By Gerry PrewettCurrently sitting in seventh spot in the League Two Table, Bristol Rovers are one point and two positions about this week’s opposition Wycombe Wanderers.
Rovers have beaten the Chairboys twice this season, albeit at home. On 6th October, Rovers ran out 2-0 winners in the Football League Trophy. Rovers repeated the dose, with an extra goal, to win 3-0 in a League Two game on 1 December.
Last weekend the Chairboys came up against a rampant Northampton Town who notched up their ninth successive win in League Two to build a ten-point lead it broke a 119 year old record.
The Cobblers had the better of the chances with two penalty appeals denied. The home team pressure finally told on 63 minutes when Danny Rose arrowed a shot into the top corner after good build-up play between Martin and Holmes. For Wanderers substitute Ryan Sellars lifted a shot just wide of the post with minutes remaining.
Wanderers Boss Gareth Ainsworth commented, “Ryan came on and that shows what we are as a team. He hasn’t started a league game yet and he’s in his first year as a professional after coming out of the Nike Academy and Under-21 football. But we could only name five substitutes today and he was one of them. He’s got that attacking bit in the bag and was unfortunate not to score.”
“I think it was a game of counterattacks for both teams; it seemed to swing on that. The goal was disappointing because they were in our half, it was a thrown-in and they created a four verses three overload and got the cross in. We are disappointed about that; it will be fun to dissect that in the week.”
Ainsworth has never lost sight of his primary target for the season and admitted his surprise at being in the chase for the top seven, “We’ll push ourselves off and get going again. We’re still in the hunt, which is crazy because that’s never been the aim for us. People know what we’re aiming for and that’s 61 points. So to see us where we are, see those fans and see my players giving everything, I’m proud of my team.”
Looking at the history of games between Rovers and Wycombe the ledger is pretty even with 16 Rovers wins, 4 draws and 14 wins to the Chairboys, 45 goals to Rovers and 39 to the Chairboys.
It was a Wycombe away win that was one of the most significant results in the history of Bristol Rovers. On 2 May 2001 a spectacular Dannie Bulman strike sent Rovers to the basement Division for the first time ever.
In 2012-13 the home teams won both games, 2-0 at Wycombe (after the first game was abandoned with Rovers 3-1 up after the infamous threated lightening strike on the away stand) and 1-0 in Bristol.
The very first League meeting between the clubs was unique, so far, as it is the only 0-0 draw in the fixture; the game took place on 27 August 1994. In the return match on 11 March 1995 Gareth Taylor scored the only goal at Twerton to give Rovers all 3 points.
On 9 November 2010 Jo Kuffour, had a game to remember at Adams Park in another JPT tie. His two first half goals set Rovers up for what looked like a good away win, but on 58 minutes, Scott Rendell pulled one back for the Bucks team. Within a minute Kuffour had hit back to restore Rovers two goal lead and to complete his hat-trick.
Chris Lines added goal number four with a surging run into the area, which took him past three home defenders, and he comfortably beat Bull from eight yards. Rovers fifth goal came from the penalty spot after Alan Bennett brought down Kuffour and Jeff Hughes sent Bull the wrong way with his spot kick.
A foul on Rendell by Lines enabled the home striker to add his second goal of the evening from the penalty spot on 83 minutes. Five minutes later Rendell completed his hat trick when he headed home a cross from Matt Bloomfield.
That wasn't the end of the scoring as Ben Swallow got in on the act, cutting in from the right and unleashing an unstoppable shot that flew past Bull and into the roof of the net and secure a 6-3 away win.
The last game between the teams was a League encounter on 1 December when Rovers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. It was just Rovers third home League win of the season. A Matty Taylor 13 minute hat-trick secured all three points.
Lee Mansell was brought down by James McCarthy on the edge of the penalty area, Mansell dusted himself down and was part of the trio stood over the ball for the resulting free kick. Matty Taylor put the ball into the path of Mansell who gave him the ball back straight away for Taylor to power a first time shot past Matt Ingram to put Rovers a goal to the good.
Moments later Taylor hit the back of the net again. This time Billy Bodin was fouled in the centre of the pitch before a quick bit of thinking from Stuart Sinclair played in Taylor from the quick free kick and Taylor made no mistake doubling his tally for the evening.
Taylor notched his third with just over 15 minutes of the game remaining as he latched onto some poor defending in the penalty area from Wanderers before calmly stroking the ball past a hapless Matt Ingram.
Rovers last visit to Adams Park on 26 April 2014 was something of a false dawn as they secured just their second away win of the 2013/14 season and as they mistakenly thought their League existence.
