By Gerry PrewettHaving sat out last weekend due to international commitments Bristol Rovers face another away trip to another high-flying team.
This time they take on fourth placed Mansfield Town at the One Call Stadium. The Stags have won half of their League games so far and have suffered just two defeats. They completed their third win in a row when they defeated Newport County 3-0 on Saturday.
Despite dominating first half possession the home team could not get past County’s rearguard and it wasn’t until the 50th minute that it was pierced. Malvind Benning’s cross from left was gently laid back by Jack Thomas to allow Craig Westcarr who smashed it past Joe Day from just inside the six yard box.
Newport hit back with two corners, but they were pressured again as Day was forced to tip over a Matt Green shot and then pushed away a Ryan Tafazolli header.
On 70 minutes Jack Thomas picked out Benning just outside the area and he crashed a stunning shot high into the Newport goal. Adi Yussuf was a late change and scored from the edge of the area in the first minute of added time as Mitch Rose found him with a square pass and he slotted in just inside the right post.
The first ever League meeting between the Stags and the Pirates took place on 19 September 1931 and ended in a 1-1 draw at Eastville. Billy Routledge scoring for Rovers and Ernie England scoring a penalty for the away team. The return match at Field Mill saw Rovers run out 3-0 winners, ironically their best ever result at Mansfield, with Routledge, Ronnie Dix and Tom Cook notching the goals.
Looking back at some of the home games, on 4th January 1958 the clubs met in the F.A. Cup and Peter Hooper (2), Alfie Biggs, Dai Ward and George Petherbridge thrilled a 20,446 Eastville crowd as Rovers ran out 5-0 victors.
The opening day of the 1964/65 season saw Rovers win 4-1. Robin Perry in his Evening Post match report described the performance as “Efficient and often exciting….in the style that has become traditional under the Tann management”. Harold Jarman opened the scoring after just four minutes and Johnny Brown scored a second goal very shortly afterwards. Alfie Biggs netted the third and Jarman created the fourth for Ian Hamilton. Peter Morris the Stags left half netted a consolation goal eight minutes from time.
The following season Rovers were in a shocking slump and had their longest spell ever without a win. Then they suddenly saw off Grimsby with two goals in four minutes and beat Brentford away 5-0. Their next home game was against the Nottinghamshire team. Alfie Biggs headed Rovers into a second minute lead, scored another 22 minutes later, which was quickly followed by a Johnny Brown goal. Bobby Jones and Roger Frude added quick second half goals before Johnny Petts sealed a 6-0 victory with just four minutes left.
A game in Bristol on 19 March 2005 was a real thriller, with the Stags taking an early lead but Rovers scoring twice before half-time to go in 2-1 up at the break. Two goals in three minutes, just after play resumed gave the advantage to the Nottinghamshire team and a Callum Lloyd goal on 68 minutes seemed to have ensured that all three points were going back to the midlands. Rovers’ determination was not to be underestimated and two goals in the last 10 minutes ensured a remarkable 4-4 draw.
That result was the second time that the teams shared 8 goals in Bristol. The previous occasion was 15th October 1966. Alfie Biggs, Harold Jarman (2) and Kenny Ronaldson scored for the home team and John Rowland (2), Tommy Mitchinson and Stuart Brace scored for the Stags. In some respects that match was even more fabulous in that the half-time score was 0-0!
In Nottingham the story has been very different. Rovers first six visits after the War all resulted in defeat. During that time they scored one goal and conceded fifteen. They finally broke the sequence with a 0-0 draw on 26th October 1968. Rover’s worst result at Field Mill came on 31st January 1987 when they went down 5-0.
Things have improved of late and Rovers’ last five visits have seen them collect two wins and three draws. The last of those games was on 12 October 2013. Lee Stevenson’s goal, from Mansfield’s only quality first half attack, separated the sides at the break.
Relentless second half pressure from John Ward’s side finally paid off after 83 minutes when a shot from Alefe Santos was deflected past home keeper Alan Marriott by the outstretched leg of defender Keiran Murtagh.
A Junior Agogo double secured a rare away win on 7 August 2004. On 28 December 2005, Nathan Arnold, Adam Rundle and Allan Russell scored for the home team whilst James Hunt and a Richard Walker double (including a penalty) replied for the visitors.
On 7 April 2007 a Steve Elliott goal secured maximum points for Rovers. Those recent results have been very much against the grain as the overall record stands at 5 wins, 6 draws and 13 defeats for Rovers in the mining town.
Town’s last home win over Rovers was on 6 April 2002 when a team containing Craig Disley, scored goals by Adam Murray and Andrew White to secure a 2-0 home win.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s game Town Boss Adam Murray said, "We know that they will bring a different challenge to us but we've got good players who can adjust to anything they need to. We've had a super start and we've probably blown everybody's expectations already for what they expected us to do in the first quarter of the season. That's not enough for us because we still know there's more in us; we're probably functioning at 70 per cent and the other 30 per cent will be what keeps us in the top group. Winners strive to be greedy and achieve as many points as they can, and that’s this group's target.
Speaking about his coaching duo Micky Moore and Richard Cooper, he added: "I know at the time I got the job people were saying that they didn't know if they have the experience. They're two of the most enthusiastic, qualified, modern and inspirational people that I could have by my side.”
"Micky knows the game, he's got more contacts than anyone I know and he's a thinker. Coops is a young coach, he's got great ideas, he brings a freshness and he's a motivator as well. We've got a difference in character and ideas and it works."
"There's more British coaches and managers getting a chance in the game. I think the energy around young coaches rubs off on your group, which is what I've found. I've wanted to learn from the bad times and good times. I haven't got the knowledge of a 50 or 60-year-old manager, but at the minute I don't want that. Ultimately I want to be my own man and a lot of young coaches I speak to are the same.”
"The modern game is moving forward rapidly; formations are a lot more fluid and teams go from formation to formation in the space of 20 minutes, sometimes without knowing they're doing it. That's the game now and it's exciting for English football - the more of our own we can push through, the better."
Meanwhile Stags Captain and former Bolton Wanderers stalwart Nicky Hunt expressed his views, ”We've got to keep our standards high that we set in pre-season, we've got a fit squad and obviously we'll do what we can to get the points on the board. Once we get to 90-100 per cent you'll see another gear change from us and hopefully we'll put on a performance for the crowd.”
"It's a great honour for me to be captain of this club - it brings a lot of added impetus to your game but it's nothing that I can't handle and long may it continue in my eyes. We enjoy coming into training every day and the lads are buzzing, it's great to be around a football club that are doing so well and a town that are buzzing off us really."
"The more press you get in the paper, the more pressure it puts on players, especially the younger players that we've got. For me it's great, I'd rather go through my life without being in the papers and going under the radar because I'm that type of person."
Speaking about the coaching methods at the club he went on to say of Murray "He's got his own philosophy and the players are 110 per cent behind that and he's been great for us. It has been working for us as you can see by the fitness of the squad. We leave no stone unturned which is good because we know what we need to do. It's drilled into us so there's no excuses on the Saturday."