By Gerry PrewettOn Friday night Bristol Rovers entertain Aldershot Town under the lights at the Memorial Stadium.
The Shots have just seen a six match unbeaten run (their best run of form for over two years) ended when they lost at home to lowly Southport on Saturday.
The Sandgrounders took the lead when they created a 19 minute opener. Richard Brodie left Glenn Wilson for dead down the left, his ball inside allowed George Donnelly to turn the ball towards the far corner of the six-yard box. Paul Smith took a touch and, in one fluid movement, turned and slid a shot underneath Phil Smith in the Shots goal.
Six minutes later, scorer Smith turned provider as his ball to Donnelly, who arrived late into the box, allowed him to shoot into the far corner.
The Shots looked to have got back into the game on 58 minutes when Brett Williams was left unmarked to head in Jordan Roberts’ floated free-kick and finally record an effort on target. But that was as far as their efforts went. The Shots remain 18th, but are now only eights points clear of trouble as Welling won at Lincoln.
Speaking after the game, caretaker Boss Chris Barker said, "I thought Southport were very good in the first half. We give two sloppy goals away and I warned the boys about their away performances, so we knew all about that. But we can't start like we did and give goals away, so it is very disappointing. If we only lose one in seven for the rest of the season, I'll take that right now."
“Saturday was a big reality check for everyone,” he said. “For the first time under my management, especially in the first half, we let ourselves down and it’s back to the training ground to make sure it’s just a one-off. We’ve got a very tough fixture at Bristol Rovers on Friday and another difficult trip to Forest Green Rovers coming up so there's no time to be admiring our efforts and resting on our laurels. We won’t be panicking though, we’re still doing OK.”
Speaking of the injuries facing his team Barker who will definitely be without injured duo Jaydon Gibbs and Tristan Plummer, said “It’s all a bit last-minute dot com to be honest. We’ve are walking wounded at the moment, so we’ll see who comes through training and a Friday morning fitness tests and take it from there. It’s going to be a tough game and a big occasion but we’ve already shown this season that we can handle those situations and we’ll be looking for a response.”
Looking at the previous meetings between the two clubs reveals that Rovers’ record at home is excellent with 14 victories, 5 draws and just 3 defeats in the 22 games played.
The very first game between the Rovers and the Shots took place on Boxing Day 1932 at the Rec where the home team ran out 1-0 victors. Rovers gained almost immediate revenge with a 4-1 win the following day. The tams also clashed in the Third Round of the F.A. Cup that season and the Shots repeated the 1-0 home win.
Rovers generally had the better of the clashes against their Hampshire rivals in the years leading up to the War but there were a few big reversals. On 7 December 1935 Aldershot ran out 6-1 winners and the following season won 4-0.
In the years since the War it is Rovers who have dominated in the fixtures and have had some stunning victories. On 29 March 1943, goals by Vic Lambden (4), Jackie Pitt (2) and Barry Watkins gave the Eastville team a 7-1 win. They also beat the Shots 5-1 (three times) and 4-1, Vic Lambden scored in all these games! Rovers’ last win was in October 2010 with a 1-0 Associate Members Cup victory at the Mem.
Speaking of his appointment to the end of the season Barker said, “I’m very happy. It’s a very proud moment, probably one of the biggest achievements of my career. I’m delighted that the board of directors have given me their backing and hopefully I can now finish the job.”
“Some of the boys have been given a new lease of life, we’re scoring more goals and we’re looking tighter at the back. I can probably take a bit of credit for that, but it’s really down to the boys on the field.”
Director Andy Muckett added: “We’re absolutely delighted with Chris’s performance to date and that he is able to continue in this role until the end of the season. If Chris hadn’t done very well it would have been a lot easier to make decisions about where we go next season, but for the moment those decisions have yet to be made. We have spent a lot of time looking for the right person, and we will continue that search, but at the moment we are very happy with the way that Chris is managing the team and the results he has delivered.”
Shahid Azeem concurred, “Yes, it’s fair to say Chris has given us a headache, but it’s a nice headache to have. I’m not surprised at all by what Chris has done, he is an exemplary professional both on and off the pitch and we always had full confidence in Chris taking this on.
“In his time in charge Chris has brought confidence back into the players, staff, supporters, the board, the club and the town, but we are not arrogant enough to assume the job of staying up is done yet. We still have a number of very tough games to play. We haven’t made our minds up yet, we are still going through the process that we set out from the beginning.
"It has taken a little longer than we expected but we want to make the right decision for the football club and we will not rush into anything. There are one or two issues out of our control at the moment but for the sake of the supporters and the people who applied for the job – many whose livelihood rest on it – it is only fair to make an announcement as soon as possible so that people aren’t left in limbo.”