With just 10 minutes of the game gone, Clarkson tried to push the ball past Matt Bloomfield but the Wycombe player stopped it with his hand and from the resulting free kick Lee Brown curled a delightful free kick into the top corner of the net.
On 20 minutes, though, the home side scored an unexpected equaliser when Sam Wood floated a free kick into the box and somehow Matt McClure got a touch on the ball even though it was behind him, and directed it past Steve Mildenhall and into the net.
The all-important goal arrived on 75 minutes after Clucas floated a ball into the Wycombe area. A poor defensive header dropped at the feet of Clarkson, who was lurking in the six-yard box and he volleyed past Ingham from close range. A much celebrated but ultimately fruitless victory.
Former Gas player Joe Jacobson is looking forward to facing the Gas for the first time this season after missing both previous games. He made 84 appearances for the Gas side between 2007 and 2009 before joining Oldham Athletic, “You always want to play well against your ex teams. It’s six years since I played there but I had two-and-a-half years there and had some really good times.”
“They’re doing well and they’ve got this new owner come in so I think they will be on a high. The clubs have got a bit of history as well so that might add a little bit of spice to it. I know they’ve got a great following so they’ll bring a lot of fans to the game.”
“They’re a massive club, look at how many they took to Wembley a few years ago when I was at the club – I think they took 40-odd thousand – so they are as big a club as anyone in this division. I think they’ve been averaging 7,000 or 8,000 at home games which is huge and a lot bigger than most League One teams.”
“They will be desperate to get out of this league as quickly as possible. They’ve had a great first two thirds of the season and they’re up there because they’re a decent team and they’ve got a good goal-scorer in Matty Taylor.”
Looking at the injury position for the Chairboys, Aaron Pierre and Paris Cowan-Hall will undergo late fitness tests ahead of the game. They both missed the Northampton defeat. Pierre hasn’t played since receiving a dead leg in the home win over Exeter City. Cowan-Hall was absent for the trip to Sixfields after going over on his ankle.
Those injuries left Ainsworth to concede he was down to the bare bones with just 16 fit senior players which includes goalkeeping coach Barry Richardson, “We’ll make late calls on both of them,” said Ainsworth, “Aaron Pierre is amongst the most feared defenders in the division. He’s attracting interest from Championship clubs at the moment. Paris came into the team and did what I wanted to give us a bit of pace and power up front. He’s scored one in four and he’s done really well for us.”
“They’re a very big club,” said Ainsworth. “When I was growing up as a boy they were always up there with the best teams in the country, the blue and white quarters were famous. They’ve had a big fall from grace. It’s amazing to think they went into non-league football; it was a real eye-opener for everyone. Since then Darrell Clarke has done a fantastic job because they had to get back up at the first attempt. If Bristol Rovers went down they were strong enough to come back. If Wycombe Wanderers went down I don’t think there would have been a club.”
Paris Cowan-Hall is desperate for some glory the end of the season after missing out on all the excitement last term. The Chairboys winger was on fire in the first half of the 2014-15 campaign to help put them on the road to Wembley as the club reached the League Two play-off final.
However, Cowan-Hall was long gone by the time the Blues reached Wembley as Millwall snapped him up in the January transfer window.
He struggled with injuries and he last month re-joined the Adams Park club on loan from the south Londoners.
“I’m pleased to be playing, pleased to be winning and pleased to be back in the fold,” he noted “I did miss out on the end of the season and that’s part and parcel of football. That was my decision at the time and it had its pros and cons.”
“Hopefully I can be part of the excitement this year but it all depends on how we do obviously. I was there and watched it all at Wembley. It was an entertaining game of football and I thought the boys were very unlucky to lose on penalties. It’s a club that treated me well and while I was at Millwall I would always check on the results.”
Talking ahead of this weekend’s game Ainsworth said of Rovers, "This season they've done us twice convincingly, Darrell Clarke has done a good job. I know he's under pressure because it's a big club, they're expected to be around the top and they've had this big takeover, so I do feel for Darrell."
"But he's doing a fantastic job and I'm sure we'll have a tough game on Saturday, we'll be setting up to make sure we will be competitive in the game. It's always nice to be the chaser until there's no more games left because it puts that added pressure on those teams above you," said Ainsworth.
"There's some teams coming from nowhere, like Wimbledon, and there's some big clubs around us like Portsmouth, Leyton Orient and Cambridge with their cup money from last year. It's going to be a real tasty end to the season. We're going to do our best to be amongst it but at the foreground is our 61-point total, and four wins would do that."