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Club News


1 May 2015

By Nathan Bees

After winning 7-0 on the final day of the regular season and not winning the Conference title as we all hoped, it would have been easy to head into the play-offs under a cloud of negativity.

That didn't happen, though. Instead, we performed like a team brimming with confidence and a belief that we can beat any side we face - and we did just that.

Forest Green will have fancied themselves against us given the way they undeservedly took 4 points off us in the league, but we arrived at The Lawn with intent and outplayed them for 45 minutes. There was slick passing football mixed with effective long balls from deep and we were making it count. We retained possession in attacking areas and forged a number of goalscoring opportunities in quick succession. It was a joy to watch from the terrace and I am sure it made for equally pleasing viewing for those watching BT Sport at home.

Our performance warranted a goal and it came 20 minutes in courtesy of Matty Taylor's exquisite finish from a tight angle after rounding goalkeeper Steve Arnold. It sent the raucous Rovers supporters absolutely wild and his celebration showed just how delighted he was with breaking the deadlock.

Forest Green didn't know what hit them and were clueless as to how to stop us. The forays into their box just kept on coming and Ellis Harrison saw a header cleared off the line before the woodwork denied us again shortly before half time. We couldn't have gone much closer to doubling our lead without actually finding the back of the net.

As much as we all would have been delighted with what we had seen during the first half, there was a nagging worry in the back of my mind that we would rue our missed opportunities. The likelihood was Forest Green would work their way into the game during the second period and given the quality of Jon Parkin et al., I knew it wasn't beyond them to snatch a goal out of nothing and change the dynamics of the tie instantly.

Ady Pennock's side did improve after the break, but in truth they never really threatened Will Puddy. Well, Gas old boy Charlie Clough did when he kicked our goalkeeper, but he somehow avoided a red card and inexplicably got away with it. I have no doubt he will receive a far from friendly welcome back to The Mem on Sunday!

The thoroughly disliked referee then proceeded to allow Kurtis Guthrie to foul, dive and petulantly kick the ball away several times without brandishing a yellow card, while taking any opportunity he could to 'have a word' with Harrison.

The in-form striker was getting wound up because of the endless fouling he was subjected to and after being booked, I thought we would sub him off to protect him ahead of Sunday. We didn't, though, and the inevitable happened with quarter of an hour remaining.

Competing for a ball he was never going to win but had every right to go for, Harrison made contact with the goalkeeper and the ref had no hesitation in showing him a second yellow card. He was sent off and with plenty of time remaining for Forest Green to equalise. or worse.

This Rovers side doesn't roll over and die when the going gets tough, however, and we kept the home team at bay. We had a bit of luck when Clough's header clipped the post following a flurry of set-pieces, but it was no more than we deserved on the night, especially as he shouldn't even have been on the pitch. Justice had been served and the first leg advantage was ours.

It could prove crucial given the way a sold-out Mem will be absolutely bouncing come kick off on Sunday. Rovers responded perfectly in similar circumstances against Alfreton Town last weekend and if they can do that again we will have Forest Green on the ropes.

Having said that, they have nothing to lose and that makes them dangerous opponents given the quality they have in attacking areas and if we aren't on our game they are capable of punishing us. You can bet the ex-Gas contingent in the visiting ranks will relish the opportunity to upset 11,000 Gasheads at The Mem and we will have to be on our guard to ensure that doesn't happen.

I am like a child on Christmas Eve, eagerly anticipating what is going to happen, and I can't wait for Sunday lunchtime to roll around so I can find out.

Play like we know we can and we will win the game and the tie overall, I have no doubt about it. The lads will want to do themselves and their season justice with a performance that will book a place at Wembley and I sincerely hope they can pull it off. They deserve it, Darrell Clarke and his coaching staff deserve it and our supporters deserve it.

Together, we will get there. Always believe.

Come on Rovers, come on you blues!

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