By Gerry PrewettDespite sacrificing two points on Tuesday night against Notts County Bristol Rovers are in a hot vein of form in contrast top this week’s opposition Newport County.
The South Wales team has won just two League games this season, the latter of those coming as recently as last Tuesday when they turned over Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.
New Boss, John Sheridan celebrated his first win in four attempts as Newport County . County, who were rooted to the bottom of the table took the lead just after the hour mark when Marcus Bean scored an own goal after being hit by an attempted clearance inside the six yard box.
Former Grimsby star Lenell John-Lewis and Zak Ansah went close before Scott Boden's low drive secured the win a minute from time.
County are now level on points with Yeovil and Dagenham and Redbridge. Speaking after the game Exiles gaffer John Sheridan said, "It's not going to do us any harm coming to one of the top teams in the division and putting on a performance like that. We were well worthy winners and I'm just pleased for everyone involved because they haven't won many games. It's a good feeling for the fans that we brought here and I've already started to think about Saturday's game."
Sheridan has the sympathy of his vanquished opponent Gareth Ainsworth who also commented after the game, “John Sheridan is a good manager he’s got a tough job on there definitely. They are Trust-owned now and it’s a new team but they’ve come to a Wycombe side who have been in the play-off places for most of the season and turned us over 2-0. On that result they look to have a good chance of climbing the league.”
“The whole club is going to be up against it. We’ve been there as a Trust-owned club so we know what it’s like. But John Sheridan is a good manager and I’m sure Newport will be battling right until the end. I can see them staying up if they keep turning over teams like us.”
“John is a good manager; he knows the league,” he said. “He knows the level well – he’s had promotion and the play-offs last year. And he knows his players. He’ll add some steel to the side. They played Portsmouth on Saturday and I watched that game and they had a quite legitimate goal chalked off I felt.”
“So the table at the moment isn’t the final table – there’s a long way to go yet with more than 90 points to play for. We know firsthand how it can go so Newport have got as much chance as anyone of climbing this league.”
Looking back at County’s history it reached a zenith when Len Ashurst was appointed manager in 1978 and he led the club to a promotion and Welsh Cup double two years later. It was followed by a memorable run to the Quarter-Final of the European Cup-Winners' Cup where they suffered an unlucky 3-2 aggregate defeat to East Germany's Carl Zeiss Jena.
Under Ashurst's successor Colin Addison, in his second spell in charge, County came close to promotion in 1982-83. However, a multi-talented team boasting the striking skills of John Aldridge and Tommy Tynan along with homegrown Welsh internationals Nigel Vaughan and Steve Lowndes soon broke up. In 1987 County were relegated back to the Fourth Division and the following year they were the second victim of automatic relegation to the Conference.
American Jerry Sherman took over but failed to live up to his promises of funding and, when they were locked out of Somerton Park for failing to meet payments to the council, County were expelled by the Conference in February 1989 and their sorry playing record was expunged.
Rovers and County have a long history dating back to the inception of Division 3 in 1920. Rovers won the first game 3-2 at Eastville on 1 September 1920 with goals by Joe Norton, Steve Sims and Ellis Compton for Rovers and an Andrew Walker penalty and Arthur Wolstenholme for County. Eight days later goals by George Chance and Sid Leigh gave the away team a 2-0 victory.
The following season County gained revenge with a 4-3 win at Eastville on 21 January 1922. Harry Dobson (2), Charlie Brittain and John Lythgoe scored for the Welsh team with James Liddell, David Steele and Joe Walter netting for Rovers.
The highest aggregate score came on 16 March 1936 as George McNestry, Stan Prout and a Bert Taylor hat-trick for Rovers overcame goals by Billy Burgess, Fred Calarke and Henry Perks to give a 5-3 home win.
Back in 1986-87, they tied 2-2 at Twerton Park on 14 December 1986 with Wayne Noble and Gary Smart scoring for the Gas and a Roger Gibbins double for County. Probably the most important result was Rovers’ 1-0 victory at Somerton Park on 9 May 1987 in the return fixture, where a Phil Purnell strike secured all three points and Third Division survival for Rovers.
The sides last met in January 2014 when Rovers beat Justin Edinburgh’s men 3-1 at the Memorial Ground, gaining revenge for a 1-0 loss at Rodney Parade the previous August.
The history is remarkably even with 62 games played, 23 victories to County, 22 to Rovers and 17 drawn. In Bristol and Bath in the 30 games played there are 18 Rovers victories, 7 draws and 6 County wins.
Shiridan reflected on his team’s shortcomings after their narrow loss at home to Portsmouth, “It is not the result we wanted, I can’t fault the effort of the players, but the biggest thing I’ve talked to the players about is the naivety we show in possession of the ball, compared to the cuteness they showed when they had the ball,”
“Possession-wise, they kept the ball better than us, the problem we had was giving the ball away cheaply and we didn’t keep it for long enough periods. The goal is a prime example of that. There was nothing in the game before the goal,which comes just before half time, and the goal was typical of the sort that the team who is bottom of the league concede.”
“I’m trying to be on the players’ side, but I also have to be harsh and point out that we are losing football matches and are bottom of the league for a reason. The quality of Portsmouth told, just keeping possession of the ball when we were naively giving it away cheaply.”
“I think we matched them in a lot of the game, neither goalkeeper had too much to do and defensively, the shape of the side, that was ok. We worked hard to keep that shape, but we kept on having to defend as we didn’t keep possession for long enough periods. The frustration is that when we did get into little areas between the midfield and the back four, we kept making bad decisions and taking too many touches.”
“We are where we are and it’s important I believe in the players. I don’t want them thinking about losing, having that mentality, this is the group of players we’ve got and we’ve got to get the best out of them.”
He continued on this theme after Tuesday’s Wycombe victory, "We're slowly improving which I'm pleased about, there's a good work ethic about us. We've got to maintain it and the lads are getting used to me, so hopefully everything will go smoothly from now on."
"I've got to keep on top of the players, we're still bottom of the league so I won't get carried away. I want to see us go on a run of six or seven games, that's our aim, and first and foremost stay in this division.”
Talking about this weekend’s game he went on to say, “I’m just looking at it as another game but obviously we’ll take a few fans there and it is a local derby, which always gives it that little bit of extra spice. Hopefully for the bragging rights for the supporters we can get the win. But I’ve just got to try to keep the players focused.”
“We’re going into the game on the back of a really good performance and it’s about carrying that into the game. It being a derby doesn’t make any difference to me. We’ve just got to perform like we did on Tuesday and we’ll have a chance of getting something.
“Usually when I’ve been involved in derby games they’re tight affairs and not always great spectacles. I think it’s about getting the result. It’s the points we’re after but it helps if you can beat one of your local rivals and it’s always good for the supporters.”
“They’re a good team and they’ve had some good results. I watched them the other week and they played very well on the night and deserved to beat Wycombe. Results haven’t gone their way but they’ve got some good players there and they’re still on a high from promotion. They’ve come into this division and they’re competing very well. They’re a strong outfit but where we are we’ve just got to go and try to win every game.”