By Gerry Prewett
Bristol Rovers take just their second ever visit to the Greenhous Meadow on Saturday as they face an out of form Shrewsbury Town. Having secured the desired result, if not with the best performance, last week in overcoming Bury 4-2, Darrell Clarke is looking for a much better showing from his team.
With just 18 points from their 21 games, the Shrews are propping up the entire division with just four victories so far this season. Rovers should beware because just above the Shropshire team, also on 18 points is Chesterfield, who recently vanquished the Gas.
Ironically the latest of those victories was in the Shrews last League game at the New Den, where Rovers were put to the sword 4-0 recently.
The home team nearly took a 15th minute lead, Shaun Williams' ball reached Lee Gregory, who flicked past the Shrew’s stopper Jayson Leutwiler, but Adam El-Abd was there to keep the ball out. The away team shocked the South London team two minutes later, Louis Dodds and Ivan Toney opening up the Lion’s defence before Dodds slotted home.
The home side had two chances to draw level in the 23rd minute, but Fred Onyedinma dawdled and Leutwiler clawed Harry Smith’s header out. Leutwiler made a brilliant save in the 34th minute from El-Abd's sliced interception, before Jim O'Brien cleared the resulting corner off the line.
The Swiss keeper also kept his side ahead after 75 minutes, denying Gregory a fantastic goal. The striker cut in from the right and curled in a shot from 20 yards, but Leutwiler saved at full stretch. Millwall almost snatched a late point, but Smith shinned over after 86 minutes before skipper Tony Craig somehow missed a header from four yards in the final minute.
Speaking after the game, scorer Dodds said, “We rode our luck a few times but the harder you work the luckier you get. That’s a mantra we might go with. Hopefully, this result can have a snowball effect. It’s a massive result. I think you can see, game by game, we have been getting better and slowly making small progressions but as a team on Saturday we stood up as men.”
Talking about the effect of new Boss Paul Hurst and his backroom staff he noted “There is a belief in us now, they have come in and told us what they want and the lads are repaying them. Training has got a bit sharper. We are taking it into the games and getting fitter. Watch this space. We are going to start creeping up the table.”
“We have always had it in us, but you need the results to keep it going. Everyone was writing us off before Millwall, saying we were going to get done four or five. To win 1-0 in a hostile atmosphere is delightful.”
Looking back at previous meetings between the teams, perhaps the most memorable was the very first Wembley Play-Off Final at the end of an exhilarating 2006/07 season. It took an exciting sequence of ten unbeaten League games, including the late run of five successive victories, to get Rovers to their date at the new Wembley. It placed Rovers alongside Chelsea as teams who played Finals at both the Millennium and Wembley Stadiums in the same season.
Games between the clubs that season had been very tight. Before the Final, Rovers had won two of the three games and yet only two goals were scored in total. The Final of course turned out to be something of a goal feast with Richard Walker (2) and Sammy Igoe giving Rovers their 3-1 victory as Gasheads almost literally sucked the last goal over the line in stoppage time.
Rovers certainly have the upper hand in meetings, having won 28, drawn 15 and lost 13 of the 56 games between the clubs. Rovers equal best league victory was the 7-0 thrashing of the Shrews in the 1963-64 season. Bobby Jones (2), Harold Jarman (2), Alfie Biggs (penalty) Dave Stone and Johnny Brown were Rovers scorers.
Rovers were 4-0 up after just 16 minutes. It was some kind of ‘payback’ for a 7-2 dumping the previous season, Frank Clarke (3), Jim McLaughlin (3) and Arthur Rowley scored for the Shrews and Keith Williams and Harold Jarman for Rovers.
The last two meetings between the teams ended up in 1-0 victories for the home teams.
The Shrews Paul Hurst looking at the remainder of the season reflected, “There is still a long, long way to go. A lot of hard work. It will still take one hell of a run to get out of trouble.”
“The stats don’t lie, we have not won many games this season. I mentioned before I did not think the record was that bad at all going back to when I was appointed, it was just the fact we had only the one league victory.
Speaking about his player’s mentality he noted, “I get the feeling they are starting to bond better together. Maybe that is from going out on the pitch and getting beat every week. It is not like we are winning every week just yet, but there is a togetherness and we are fighting.”
Forward Jim O’Brien the former Barnsley and Coventry man believes the January transfer window will provide a chance for Hurst to put his true stamp on the squad.
“It has to be in the back of players’ minds but it keeps you on your toes. If you have a number of players that can play in your position then it’s just competition and it keeps you on top of your game.
“Every transfer window you wonder who’ll come in, and whoever comes, because I’m sure there’ll be some, you just hope they can add something to the squad because it’s about the club and not individuals.”
“In any walk of life, you’ve got to have the mindset that if you’re not in the plans then that’s fair enough and that’s the way it is shake the hand and move on. You’ve got to have the mentality that if you’re not in the manager’s plans then you go and play somewhere else, it’s nothing personal.”