By Gerry PrewettFor the second week in a row Bristol Rovers take on the team in second place in the table. After last week-end’s battling draw against Plymouth, Rovers face an in-form Portsmouth team.
Pompey will equal their best league start of the last 15 years if they avoid defeat. The last time they achieved such a great opening sequence to the season it was back in the First Division promotion season of 2002-03. Harry Redknapp’s team went nine league matches before tasting defeat.
In 2002, the Hampshire team won eight and draw one of their opening nine league games. Former Gas player Alan Ball managed Pompey in the 1984-85 when they negotiated their first 10 league matches without defeat, the following season were unbeaten after eight. The following season, which saw them achieve top flight status, they began with nine games undefeated on their way to taking second spot.
On Saturday Pompey dominated the early exchanges in their game at Oxford, but as the game approached half-time the home team started to take control. On 33 minutes Liam Sercombe pounced after the away team failed to clear a corner and he sent in an 18-yard drive that bounced up past several covering defenders and into the net.
As the home team applied more pressure, Paul Jones turned Danny Hylton's rising shot over the bar with an outstretched hand and Kemar Roofe fired just wide from Callum O'Dowda's cut-back.
Roofe, who scored that stunner in the recent televised game at the Mem, should have made it two in first-half stoppage time when he went through on goal after a defensive mistake, but Jones showed great reactions to divert his shot for a corner.
Fifteen minutes into the second-half, Pompey’s Adam McGurk picked up the ball 30 yards out and smashed the ball past United keeper Sam Slocombe diving to his left. Portsmouth skipper Michael Doyle sent off on 81 minutes for a second yellow card.
Speaking after the game Boss Paul Cook said, “There were spells where we were really poor, where we lost our way. I thought we showed a lot more maturity in how we wanted to play in the second half. There was a spell in the second half where we took total control of the game - unfortunately we couldn't go on and see it out."
Looking at the history of games between the clubs, in total there have been 30, with Pompey dominating, with 15 victories to Rovers 9. At home in 15 matches Rovers have 7 victories to Portsmouth’s 5. The first time the teams met was on 12 February 1921 when Portsmouth won their home game 1-0, one week later the teams fought out a 2-2 draw at Eastville.
A most remarkable game took place on 6 February 1960 at Fratton Park in a Second Division game. Two goals by Ron Saunders and others by Harry Harris and Reg Cutler gave the home team 4 goals. However doubles by Peter Hooper and Dai Ward along with an own goal by Ron Howells led to a 5-4 away win.
On 13 November 1982 five Rovers’ players, David Williams, Ian Holloway, Tim Parkin, Aiden McCafferey and Archie Stephens were all on the score sheet in response to a Bill Rafferty goal for Pompey, to give Rovers a 5-1 win at Eastville.
This week the South Coast team has managed to tie down highly rated 18 year-old Conor Chaplin has been attracting interest from rival clubs, including Liverpool, after scoring four goals in nine appearances.
They have also secured the services of Wolves keeper Aaron McCarey on an emergency one month loan deal. The 23-year-old was signed after both both Paul Jones and Brian Murphy suffered injuries.
Meanwhile Adam Barton is hoping that he may make the starting line-up for Saturday’s game. The 24-year-old has endured a frustrating period at the Blues since his summer arrival from Coventry City.
On Saturday he came on at half-time much to his surprise, “I didn’t expect to come on at half-time! I’m glad I’ve got another 45 minutes under my belt, though. I’m not fully fit. Match fitness is a massive thing in football. You can’t get it on the training pitch, so I have been doing my own stuff with the fitness coach. Now hopefully I can get more minutes.”
After Michael Doyle’s sending off against Oxford it seems that it may have created an opening for Barton. Talking about his own performance Barton said, “I admit I was sloppy at times. After being out so long you cannot go straight in and do everything right but I thought I had enough touches to try to influence the game.”
“I am exactly what the gaffer wants in a holding midfielder, somebody who likes to collect the ball from defence and play. That is pretty much what I like to do. I’ve got a laid-back personality, for me it feels like I am going 100mph, for everyone else it looks like I’m going about 1mph!”