By Gerry PrewettAs Bristol Rovers enter the second half of their 2015-16 campaign sitting in 5th spot in the Division 2 League table, they face their first return fixture of the season and it will be a challenging one.
When they headed up to East London on 29 August, Leyton Orient had won all four of their opening games, whilst Rovers had won 3 in a row after the opening day defeat to Northampton.
Orient came out on top. The first goal came on 23 minutes when a long, speculative ball into the Rovers’ penalty area was controlled by Paul McCallum who then hit the ground. Referee Darren Drysdale pointed to the spot indicating that McCallum was pushed in the back by Tyler Lyttle. Lloyd James stepped up and converted the spot kick sending Aaron Chapman the wrong way.
Just as Mr Drysdale was about to blow his whistle for half time Orient doubled their lead. Jay Simpson showed some great agility and balance to turn Tom Parkes inside out before calmly slotting the ball past Chapman. 2-0 to the home team and Rovers went on to lose the next two games and drop down into the pack.
On Boxing Day, whilst Rovers were battling it out with 10-man Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow, the O’s entertained high flying Portsmouth. The game burst into life as early as the fourth minute when Kyle Bennnett played a wicked ball into the box, Pompey’s Gareth Evans got a slight touch and then Connor Essam deflected it into his own net giving O’s Aussie keeper Alex Cisak no chance.
In the 22nd minute the away team’s Danny Hollands’ back pass took a slight deflection and looped up in the air, Jobi McAnuff followed it in and got himself on the wrong side of Adam Webster. The Portsmouth defender tried to head the ball back to his goalkeeper, but could only bring the Jamaican international down inside the area and give away a penalty. McAnuff had used all his experience to get in a great position and referee Graham Horwood showed a red card to Webster.
Jay Simpson stepped up and rifled the ball past Brian Murphy in the Pompey goal to score his 17th of the season and level the scores.
Three minutes of stoppage time were added on at Brisbane Road and in the first of them the O’s took the lead. Cole Kpekawa’s long ball didn’t appear to be too dangerous, but Ollie Palmer made a nuisance of himself and managed to flick it past Murphy and into the corner. It was his second league goal of the season and first since August.
Just six minutes into the second half the numbers on the pitch were evened up when the O’s Mathieu Baudry was sent off. The home skipper reacted to a challenge on him by raising his fist and catching Portsmouth captain Michael Doyle. It left referee Horwood with no choice but to dismiss the French defender.
But from the resulting free kick, Sean Clohessy’s ball into the box found Palmer and the forward headed into the corner to spark wild celebrations.
On 66 minutes Bennett played a wonderful through ball, Evans ran off Essam before slotting past Cisak, who didn’t come off his line quickly enough. Despite lots of end-to-end excitement the game ended 3-2 to the home team and took them up to 9th spot in the table.
Looking at the history of games between Rovers and Orient there have been some exciting clashes, none more so than a 2001 Boxing Day eight goal thriller, the highest aggregate score in games between the teams, which saw the Gas run out 5-3 winners. It is interesting that generally the games are fairly low scoring affairs, with a few notable exceptions.
Orient have rarely scored many against the Gas (until the last five games, where the record stands the O’s 17 goals, the Gas, 3 goals!) and yet Rovers have hit a 4 and a 5 (besides that Boxing Day game) and amazingly enough they have both been in London. The first of those victories was a 5-1 win with goals from Holloway (2), David Williams, Randall and Withey on 23rd October 1982. Two years later on 30th November, Holloway, O’Connor (2) and Randall were scorers in a 4-1 win.
In 1998-99 the sides were paired together in both the FA Cup and League Cup. After a 1-1 draw at Brisbane Road in the Worthington Cup First Round First Leg, Mark Warren hit a dramatic 119th minute winner in Bristol after the tie looked set to go to penalties. Rovers got their revenge in the FA Cup Fourth Round as three goals in the last 15 minutes saw off the O's challenge.
In an early season game in 2004-05 on 11 September Rovers travelled to Brisbane Road unbeaten with what appeared to be a rock-solid defence. However it crumbled and let in as many goals in one game as it had in the previous seven. It was a game in which Rovers played well in patches and actually led 2-1, but then conceded three goals in just seven minutes in the second half. It was ex-Gas Wayne Carlisle who inflicted much of the pain.
Another Boxing Day home game with Leyton Orient gave Rovers the perfect opportunity for revenge for that first defeat of the season at Brisbane Road. However a Robbie Ryan handball on the line meant Rovers were down to 10 men and a goal down as Lockwood converted his penalty against his former team. Jamie Forrester equalised from the spot in the second half but Rovers found the one-man deficit too great to overcome a determined Orient team. It was Rovers’ third draw in a row and a fourth game undefeated.
Overall Rovers hold the upper hand with 43 victories to Orient’s 39 in the 111 games. However Orient have won the last 7 games between the clubs including their record 5-0 win over Rovers on 2 February 2010.
After the Boxing Day game Orient’s assistant manager Andy Hessenthaler praised the character of his team. Hessenthaler said, “Alex Cisak made some fantastic saves and that is what he is there for, we’ll always tell you that. He is the last line of defence so when things do get in we are hoping he will make those saves.”
“At times Portsmouth did get in too easy and fair play to them, they caused us more problems when Baudry went off. We just didn’t seem to be able to cope. That is why we changed it.”
“Unfortunately we had to take Jay Simpson off because he had a tight calf and he could be struggling for Monday now, which is a big blow to us. We put an extra body in midfield to try and stop their flow.”
“Portsmouth got the early goal when the fella has come inside and his ball has gone through a lot of bodies. I think it has taken a deflection, which is a tough start for us. We showed good character and it is a foul for the penalty and last man so the referee has followed the letter of the law. We don’t like to see players being sent off, but that was the case and it gave us a little bit of impetus to kick on.”
“It gave us that confidence and for most of the first half afterwards we caused them problems. We got the second just before half time which was perfect timing.”
“At half time we said don’t do anything silly, make sure you are professional because you never know with referees. Something might happen and it could even it up.”
“Matty has done something silly, he knows that and he has apologised. You can’t do that and it changed the game again. It put the ball back in their court and they got the confidence from that, even though we got the third goal pretty much straight after the red.”
“It was a tough afternoon, but we needed a win in the league. We had been five games unbeaten before today and now that’s six with two wins so hopefully today is the start of getting a few wins.”
"I'm really pleased for Ollie Palmer because he works very hard on the training ground day in, day out and hopefully this is the start for him because for all the work he does he just couldn't hit the back of the net."
“The way they worked their socks off today just shows you the players are right behind the manager and the coaching staff. That shows people they want to play for him. We’ve just got to continue now. We’ve lost five in 23 so we haven’t had a bad start. There have been too many draws in that – like we’ve said, but if we can go to Bristol now and get another win that will be so far so good over the Christmas period.”