By Gerry PrewettBristol Rovers take a trip down to face Portsmouth at Fratton Park this weekend to face one of the teams that is engaged in the battle for a promotion spot with them. After a week of not playing Rovers position on the table has become clearer and it is not all bad news.
Results of teams around Rovers, since they last played has seen them drop down to fifth place. On Saturday, Accrington, Wycombe and Portsmouth were all defeated. The team who made ground and overtook Rovers was Mansfield, who won at home on Saturday and held Oxford to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday night. The Stags are now one point ahead of Rovers but have played two games more.
On Saturday Pompey went down at home to Leyton Orient. The home team had a few clear-cut chances in the first half and it was Marc McNulty who had the best chance.
They were made to rue their failure to score when on 53 minutes the Londoners Jay Simpson’s path to goal was blocked and the ball sat up for winger Jobi McAnuff, who fired home an unstoppable first time shot from 25 yards. Orient saw the game out comfortably for a 1-0 win.
Portsmouth Manager Paul Cook admitted that his side were simply not good enough, “I thought Orient were excellent and continuously caused us problems; we were second best. They must take credit for their performance, while we have to go away and lick our wounds because we never got going.”
“It was a flat display from us at a crucial stage of the season, so I have to take the criticism for that. You can’t take any positives from that and we have to regroup and make sure that we come back stronger. We always knew that it wouldn’t just be instant success when we came in at the start of the season.”
“It’s a long season and there are plenty of highs and lows, the previous Saturday we were leaving the ground with plaudits ringing in our ears. The reality is that there are other good teams in this league and on this occasion we came up against one who were better than us. We’re all deeply, deeply disappointed and now it’s all how about how we react to that.”
Pompey skipper Michael echoed his Boss’s sentiments, “It’s a 50-game season and unfortunately you are not going to be at your best for all those matches. You are going to have days like Saturday which none of us like.”
“The fans don’t like it, as players we certainly don’t like it, but you have just got to show your character now. You need to pick yourself up and make sure you are ready to go next week because it makes the game a lot bigger than it already was.”
“I don’t think we can have any complaints about Saturday. They had some chances to kill the game off and in the second half when the onus was on us we didn’t look like scoring. As a squad we are well aware recent results haven’t gone our way and have kind of tailed off. Pretty obviously we were looking for automatic promotion and now are making it really difficult for ourselves.”
“I think right now all talk like that has to be put on the backburner, you have to make sure to win your next game and get out of this rut. This whole week now from today is about performance and training, making sure you bring that performance into the Bristol Rovers game and whatever you have got on your shoulders leave it behind.”
“It’s about how you react to it and that is what’s going to be important now. If we show the character to get ourselves up the table next week it can go a long way in having a say in whether we get promoted.”
Looking at the history of games between the clubs, in total there have been 31, with Pompey dominating, with 16 victories to Rovers 9. At Fratton in 15 matches Rovers have 2 victories to Portsmouth’s 10. The first time the teams met was on 12 February 1921 when Portsmouth won their home game 1-0, one week later the teams fought out a 2-2 draw at Eastville.
A most remarkable game took place on 6 February 1960 at Fratton Park in a Second Division game. Two goals by Ron Saunders and others by Harry Harris and Reg Cutler gave the home team 4 goals. However doubles by Peter Hooper and Dai Ward along with an own goal by Ron Howells led to a 5-4 away win. That victory was Rovers last at Portsmouth.
One player who is happy to be getting some game time at Pompey is Sheffield United loanee Kieron Freeman, “It was brilliant to get the chance to play because I hadn't had 90 minutes in more than two months. But I got the opportunity to go out there in front of an excellent crowd and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“When my agent told me about the interest from this club it was something I couldn't really turn down. With the support and what people are trying to achieve here, it's something I'm happy to be a part of. We have to go into next Saturday's test against Bristol Rovers full of confidence and ready to go again.”
Former Rovers target Matt Tubbs has moved on to National League side Eastleigh on a 93-day loan.
The 31-year-old had this season scored five goals in 17 appearances for Paul Cook’s side. However, he failed to make a Blues first-team squad after October 31 following, firstly, injury and then the form of others.
Young striker Conor Chaplin, who Tubbs took under his wing said, “I was very close to Tubbsy, he was one of my best mates here. He’s the best finisher I have ever played with. We were doing a shooting drill the other day and he’s at an angle 18-yards out on the corner of the box and produced a Rabona to send it over the keeper and into the far corner.”
“It was the best goal I have ever seen in my life and Kal Naismith will back me up on that! Wherever Tubbsy goes he will score goals, he is a natural-born scorer. I have learnt a lot from him. At Northampton in December I scored my goal from what I had worked on with Tubbsy on the training ground and the positions he has told me to take up.”
“We always did shooting together after training with some of the other lads and whenever he felt he needed to offer me tips he would help me out. He has been really good for me since he came to Pompey, made me a better player, and I have scored a goal following advice he has given.”
Pompey’s inconsistent form has frustrated Paul Cook and he points to their failure to string league victories together as costing them dear. Of League Two’s top eight, only Pompey have so far failed to triumph in more than two successive matches. In comparison, leaders Northampton are presently on a six-game winning run to leave them 16 points ahead of Pompey.
They previously picked up five straight victories until their December encounter with Cook’s men, which yielded a rare defeat. In total, Chris Wilder’s team have won 11 of their last 12 matches in League Two to reign at the top.
Plymouth Argyle occupy second spot and have twice embarked on league periods of four consecutive triumphs, last occurring in December/January. Derek Adams’ side also collected three-in-a-row in August following a 2-1 loss to Pompey at Home Park. They are presently nine points clear of the play-off spots, although have one win from their last four league fixtures.
Until Tuesday night Oxford United had won three of their last five league encounters, including beating the Blues. The U’s have tasted victory in three successive matches on two different occasions so far, underpinning their sustained promotion push.
Cook will be looking to see his team put in a strong performance in what should be an exciting game.