By Gerry PrewettWith two games of a massively successful return to League Football after a one season long sojourn, Bristol Rovers take to the road for one last time for the trek north top face already relegated York City.
Although they are one point away from an automatic promotion spot it is unlikely that both Accrington and Oxford will win both their remaining games. If Rovers win both their games they will be able to take advantage of any slip.
The mood in the Minstermen’s camp is understandably downbeat and Boss Jackie McNamara is predicting a bleak future for players who don’t make his end-of-season retained list. There are 13 players out of contract this summer; Josh Carson, Danny Galbraith, Taron Hare, Femi Ilesanmi, Michael Ingham, Kenny McEvoy, Russell Penn, Derek Riordan, Callum Rzonca, Emile Sinclair, Luke Summerfield, George Swan and Dave Winfield.
McNamara is currently considering which, if any, he might offer new terms at Bootham Crescent and cited the examples of unattached trio Eddie Nolan, Marvin McCoy and Anthony Straker as an example of what can happen to players who have been released by a struggling club. Issuing a warning for imminent departures from the club, McNamara said: “Anthony Straker has just been released by Grimsby and Eddie Nolan and Marvin McCoy still haven’t found a club.
“There are others at the bottom end of the Conference and there’s a reason for that. We will have to see where some of the other players end up as well. I will be having a meeting with the chairman to discuss recruitment and the budget and things will be a lot clearer in terms of what we’ve got to offer after that. But we’ll be looking at all the different leagues to see what’s out there and we have already been inundated by a good influx of players who could come in.”
City’s League position was forfeited on Saturday at Accrington, a Tariqe Fosu goal followed by Josh Windass’ second-half brace sealed City’s fate in a one-sided contest that saw the visitors take 80 minutes to have their first shot at the Accrington goal.
Stanley made their pressure count on 35 minutes following a Flinders error. The City keeper allowed the ball to slip out of his grasp after Windass had pulled a low cross back from the right byline. Fosu went on to keep his composure to find the net from eight yards.
John Coleman’s team belatedly doubled their advantage on 69 minutes with Windass’ 15th goal of the season. After City had only cleared a Buxton corner to the edge of the box, the former Harrogate Railway striker fired a firm low volley past Flinders to net in a fourth successive fixture against the Minstermen.
Another Windass attempt from distance was gathered by Flinders moments later while City managed their first shot of the match on 80 minutes when Bradley Fewster cleared the crossbar on the turn from eight yards after home keeper Ross Etheridge had failed to hold on to Lewis Alessandra’s low cross from the right.
Instead, Stanley added a third in the second minute of stoppage time when, after Mingoia had made inroads down City’s left again, Windass beat Flinders with a low ten-yard shot following a deflection off Luke Hendrie.
Prior to the 0-0 home draw in January the last time Rovers and York clashed was back in 2013/14 and they played one another four times as they drew one another in the FA Cup. The first game was a 3-2 home League win for Rovers on 24th August. David Clarkson scored twice to give Rovers a two goal lead, before York pulled it back to two apiece with goals by Ryan Jarvis either side of the break.
John-Joe O’Toole then scored the winning goal just after York had equalized to give Rovers their first three-point haul of the season. City were reduced to ten men during the first half, after substitute Ryan Bowman was given a straight red for lashing out at captain Tom Parkes.
The teams met for the second time in an FA Cup tie at the Mem, the game sprung to life after 30 minutes, and three goals in six minutes saw York go in at the break 2-1. Ryan Jarvis gave York the lead on 35 minutes. Two minutes later Eliot Richards made it all square only for Josh Carson to put the Yorkshire team back in front on 42 minutes.
John Ward then made a game changing substitution bringing on Matt Harrold early in the second half, and the striker levelled the score with his first touch of the ball on 59 minutes.
Rovers then went ahead for the first time, with Chris Beardsley scoring on his home debut with 15 minutes left on the clock, but with five minutes to go Wes Fletcher equalised to take the game to replay.
