By Nathan BeesAt half time last weekend I was fairly certain we were going to lose our second game in succession, and with results elsewhere going against us, I felt that our title aspirations may no longer be easily achievable.
An overreaction, maybe, even at that moment in time, but we were playing poorly and trailed 2-0 while both Barnet and Grimsby Town were both leading away from home. I wouldn't mind betting that most other Gasheads felt the same way as they sat in a chilly Shay Stadium.
50 minutes later, though, and the landscape changed completely from a Rovers perspective. In just one half of action, five goals were scored around the country that were of benefit to us and the feeling of dejection about our title hopes had disappeared. We were still in with a huge chance.
It is the turnaround in emotions like we experienced last weekend that makes football the beautiful game we all know and love.
The fact of the matter is we were not at the races at the start of our clash with FC Halifax Town, though. They were no better than us, but as an attacking force we never got going and fell behind to two poor goals. We didn't stop the ball coming back into our area for the first one, allowing Lois Maynard to head home, while the second was a huge error - from the referee.
Rovers fans have seen plenty of poor refereeing decisions this season and we endured more of the same last weekend in my opinion. The free kick from which Marc Roberts prodded into the back of the net was never a foul, as Tom Parkes never made any contact with the player he attempted to tackle. The referee played on initially and then brought play back when there was no advantage, even though no foul had been committed.
It was typical that our hosts scored from it and it summed up our afternoon to that point. Nothing was going for us and we were not playing well.
Darrell Clarke had work to do at half time and he had to make the right changes to get us back into the contest. I was surprised no changes were made before the start of the second half, but it was pleasing to see he didn't delay making substitutions when an early goal was not forthcoming.
Quite simply, Ellis Harrison changed the game and gave us an attacking impetus we didn't have previously. He harried defenders, carried the ball forward well and brought others into play, which gave us a platform to build from in their half of the pitch. Both Jermaine Easter and Angelo Balanta also brought different dimensions to our game when they entered the action, and the triple substitutions definitely had the desired effect.
With 7 minutes of the 90 remaining, left back Lee Brown popped up to fire home what in hindsight could prove to be a huge goal at the end of the season. His long range bullet flew into the bottom corner and brought us right back into the game. We were applying all the pressure at this point so there was no time to think about whether we could go on and get the equaliser; we just got on with it. We were left frustrated for 5 minutes, but then in the 89th minute our super sub did what he does best - score goals.
Chris Lines, who was very good on his second debut despite the awful pitch, lofted a sumptuous ball over to Harrison, who somehow controlled the ball with his left foot - lifting it over his defender in the process - before volleying home a stunning right footed shot. It was Dennis Bergkamp-esque and easily worthy of being the goal to earn us a tough away point.
As we were pulling off our two goal comeback, Grimsby were doing the exact opposite as they surrendered a 2-0 lead at Chester, while Macclesfield Town were also doing us a favour by falling to defeat at Gateshead. Things were going our way.
Unfortunately Barnet held on to their lead at Eastleigh to send them top on goal difference, which you have to say was a good result, but it could have been an awful lot worse. All in all we travelled home in buoyant mood and began to look forward to tonight's clash with Aldershot at The Mem.
We have the opportunity to reclaim top spot from Barnet after they only managed a draw with FC Halifax Town themselves on Tuesday night, meaning they failed to capitalise fully on their final game in hand over us. They will be disappointed as they led for a large part of the game and saw David Stephens sent off in the build up to Halifax's equaliser, but they will be confident having come through two difficult games with 4 points on the board.
It all comes down to the final 7 games and whilst you would have to say The Bees probably have the easier run-in, anything can happen at this stage of the season. The teams around the bottom of the table are not always the best opponents to face, as they will be scrapping for their lives in a bid to avoid relegation, so there are no easy fixtures.
You could argue that those in mid-table with nothing to play for are the ideal sides to be facing, and to a certain extent I think that is true, but they are clearly half way in the table because they are capable of earning results. You take them lightly at your peril.
We are going to have to be at our best over the next five or six weeks if we want to have a chance of lifting the title at the end of the season and I am confident after last week's second half salvo that we have what it takes. A fast start is required this evening and if us Gasheads can get involved from the first minute and support our team then there is no reason why we can't claim 3 points.
Let's pack The Mem, support the boys and hopefully put ourselves back on top of the tree by 9.45pm tonight.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!