By Gerry PrewettThis weekend Bristol Rovers will be looking to recover from successive defeats for the first time since late November.
The start of Rovers upturn in fortunes this season can largely be traced back to a mid-week 3-0 thumping of Hartlepool (ironically after the home loss to Portsmouth) which was followed by a 4-3 win at Morcambe.
Whilst Rovers have generally been experiencing an upturn in forturns their Lancashire opponants are in the kind of slump that becomes difficult to break. Jim Bentley’s side have now picked up just one point from the last 18 available in a six-game winless run in League 2. As a result The Shrimps are now firmly in mid-table, 12 points shy of the play-off places and 13 clear of relegation.
On Saturday they hosted an Oxford United team seeking revenge for unlucky defeats that were costing them dear at the top end of the table. On 9 minutes the talented and ever dangerous Kemar Roofe volleyed past Barry Roche from close range to put the Yellow’s ahead. Fifteen minutes later the scores were level with an excellent chipped sot from Lee Molyneux.
With a 1-1 half-time score the game was anyone’s and it looked like staying that way until on 70 minutes the initiative was handed to Oxford when Shaun Miller earned his marching orders for a late tackle on Joe Skarz. Within 9 minutes the game had run away to the Varsity team. John Lundstram slammed in a loose ball soon after to make it 2-1. Three minutes later Danny Hylton's rebound found the back of the net and Jordan Bowery's cool finish with 10 minutes remaining made it 4-1. Tom Barkhuizen's scored a second goal for the home team in the first minute of added time to give the score some respectibility
Morecambe boss Jim Bentley felt Miller’s red card changed the game. Not only will Miller now serve a three-game ban but Morecambe also lost Lee Molyneux, moments after scoring a fine equaliser, and Luke Conlan, to injury. Bentley said: “At the minute it’s not raining it’s pouring. Everything’s going against us. I’m not using that as an excuse, it’s football, it happens.
“It’s partly down to ourselves. Today it was a lack of discipline from Shaun Miller. He’s not that type of player. We just looked like we were building momentum and we were getting on top but once we went down to 10 men it was always going to be difficult against a very, very good side. They were always going to cause us problems but we caused them problems and got the goal back through Lee Molyneux in the first half.
“Again, how’s your luck? He scores a great goal then has got to come off with a groin injury and Luke Conlan’s playing well at left back and he has to come off with a hamstring injury. Then there’s the sending off.”
Speaking about the goals his team conceded Bentley said: “I can understand the fourth goal where they’ve worked the extra man really well but the killer goals are the second and third ones. You can’t blame that on being down to 10 men when everyone’s got a job to do from set plays. It comes down to an individual battle and not letting your man score and that’s been our Achilles heel this year.”
“That’s what cost us last week against Mansfield and that’s what cost us today. Players are playing for their futures and if they can’t get the better of their man that’s going to be a cross against their name going forwards. I’m not pointing the finger at one player because we’ve been shocking defensively this season.”
Rovers first ever home game against the Shrimps took place on 11 February 2012 Lee Brown put Rovers ahead on 57 minutes and a Scott McGleish penalty on 75 minutes looked to have wrapped up the game but with just two minutes left Kevin Ellison scored for the away team to make the final minutes interesting.
The following season on 11 September Rovers had a nightmare, losing 3-0 with all three goals came in a ten minute spell in the second half and were the result of dreadful errors in the Rovers’ defence. Gary McDonald started things off for the away side, skipping past as two Rovers defenders stood off, and slotting the ball into the back of the net from inside the box.
Just five minutes later Rovers were stunned again when Tom Parkes mistake allowed Nick Fenton to make it 2-0. Five minutes after this the Gas faithful were stunned as Kevin Ellison again exposed the Rovers defence and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
On 29 March 2014, Rovers secured their first three points under Darrell Clarke after their 1-0 win over the Shrimps. Neither side looked liked opening the scoring until Kaid Mohamed popped up with a stoppage time header to secure all three points for the home side. Alefe Santos fed substitute Ellis Harrison down the right and the Welshman delivered a powerful cross into the Shrimps 6 yard box. Mohamed jumped highest and headed past Roche to secure all three points for the home side.
After their recent defeat at home to Mansfield Bentley was so distraught at his team’s defensive performance he claimed he would sell some of his players if he could. The Shrimps were leading through a Paul Mullin penalty but with four minutes to go, Chris Clements and Adi Yussuf secured three points for the Stags.
Bentley described the performance as "Shocking, absolutely shocking. I call that a sackable performance.
There would be a few of them I would empty out right away if I had a couple of quid to bring a few players in, because they were weak and lacked character.
"The desire of their team, and they've got a lot of experience compared to us, but what they have got is a lot more characters and winners. That will hurt me now for days until the weekend. That has absolutely booted me right in the stomach as that should've been three points."