defenders, and nullified the threat of Craig Mackail-Smith, who was once sold for £2.5 million, with ease in midweek. Considering they have only played together in the 3-5-2 formation a few times, it is an encouraging sign and I think they will go from strength to strength as the weeks roll by.
I feel bad for praising individuals or players in certain areas of the pitch when every member of the squad has been superb in the last week of action. From debutant goalkeeper Aaron Chapman, who could not have asked for a better start to his Gas career than back-to-back clean sheets, right through to the strikers, it has been a real team effort from all involved and I have been thoroughly impressed.
All 3 substitutions were used at Yeovil, for example, and both Cristian Montano and Jeffrey Monakana came on and made a real impact. That is exactly the sort of thing Darrell wants; players with the right attitude who will give their all when they pull on the quarters regardless of whether that is as a starter or a substitute.
That is all that Gasheads want to see in return for their loyal support and the fact we are being given it bodes well for the year ahead. I have fallen in love with this group of players and I think most people reading this feel exactly the same way. We are a united club and that gives us every chance.
I am hopeful that we can get another big crowd inside The Mem to support the boys tomorrow and, hopefully, we can get the result we all want.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!