By Nathan BeesThe atmosphere in the bar after the game on Sunday was one of deflation, fuelled by a sense of injustice.
We lost a game we deserved so much more from because of poor refereeing decisions and an absolute wonder goal from Oxford United’s Kemar Roofe. It didn’t feel fair, as we were on the receiving end of further bad calls at Leyton Orient the previous weekend.
Despite having Ollie Clarke harshly dismissed for an elbow early in the first half, we went on to play some good football and didn’t let our one man disadvantage affect us at all. At the start of the second half we were given a bigger boost as Liam Sercombe was given his marching orders for two bookable offences, but it surprisingly initiated the start of a wobbly period.
And it proved costly. The highly rated Roofe latched on to a headed knockdown and caressed a wonderful effort from 20 yards in off the underside of the crossbar, despite the best efforts of goalkeeper Aaron Chapman. It came from nowhere as it was near enough Oxford’s only shot on target, but it was a strike that no goalkeeper was going to stop and it handed our visitors victory. I can’t have been the only one who felt absolutely gutted when it crashed into the net.
We could - and should - have done better with a couple of efforts, although we were denied a stonewall penalty in stoppage time that would surely have brought about a deserved equaliser. I can’t understand how referee James Linington didn’t think it was a foul, but unfortunately his decision was perfectly in keeping with the rest of his afternoon. I haven’t seen a refereeing performance like it - and that’s saying something considering the standard of officiating in the Conference last year!
I don’t like blaming other people when we lose, but I do feel as though he cost us at least a point. We had a man wrongly dismissed (which the FA obviously agree with as Clarke’s red card has been rescinded) and anybody watching the game could see Billy Bodin was tripped inside the penalty area at the death. Yes, we should have taken one of the chances we created and not left ourselves in a position where we needed the ref to do his job in order to rescue a point, but referees have to be getting the big decisions right.
That’s football, though. Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve, no matter whose fault it is.
Decisions do tend to even themselves out over the course of the season, so we have to believe justice will be done at some point. We can’t afford to dwell on the bad luck for too long, we just have to concentrate on the things within our control, such as rediscovering our finishing touch in front of goal.
The thing that struck me on Sunday was that the chances we did create fell to everyone but our strikers. Jermaine Easter was having to come really deep to get a touch, often playing with his back to goal, while Matty Taylor was regularly snuffed out by the 10 men Oxford always had behind the ball. It meant our best opportunities materialised from set-pieces, and unfortunately they fell the way of defender Tom Parkes, who couldn’t direct either of his close-range headers beyond Sam Slocombe.
The fact Oxford defended in numbers did contribute to the fact our strikers didn’t get many clear sights of goal, although it would be naive of us to think we couldn’t have done more ourselves. Our final ball was maybe not as incisive as it could have been and thus our strikers were starved of proper service. In terms of our all-round performance we have looked really positive, it is just doing that bit more to turn our possession and territory in to the one thing that really matters - goals.
At the other end of the pitch, Chesterfield loanee Aaron Chapman is departing after a brief, but what I thought decent, one-month loan spell. I am slightly shocked he is leaving as I expected Rovers to sort an extension, but I am very excited to see that he is being replaced by Lee Nicholls, who has joined on a 93 day loan from Wigan Athletic.
As I am sure all of you have seen in your Google searches since the deal was announced earlier, the 22 year old shot-stopper is very highly rated and enjoyed a very impressive stint in League Two with Northampton Town a few seasons ago. From what I have seen on Twitter Cobblers fans are very surprised we have managed to get him on board, so I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing him in action.
I am not sure what the chances are of the deal becoming permanent or if the loan can be revisited in January, but I would like to think this move is made with the future in mind. It is not good to have uncertainty in the goalkeeping position, so I would imagine Darrell Clarke has gone about this business with a long-term ambition of securing some stability in that area.
Welcome to Bristol Rovers, Lee! I hope you enjoy your stay and play a big part in helping us cement a place in the upper echelons of the division.
We face Accrington Stanley tomorrow - one of Lee’s former loan clubs - and it is a great opportunity for us to get back on track. Confidence is a big thing and if we can get back to winning ways on our own patch, we are set up nicely for the three remaining games we have in September.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!