Bristol Rovers are looking for a break from their current turbulent form in Division One as they entertain Vanarama high fliers Barrow in a Second Round FA Cup tie at the Mem this weekend. Much like the Chesham game last season, many pundits see this as a potential banana skin for the Gas.
The Bluebirds go into the tie in the best run of form in the club's one hundred and fifteen-year history. They are currently third in the Conference and last weekend extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 21 games.
On Saturday they continued their remarkable form with a 4-1 trouncing of Dagenham and Redbridge in Essex. Within two minutes of the start, Byron Harrison and Richie Bennett went close to an opener, but their close-range efforts were blocked by Daggers defender Magnus Okuonghae, making his first appearance. Six minutes later, Harrison won a foul from Okuonghae 20 yards out, but the free-kick from Jordan Williams was straight at Elliot Justham in the Daggers goal.
In the 42nd minute, Barrow took the lead through Liam Hughes, though it took a while for the goal to be awarded. Hughes nodded a Williams corner at goal and it appeared to have been headed off the line by Jordan Maguire-Drew, before referee Robert Whitton signalled a goal following a signal from the linesman.
On the stroke of half-time, Harrison doubled the lead for Barrow when rounding off a swift counter. After a loose pass from the hosts, Bennett broke at pace before slipping the ball into the path of Harrison to tap home as Barrow led by two at half-time.
Barrow appeared to have wrapped the game up in the 63rd minute when Bennett found the net in spectacular fashion. The Bluebirds forward fired a venomous half-volley at goal from just inside the box, which dipped over a despairing Justham.
The Daggers hit back less than a minute later when Whitely netted after good work from Guttridge. Barrow restored their three-goal lead in the 76th minute when Harrison scored a penalty after Moussa Diarra had been pushed by Okuonghae in the box.
Looking back at previous meetings between the Gas and the Cumbrians there are just six League meetings and a fairly recent FA Cup tie. The first game took place on 2 October 1967 in a Third Division game and newly promoted Barrow won the Monday night fixture, 1-0 at Holker Street in front of a 6,380 crowd. Dave Storf scored for the Cumbrians. In the Barrow team was an FA Cup Final Captain, Colin Appleton, who had lead Leicester City when they went down 3-1 to Manchester United in the Final. Appleton also managed the team for two years. Also featuring was ex-Newcastle United star Ron McGarry who scored 41 goals for the Magpies in 121 appearances.
Rovers gained almost instant revenge just over three weeks later with a 1-0 mid week victory at Eastville. Ray Graydon scoring for Rovers to entertain the 7,802 fans.
The following season Rovers won 4-2 at Eastville on the 4 November. Bobby Jones scored two goals, one from the spot, Harold Jarman scored another and Kenny Ronaldson became Rovers first scoring substitute. Jim Mulvaney and Roy McCarthy scoring for Barrow. There were just 4,937 at Eastville for the game. On 21 April Tony Morrin (2) and George McLean scored to give the home team a 3-0 in Cumbria the largest margin between the teams. McLean, a former Ranger striker was very experienced at this level, having plied his trade at Grimsby, Exeter and Workington before his single season at Barrow.
In 1969-70 season Rovers gained a 1-1 draw at Holker Street with goals by substitute Jim Mulvaney and Bobby Jones for Rovers. The game at Eastville on 14 March 1970, attracted the largest crowd ever for this fixture, by some margin, 11,229 and was won 2-1 by the Gas. Carl Gilbert and Alex Munro scored for Rovers and Mulvaney for the Bluebirds. By Now Appleton had moved on to Scarborough and ex-Blackburn and Preston keeper Fred Else briefly took over as Caretaker Manager. Rovers won just one of their final six games of the season and finished 3rd.
It was a season, which saw Barrow return to the basement Division, within three years they were out of the League. At the end of the 1971-72 season, Barrow was voted out of the Football League, having finished 24th and 22nd in their two seasons back in the basement division, being replaced by Hereford United and joined the Northern Premier League.With both Workington and Barrow dropping off the League list Carlisle remained a lonely outpost for many clubs.
The last times the clubs crossed paths was 0n 11 November 2006 in an FA Cup tie at Holker Street. Richard Walker put Rovers ahead on 35 minutes, lofting the ball over Barrow keeper Jaime Speare and sent Rovers in at half-time with the lead. Craig Disley extended the lead from close range just after the hour mark.
Byron Anthony looked to have made the game safe when he headed in Sammy Igoe's corner just five minutes later.
A Tom Pope header only two minutes after Anthony’s goal and a scrambled effort from Nick Rogan on 77 minutes left for an uncomfortable finish for Rovers.
However, it was Rovers Sean Rigg who was most uncomfortable. Just before Walker’s goal Barrow defender James Cotterill punched Rigg from behind in an off-the –ball incident. The punch broke Rigg’s jaw and the widespread TV coverage resulted in Cotterill making an appearance at Preston Crown Court where he pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm. Cotterill is thought to be the first player in recent history in England to be jailed for an offence on the pitch.
Looking forward to the possibility of reaching the Third Round, Bluebirds boss Paul Cox expressed his thoughts, "I think the one thing the FA Cup does is it gives you something to look forward to. It is a case of ifs, buts and maybes. We are focused on this tie but part of being a professional football is knowing that if we were to get over this tie the dream of walking out at Old Trafford or Anfield is there.”
"I won't dampen anyone who has dreams or aspirations of doing that, I want them to dream about it. Initially, we have to focus on the Bristol Rovers game, it is a massive game and a big test for us. The majority of people in football will think Bristol Rovers will beat us and rightly so. But this is the FA Cup and you just never know, the beauty of the FA Cup is that you never know what is next"
"There is history there with Darrell Clarke and I go back a long way with him. My Mansfield side relegated them into the Conference a few years ago and I felt for him but what a journey they have been on and what a job he has done.
"They are potentially a massive football club. Getting promoted is tough, getting back-to-back promotions is an amazing feat. He deserves all of the accolades that come his way and he has done a fantastic job there. He is a talented young English coach and it is great to see him doing so well"
"I would like think that these kind of games are the sort you can play with a bit of freedom. We can go down to Bristol Rovers and enjoy it, that's not saying all of sudden we have a defeatist attitude. We will prepare well, we are on a great run of form and the boys will go into it very confidently.”
"But we have been in a position playing a team from leagues below you and the pressure is all on you. The bigger club, the club that is expected to win, the pressure is on them but we will look to progress and enjoy the ride"
"You can sense the excitement amongst the supporters. A number of them will be travelling down there with us and they will embrace it. We have come so far in a year, it's hard to articulate just how far we have come. And sometimes a lot of people are pinching themselves with the run of form we are on, with the consistency we are producing.”
"We are still in the FA Trophy, we are still in the local cups, we are going well in the league and if we were to still be in the FA Cup in January, that would be excellent. It's not been a really good competition for the club in the last couple of years but we want to put some smiles on faces, to give the town that little bit of kudos and that ability to enjoy it. We are enjoying the ride at the moment but we have to be greedy for more".