By Nathan BeesOkay, so everybody will have left The Mem on Sunday feeling exactly the same way: disappointed, angry and frustrated - and rightly so.
Our FA Cup humbling at the hands of Chesham United was a massive reality check and proved in no uncertain terms that if we don’t take our chances we will be beaten by any team at any level.
Given that, I feared the worst heading into Wednesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Southend United. The performance the lads put in, however, was superb and not deserving of the 1-0 defeat we suffered. I left Roots Hall with renewed enthusiasm and optimism, which is exactly what needed to happen as losing to Southern League Premier opposition was massively demoralising.
We started off slowly against the Shrimpers and fell behind to a soft headed goal from a cross on the left wing. At that point I was thinking we would be on the receiving end of a hammering, but thankfully we got ourselves back into the game and started to attack our hosts.
Billy Bodin was looking dangerous on the right flank and caused the Southend back-line all sorts of problems. Both he and Jake Gosling made jinking runs into the penalty area but had efforts deflected into the side netting, while a number of dangerous balls were played in that ex-Gas Adam Barrett and co. had to scramble clear.
All in all we were playing a lot better, just like most of our other away performances so far this season.
The key moment of the game from a Rovers perspective came late in the first half when Rovers had a Bodin goal disallowed for offside. The winger turned to his left then his right, before drilling a low 25 yard effort into the bottom corner beyond Blues goalkeeper Dan Bentley. The ref pointed to indicate a goal and the linesman’s flag was not raised, so Gasheads celebrated what would have been a thoroughly deserved equaliser.
Then from nowhere, the referee consulted with his linesman and after a brief conversation ruled the goal out for offside. Having seen the replay I can see why that decision was reached as Matty Taylor was in an offside position when he allowed the ball to roll between his legs on its way to goal, but the controversy lies in the fact there was no indication the goal would be ruled out at the time. The right decision was probably reached in the end - although PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) need to provide clarity on the offside law as I have seen several similar goals allowed to stand this season - however it was bitterly disappointing for us as the goal was allowed at first.
Feeling aggrieved, we came out in the second half and were by far the better team, carving out some really good chances and putting their defence under severe pressure. Those who could only listen to the commentary of the game may say in response: ‘So what? We still couldn’t score’, and that’s a fair point, but on Wednesday we were incredibly unlucky. Shots were being deflected agonisingly wide, Bentley pulled off a couple of outstanding saves and we had headers hacked off the line. When that happens there is not much you can do other than keep trying and hope one goes for you sooner rather than later.
It didn’t happen for us on the night and ultimately we exited the competition, but the team and supporters can take a lot from the performance. The lads demonstrated great character in response to last Sunday’s cup humiliation and we played better than our League One hosts. Few sides we face over the coming weeks will be of Southend’s standard, so we should be confident that we have enough about us to get the better of our League Two opponents.
The issue is, of course, that for one reason or another our home form has not been anywhere near good enough this season. We have been desperately unlucky in a couple of games, but in others we have been beaten by sides whose game plan has been to sit in and frustrate us, and they have pulled it off perfectly (think Accrington Stanley, Oxford United). In order to combat this we need to be better in and around the final third; our final ball needs to be more incisive, our shooting needs to be quicker and we need to gamble on opportunities in the penalty area etc…
I do believe we have goals in us so I think things will change for us soon. That’s not to say I don’t think we could do with reinforcements in attack/midfield because it would definitely improve us, but we are restricted with what we can do during the emergency loan window. If Darrell Clarke has the financial backing to get a loan signing in that would be great, though it isn’t the end of the world if he can’t.
Cristian Montano came on in the second half on Wednesday and staked a claim for a starting berth against Carlisle United tomorrow with an impressive display, while Jamie Lucas is back from his loan spell at Boreham Wood and is another option up front. We will definitely miss Tom Lockyer and Ellis Harrison whilst they are on Wales U21 duty, but we have other players waiting in the wings who desperately want the chance to show what they can do.
Carlisle United will arrive at The Mem wanting to propel themselves into the top seven so it won’t be an easy task for us to get a positive result. The Cumbrians have some good, experienced players and we will have to be wary of that whilst we inevitably try and take the game to them.
Angelo Balanta could line up for our visitors and whilst I know he didn’t set the world alight with us, I hope he gets a good reception. He was part of the team that got us out of the Conference at the first attempt and his penalty in the shootout was exceptional considering the pressure - for that he deserves a friendly welcome back in my opinion. I just hope he doesn’t end up scoring as always seems to happen when ex-players return to The Mem!
Let’s get right behind the lads tomorrow and do our bit from the stands. The atmosphere has been quite flat recently because we haven’t had a lot to cheer about at home, but we can help the lads out massively if we offer continued vocal encouragement throughout the game. We are by no means silent even on a bad day, I just think we can do a bit more.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!
Twitter - @nathbees