By Gerry PrewettThis evening Bristol Rovers look to build on their winning home start to the season when they entertain a Bolton Wanderers side for the first time in 26 years.
A lot has happened to both teams in those intervening years. Bolton have scaled the heights and Rovers plumbed the depths.
Bolton’s fall from grace has been quite dramatic. As recently as ten years ago they were playing European football and constantly finished in the top 10 of the Premiership.
At the end of 2011/12 they lost their Premiership place and subsequently have run the financial gauntlet as they have struggled to survive.
The Greater Manchester team have settled quickly to life in the lower division under the experienced hand of former Bradford City Boss Phil Parkinson, having won both their league games so far. They did suffer something of a shock as they went down 4-2 to Blackpool at Bloomfield Road in the EFL Cup.
Having opened their campaign with a hard fought, but impressive, 1-0 defeat of Sheffield United, the Trotters travelled to Play-Off winners AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.
Wimbledon’s early pressure saw them take the lead on 15 minutes. Andy Barcham curled home from just inside the area, after Jake Reeves’ attempted through ball had deflected through a ruck of players and into his path.
The goal goaded the away team into a response and it was the 33rd minute when
Mark Davies passed straight to Gary Madine, who dummied his marker and stroked the ball under under the body of the keeper.
It was 25 minutes into the second-half when the Wanderers secured what turned out to be the winning goal. Jamie Proctor pulled a hard ball across the face of the goal from out wide and Liam Trotter was at the back post to bundle the ball over the line.
So what of Rovers games against their illustrious opposition?
The very first time the teams crossed paths was on 4 February 1905 in a First Round FA Cup tie. Rovers travelled to play Second Division Bolton on their home soil and the game finished 1-1, Hugh Dunn scoring for Rovers and Sam Marsh for the Trotters. Bert Shepherd, David Stokes and an own goal by Dick Purdan gave the away team a 3-0 victory at Eastville.
The next time the teams met, I was there!
From a personal perspective my one visit to Burnden Park was truly memorable. A young Rovers team managed by Fred Ford did not set Division Three alight but a stirring FA Cup run did.
A 3-1 home win over Peterborough was followed by a scoreless draw at Bournemouth’s Dean Park. Rovers won the replay 1-0 and then faced Southern League Kettering in the 3rd Round, not the glamour tie they would have wanted but an easy match to get into the next round.
The 12,230 crowd heaved a collective sigh of relief as Ray Graydon scored Rovers equaliser in a 1-1 draw. In the replay Rovers once again went behind, Laurie Taylor saved a penalty, Stuart Taylor equalised and Kettering Boss Steve Gammon put through his own net to give Rovers a 2-1 away win.
So it was that on 25 January 1969, 16 year-old Gerry Prewett joined the masses on a specially chartered Rovers Fan Club train to Bolton. The atmosphere in the Lancashire ground was electric and Gareth Williams gave the home team the lead.
When Lindsay Parsons went off injured there was massive apprehension amongst the travelling fans as speedy winger Bobby Jones dropped into the right back spot and young Welshman Wayne Jones came on to replace him in the forward line.
Jones made his mark and scored the two goals to take the Gas into the next round and the glamour tie they sought with a game at Goodison Park.
As we made our way back to Bolton station, the evening sports paper, The Pink Un was headlined, “Super Sub scores doubles in Rovers Wyn”. Unfortunately for the headline writer Rovers Jones was names Wayne not Wyn. Bolton had sold their star striker Wyn “The Leap” Davies to Newcastle.
On 30 August 1986 Bristol Rovers opened their Division 3 home campaign with a 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers. Trevor Morgan scored the first League goal at the ground in front of a 4,092 crowd with a shot to the right-hand side of the keeper from the penalty spot after he had been fouled by the Trotter’s Mark Came.
What made the result commendable for the Gas was that Nicky Tanner earned himself a red card after cynically taking out a Bolton player by stepping straight into him as he burst through the home team’s backline.
This was Rovers first home League game played outside of Bristol. It marked the start of Rovers 10 year stay at Bath City’s Twerton Park or Azteca Twerton as Boss Bobby Gould so self-effacingly nicknamed it.
The last time the teams met was at Twerton on 28 January 1990 when Andy Reece scored for Rovers and Tony Philliskirk scored for Bolton.
Games between the teams are almost invariably tight.
Rovers have never scored more than two goals against the Lancashire team. Wanderers have twice scroed 3 times and on 18 January 1975, gained revenge for an earlier 1-0 defeat at Eastville when they ran out 5-1 winners, Stuart Lee (2), John Byrom (2) and Hugh Curren scoring for the home team and Bruce Bannister notching Rovers consolation.
The overall record between the clubs runs to 10 Rovers wins, 8 draws and 11 to Bolton.
On Saturday both Max Clayton and Zach Clough returned from injury to appear on the bench for the Trotters. Clough came on for the final thirty minutes for his first appearance of the season.
There is also anticipated transfer activity in Greater Manchester as Wigan Athletic are trying to entice Josh Vela to join them. Two bids have been turned down from the Championship team and it has been suggested that ex-Bolton striker Craig Davies has been offered as a makeweight in a £250,000 deal.
Vela is out of contract next summer came close to joining Cardiff in January as the Lancashire team were in deep financial strife. The 22-year-old has settled in Phil Parkinson’s midfield having played most of last season out of position at right-back.
Parkinson wants to improve his team and said about the winning start to the season, “We’re not going to get carried away, me and the chairman know we have got to improve the squad further. We are realistic. Hopefully within the next week or so we can strengthen further and make ourselves as competitive as possible.”
Talking about Rovers Parkinson noted, “We can show them videos, give them details and tell them what to expect but sometimes you can get caught out and something that happens on the day can catch you on the back foot, that is when it comes down to the players. It’s another tight and compact stadium. We’ll look at what we did well at Wimbledon, what we can improve on, and make sure we’re as prepared as we possibly can be.”