By Gerry PrewettHaving now lost two of their first three League games this season Darrell Clarke takes his Bristol Rovers team to Southend United looking to make up some early ground.
Phil Brown’s Southend United are also on three points after an exciting 3-0 victory over Sheffield united at Bramwell Lane.
The Shrimpers lost their first two games by two goals, 3-1 at home to Thames rivals Gillingham and 2-0 at Port Vale, but then came that stunner in Yorkshire.
Brown said the victory was one of the highlights of his management of the Essex team, “This is definitely up there with any victory I’ve had as manager of the football club,” said Brown.
“With the pressure that was on us coming into the game it’s a huge victory and hopefully we’ve alleviated that pressure now. I want us to go into Saturday’s game against Bristol Rovers with renewed confidence.”
“We have seen glimpses of this kind of display in our first three games but we carried it out for much longer here. This was about finishing a team off when you’re on the front foot and that's exactly what we did.
"There’s pressure playing for Southend but the pressure playing at home for Sheffield United is immense. They were under more pressure than us. We emphasised that to the players and think that came through during the game."
Southend took a sixth-minute lead when Jack O'Connell sliced Luke O'Neill's cross over George Long and into his own net.
The United goalkeeper was involved in the mix-up with full-back Chris Hussey which allowed Stephen McLaughlin to slide home into a gaping goal eight minutes later. To round off a horror 10 minutes an O'Connell error as he failed to clear a Nile Ranger cross gifted Simon Cox the Blues third.
In previous meetings the Essex team have the distinct advantage, having won 46 of those games to Rovers’ 38 victories. 28 of those Rovers’ wins have been in the West Country, so just 8 wins for Rovers at the seaside town. Latterly games between the teams have tended to be close and low scoring.
Looking at those previous meetings, back in 1964-65 season Rovers were looking a strong prospect for promotion. During that spell they had a visit to Southend on 24th October.
Rovers Manager Bert Tann described the match as a nightmare. Ian Hamilton gave Rovers a 3rd minute lead but then it was all downhill, McKinven (2), Smillie and Smith all scored before half-time to give the Blues a 4-1 lead. Hamilton scored two more in the second half, but McKinven and Smith also scored to give a 6-3 final result. Rovers recovered from that to win 3 and draw 2 of their next 5 games.
By the end of April Rovers had dropped away from the leading pack. The day after a dull 1-1 home draw with Exeter they needed to beat Southend in their final home game of the season to give themselves a realistic chance of going up.
It was that man McKinven who gave Southend the lead early in the second half, but then in the last 10 minutes the game exploded into life, Harold Jarman and Alfie Biggs gave Rovers a 2-1 lead with just 2 minutes left, but Watson equalised a minute later.
It was the following season when Southend suffered their first ever relegation and Rovers gained their revenge on 5th March 1966 for a 2-0 defeat inflicted at Roots Hall less than a month before. Harold Jarman, Dave Stone and Johnny Brown hit the net for Rovers with John McKinven once again proving the scourge of the Rovers defence. The score would have been closer had Slack not missed a penalty in the 88th minute.
Perhaps the most memorable game between the two clubs as far as Rovers fans are concerned was on 19th April 1974, a 0-0 draw at Roots Hall. Whilst the match itself was not especially exciting the one point was enough to secure promotion to Division 2. Rovers last win at Roots Hall was on New Years Day 2008 when they recorded a 1-0 victory with an Andy Williams goal.
Talking about the game this weekend, Phil Brown noted that Darrell Clarke has a very fluid approach to games, “I think Darrell is not set on one system and not set on one team, he varies it.
He’s very open and expansive and wants to play that way, but could be playing any system and any personnel so what I learnt watching them last night is that I’ve got to be prepared for anything and our players have got to be prepared for anything.”
“Bottom line is that we’ll want to produce what we did on Tuesday against Bristol Rovers at home. That is a key factor, that support at home. A lot of managers say it’s hard to win your home games but if Roots Hall is rocking then it’s not difficult at all. That’s what we need, we need that support to get behind the team and if there is any flack to be flying around give it to me.”
Nile Ranger will be missing from the Shrimpers line-up after the striker injured his ankle at Bramall Lane. Scans revealed the extent of the damage sustained, Ranger is looking at 4-6 weeks out of action. “Unfortunately he (Ranger) went over on his ankle. The massive positive, and it has to be said that it is a positive, is that there is no breakage in the bone after we had to x-ray it yesterday.”
“He’ll have another one today and he’ll also have an MRI scan and a more in-depth scan to see what the damage of the ankle ligament is. At the moment it’s looking like it’s going to be a grade two rather than a grade one ankle strain and that could be four to six weeks, which is bad news.
“We’re not a one-man band by any stretch of the imagination but it’s the effect of big players and the effect they have on your team and the opposition. Sometimes when these guys are on, they’re sometimes unplayable so the guy that steps into his shoes has got to step up to the plate, it’s as simple as that.”