By Gerry Prewett
Two badly out of forms teams clash at the Mem on Boxing Day as Bristol Rovers entertain Coventry City.
The Sky Blues will by buoyed in some way by the appointment of their new Manager Russell Slade and the Rovers players will be their own admission trying to make amends for a severely sub-standard performance at Shrewsbury.
The Shrews result drew a chorus of boos from the travelling GasHeads and a stinging rebuke from a visibly angry Darrell Clarke. Not one to criticise his players in public the Rovers Manager has seen too many occasions in recent weeks where players have failed to lift their game to his exacting standards.
Slade meanwhile has yet to reveal his hand at his first City line-up, he is known to favour a flat back four and either one or two players ‘up front’. City have only recorded one league win away from home this season, against Port Vale at the start of October. Since that, they’ve only claimed one point from their travels and are currently on a dreadful run of form having lost six league games on the bounce.
The Sky Blues, like a number of other foreign-owned clubs have struggled to get to grips with their new owners, Sisu who, for example, discussed the idea of being the first club in England to introduce a “text-a-substitute” option during matches. Supporters would be given a number they could text, at premium rates, to say who the manager should take off and who should come on. An announcement would be made at the appropriate time about the most popular vote and the manager, would be under instructions to comply with the crowd’s wishes.
One of the new Board Members, Leonard Brody, a Canadian entrepreneur and social media guru, announced he had a master plan to stop the club haemorrhaging so much money. One idea was to make a Sky Blue Rolls-Royce available for wedding hire. Then, at the end of the meeting, someone asked if there was any other business Sisu’s representative, Onye Igwe, said: ‘Yes, I want to raise the subject of our mascot. I think Sky Blue Sam is too fat and it’s not setting a good example for children.’ That’s when former Chairman Ray Ranson said, ‘Onye, it’s a ****ing elephant.’
Last weekend as Rovers were losing at Shrewsbury there was drama at Coventry after 22 minutes the referee called a drop-ball stoppage while half-a-dozen sky blue balloons were stomped into submission. Within a minute Sheffield United Blades had the lead as Daniel Lafferty lifted in a left-wing cross, Matt Done held off Jordan Turnbull to touch it back to Billy Sharp who side-footed into the bottom corner for his 13th goal of the season.
Six minutes into the second-half the Midland team drew level as Daniel Agyei’s left-foot shot from outside the box hit United’s Paul Coutts’s and over Simon Moore in between the sticks for United.
The match was still in the balance when it was halted five minutes from time as a group of fans made their way to the deserted north stand before spilling on to the pitch to stage a protest in front of the directors’ box. The teams were led off causing a six- minute delay and it was City who were caught cold as a right-wing cross found Sharp and although his first attempt was blocked by keeper Reice Charles-Cook he had the easiest of tasks to turn home the loose ball.
Interim Manager, Mark Venus said after the game, “We played a good footballing team with a bit of experience and know-how and I thought we matched them. We worked really hard, gave it our best and the longer the game went on I felt the more threat we had. But to give a late goal away is where we are at the moment, everything seems to be going against us.”
“The bottom line is that over the 90 minutes we worked hard but we didn’t get anything from the game. I’m disappointed that they didn’t get what their efforts deserved. The boys have got to pick themselves up and work even harder for the cause.”
“The first thing is to try to find a manager. We need someone to take the team forward and we need to work hard to get that person in before January. We have to get better in both boxes and at the moment we can’t manage that – basically that’s out Achilles heel and it’s why we are where we are in the league.”
“If we can learn to be more streetwise in both boxes and maybe get in the players who can help us do that I’m sure we can pick up some points in the league. It’s not all doom and gloom.”
It’s an indication of the respective recent histories of the two clubs that it is over 52 years since they last clashed in a competitive match and if statistics that old mean anything at all, the teams are well matched, in 39 games, there have been 15 victories to each team and 9 draws.
The very first game took pace at Eastville on 10 October 1908 and Coventry went away with a 3-1 Southern League win, the return game on 13 February 1909 ended up 2-2. Most of the Southern League fixtures were close results with the exception of a 4-0 home win for the Midlanders on 4 March 1911.
The first League meeting took place on 18 December 1926 as Rovers went down 2-1 at Eastville, Bill Culley scoring for Rovers and a Jimmy Heathcote double for the away team. Once again the return fixture ended up 2-2, Fred Herbert hitting the net twice for the home team and Tom Williams and Earnie Whatmore scoring for Rovers.
Ironically the last time the club’s clashed was back in the 1963-64 season as the Sky Blues embarked on their run under Jimmy Hill to the First Division. That season Hill’s team did the League double over Rovers but in the only ever Cup tie between the teams Rovers ran out 2-1 winners at Highfield Road.
New Boss Slade is under no illusions about the task ahead of him and in his first Press Conference stated, "This football club has got a fantastic tradition, but it has lost its way at this moment in time. We're not in a great position. But that is why I am here, I want to help.”
"I've had my first session with the lads and they all had a great attitude this morning, let's hope we can turn that positivity on the training ground in to results on the pitch. The reality is we've got 18 or 19 weeks to get as many points as we can, we've not got a second to waste. What we can't do it make excuses, the only people who can do anything about it is the players, with the support of the staff.”
"It is going to be a battle and there may be times where it isn’t pretty, but we need to win football matches. My focus whilst I’m here is on the football that is my job. What happens off the pitch is out of my control.”
"When the players rock up in the morning they need to be the very best version of themselves and know what is required to get us away from the trouble we’re in. They understand that.
"Mark and I are going to work extremely hard, we’ll be wheeling and dealing for sure. We need a bit more experience, perhaps a few leaders. You appreciate this game more when you’re out of it, I can’t wait to get started."