In the game at Bootham Crescent goals from John-Joe O’Toole(16 minutes), Ollie Norburn (45 minutes) and Chris Beardsley (50 minutes) gave Rovers a commanding lead. But it was that man
Wes Fletcher who once again proved to be a thorn in Rovers’ side with goals in the 70th and 71st minute to give his team a glimmer of hope, but Rovers held out for a 3-2 win.
The final game between the teams that season and the last time the teams met was just two months after that epic Cup clash and was something of an anti-climax as both teams cancelled one another out on a 0-0 draw, where Steve Mildenhall excelled himself between the sticks.
The history of games between Rovers and York the record is remarkably even, with plenty of away wins; so home advantage is not all it usually is. Meetings didn’t start until 1965-66 season, as York were either in Division 3 North or the 4th Division up until then apart from 1959-60 season when they had one year in Division 3 (and Rovers were still in Division 2).
That first meeting between the clubs was worth the wait; it was a real stunner. After 15 minutes of the Bootham Crescent game on 10th September 1965 York keeper Tommy Forgan suffered a broken finger and had to leave the field. Right back Alan Baker took over goal keeping duties and he performed brilliantly at times.
Once Alfie Biggs had opened his season’s account in the 35th minute there was only going to be one winner. Terry Oldfield and Harold Jarman added goals that would have beaten any keeper. York fought hard and in-form centre forward Paul Aimson pulled one back but two goals in two minutes by Alex Munro and Harold Jarman gave Rovers a 5-1 victory.
The return game at Eastville on 26th February was tremendously disappointing for Rovers. In a real mud bath Tommy Forgan stopped good efforts by Alfie Biggs and John Brown. Andy Provan for York could have secured a hat trick with better finishing, but the game ended 0-0. York went straight down that season finishing bottom by five points and conceding 106 goals.
It wasn’t until 1971-72 that the teams met again. After a dull 0-0 result at York, the Eastville game on 16th October was a nail biter. A Harold Jarman hat trick and a Kenny Stephens double saw Rovers come in with a 5-4 win. Paul Aimson, Kevin McMahon and two John Mackin penalties were the York scorers. That result is by far the highest score in these matches.
On 12 March 1986, goals by Tony Canham (2), Keith Walwyn and Marco Gabbiadini ensured that Rovers went down to a 4-0 defeat at Bootham Crescent. Just over two years later on 15 April 1988 Rovers turned the tables as a David Mehew hat-trick and a strike by Devon White secured a 4-0 victory for the Gas.
Rovers’ complete record at York reads Played 22, Won 7, Drawn 6, and Lost 9.
Meanwhile City skipper Russell Penn has suggested relegation from the Football League could be a "good thing" for the club. The 30-year-old midfielder has cited the examples of his old club – recently-crowned National League champions Cheltenham – as cause for optimism, along with the Gas.
Both clubs bounced back at the first attempt after losing their League status and, despite chairman Jason McGill's declaration that an extra £500,000 will be needed if the team are to be competitive next term, Penn said: "I wouldn't have dreamt this could happen two years ago when we were in the League Two play-offs. Well, if I had, it would have been a nightmare. But it has happened and it's happened to plenty of other clubs.”
"We've got to make sure it doesn't again and, whilst I know it's an easy thing to say, this could be a good thing for the club. I understand fans' frustrations have built up over the season but, whoever is here next season, we will have to dust ourselves down and go again, because the club's not done. To the die-hards, it feels like the end of the world and York are down and never coming back but, as we have seen from the last two seasons with other teams, that doesn't have to be the case. You have just got to recruit properly and sort things out behind the scenes.”
Talking about Saturday, Penn added, "It was a low and disappointing, but inevitable anyway and never just about that game. It's not as if it was the last game of the season and in our own hands. It's been out of our hands for a long time. We've been pretty much in the bottom two since losing to Yeovil in January and have just drifted away.
"The win over Portsmouth, the game before, was frustrating more than anything because, if we had produced more performances like that, we would have been nowhere near the bottom of the league, but the game against Accrington showed why we are where we are. We didn't work hard enough and that was probably more the case than in any other game against a well-drilled team. The gaffer knows that and he will sort it out."