By Nathan BeesTo say last week's trip to Grimsby Town was a big game would be an understatement.
Both teams went into it with high hopes and a Mariners win would have put them in prime position to leapfrog us in the coming weeks. In all honesty it was a fixture that neither side could afford to lose if they wanted to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive and kicking.
Thankfully Darrell Clarke hasn't been the manager trying to lift his side on the training ground this week. Instead, Clarke will have been praising his charges for producing their best away performance of the season to reclaim second place in the table on goal difference. Whilst he will have been delighted, though, I have no doubt he has been stressing that we cannot get carried away just yet. We have another huge game tomorrow against Altrincham and that is what requires our attention, not a game that was played 7 days ago.
He is spot on, of course. I know it is an overused football cliche, but the next match is always the most important one. If you look too far ahead you become vulnerable to a slip up, and at this stage of the season it could be costly. If we are to miss out on top spot we don't want it to be because we self-destructed, we want it to be because whoever pips us to the post has won it on the final day after being pushed all the way. We wouldn't then go into the play-offs full of regret, which would be a huge psychological handicap to overcome.
The reality is we have an opportunity to register another important 3 points tomorrow afternoon. and with Barnet also in action against Grimsby, The Mariners could do us a huge favour by taking at least a point away from The Hive. Imagine a Gas victory and a Barnet defeat - it would be the perfect Saturday, wouldn't it?
Okay, maybe I am at risk of getting carried away myself now, but I can be excused I think. It isn't very often I get to contemplate a Rovers promotion, so it is only natural that I am becoming excited by what could be achieved in the next couple of months. As a fan you can't help but play out the best and worst case scenarios in your head; it is part and parcel of being involved in the beautiful game. As far as I am concerned, Gasheads thoroughly deserve to daydream about winning the title after all the heartache we have experienced.
Don't worry though, Darrell. Come kick off tomorrow all our focus will be on the task in hand, which is cheering the lads on to victory.
Lee Sinnott's Altrincham will arrive at The Mem quietly confident of being able to take something home with them - and with good reason. Alty have been in great form since the turn of the year and have become an increasingly difficult team to beat, which is a remarkable turnaround given that they conceded 19 goals in the month of September alone.
They have won four of their five games so far in 2015, including an impressive 2-0 victory at Eastleigh, and that has edged them comfortably away from the relegation zone after a poor start. It would take a collapse of monumental proportions for them to become embroiled in the dogfight once again, but until safety is mathematically confirmed they will feel under pressure to get more points on the board.
They are a better team than the one that beat us on the second weekend of the season back in August, that is for sure. As we all know, though, we are a much better side ourselves now than we were 6 months ago, so whilst we need to be prepared for a difficult game we should also be supremely confident of registering a home win.
The game comes too early for the injured trio of Stuart Sinclair, Jermaine Easter and Ollie Clarke, but nobody else has picked up a knock as far as I am aware and that means Darrell has the luxury of being able to pick the same XI for a third game in a row should he want to. There was a moment last Saturday when I thought Steve Mildenhall was going to be forced off and replaced by centre half Mark McChrystal for the second time this season, but thankfully it wasn't necessary and Mildy was able to carry on.
As well as Macca did between the posts at Wrexham in December, I don't think I want to see him play there again any time soon!
I hope there is a good crowd at The Mem tomorrow to help spur the team on because it can make a massive difference. It is a difficult place for opposition teams to visit at the best of times given the vociferous nature of our support, but we can make it even more intimidating with non-stop singing like our away support demonstrated at Grimsby last week.
There may only have been 320 or so of us stood/sat behind the goal, but we didn't shut up all afternoon. You know you are being heard at an away ground when the home supporters start reacting and gesturing towards you, and there was definitely a lot of that going on! At home the onus is on us to influence the game as much as we can - something we have done well all season - and we aren't going to let the team down now, are we?
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!