By Gerry PrewettBristol Rovers visit Crawley Town on Saturday to face a team 4 points but 8 positions below them in the League 2 table.
Having entered the League in 2010/11 Town won promotion at their first attempt. After three seasons in Division 1 they were relegated on the last day of the 2014–15 season following a 1–2 defeat at home against Coventry City.
Manager Mark Yates was appointed after the relegation and struggled to build a team for the start of the current season. He commented, "It wasn't the ideal preparation for the start of the season in terms of being able to work with our own players and we had lots of trialists making up the numbers,"
"We just had to get on with it but we want to make sure next season we aren't in that position. Who knows? We might be, because a lot of contracts are up in the summer but as a manager it's not something I want to be happening every year because if you have too much of a turnaround it takes time to settle the team.”
"So although we are in the now and trying to climb the table and pick up as many points as possible, we also have to start planning where we see the club in January, at the end of the season and then for pre-season and next year."
On Saturday the Reds earned a heartening 2-2 draw at Exeter. The Grecians made a flying start to the match and went in front with a superb goal on eight minutes. Clinton Morrison's excellent dummy allowed the ball to run to Tom Nichols and he fed it wide to Alex Nicholls, who lashed a stunning strike from an acute angle that thundered in off the underside of the crossbar.
Exeter were unable the keep the pressure up and Crawley levelled when Simon Walton's corner was headed in by the unmarked Sonny Bradley. The Devon team went back in front on the stroke of half-time with another fine goal. A neat passing move ended with the ball coming to Nichols on the edge of the box and he fired in a half-volley from 20 yards.
With the game closing out to a narrow home win and the game in the second minute of stoppage time, the away team’s Luke Rooney tried his luck with an audacious shot that flew over the head of Exeter goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik and into the top corner.
Yates commented afterwards, “It was deserved, it is always harsh on the home team to score in the 92nd minute. We kept plugging away, we kept going, we didn`t just let the game peter out. We showed a lot of spirit and we`ve come a long way since the start of the season, since the middle of September. So pleasing we are making progress. We are far the finished article but we are finding a way to play and we are working really hard at it.”
Yates with his tongue firmly in his cheek went on to talk about the substitutes and took the credit for them. “I thought the substitutions played a massive part. I thought it was tactical genius from myself!”
“We have been talking about using our substitutions a bit more and making them more a bit cute, keeping the tempo, about keeping the momentum going. The ones we made today made a difference. Barny came on and probably did as well as he has done, Shamir came on and looked a threat, Luke Rooney came on and scored a great goal.”
With centre-half Jon Ashton taking a blow to the face that led to his substitution, Yates said he didn't expect him to be missing for long whatever the outcome of the scans. “He`ll be fine, he took a whack and he has gone to have an X-ray with a suspected broken cheek bone. He`s a big, tough centre-half and I`m surprised he`s even wanted to go! We`ve got a lot of spirit, a lot of fighters, some good players and if you put all that together we are not a bad team. We`ve limited a decent footballing side. We`ve limited them to three or four attempts on goal.”
Honours are even in games between the Reds and the Gas with one win, two draws and one defeat. The first tie saw the Sussex team demolish Rovers 4-1 on 3 September 2011. The return fixture at the Mem ended 0-0 as Crawley went on to promotion.
The teams next met in the FA Cup in 2013-14 and the game at the Mem again finished 0-0. A dramatic finale saw Rovers score twice through Eliot Richards and John-Joe O’Toole to beat Crawley and go through to the third round. They had trailed to Andy Proctor’s 14th minute goal and didn’t look their best in the opening period, even though they created two very good opportunities. They came more into it after the break and improved as an attacking force following the introduction of substitutes Chris Beardsley and Ellis Harrison.
Luke Rooney spoke to the Press this week about his struggle to make his way back into the Crawley team this season the 24 year old former Swindon Town player began the season in the team but after earning a red card against Accrington Stanley on September 26th has struggled to make the starting line-up.
“I cannot complain because after I got sent-off the team has gone on a decent run so you cannot moan at not being in the side. The side’s a lot more settled now. When I was in the side, playing the majority of the games, the side was less settled.”
“If hopefully I do get into the side now, I feel it will be easier to get a longer run. We feel a lot more solid and don’t feel we are going to leak goals and feel likely to score. I’m really enjoying it. My mentality is the best it’s been in my career. I’m a little bit older now and this is what I want to do. Everyone finds it hard being out of the team but I feel I’ve dealt with it quite well.”
Speaking about his goal at Exeter Rooney said, “I didn’t realise how late it was. It was nice to snatch a point and probably a good one considering we went down twice in the game. If we’d got one a bit earlier I think we might have gone on to win the game.”
“It’s always nice to score goals particularly when they mean giving something for the team and it was a good point in the end.”