By Nathan BeesThe 1-0 loss at Barnet last weekend reminded me of our performances a lot earlier in the season: on the balance of play we should never have lost the game, but a brief period of chaotic defending at the start saw us fall behind and then we huffed and puffed but didn’t quite have enough about us to score.
It was frustrating to watch and with the way our efforts on goal were going everywhere but on target, you just knew it was going to be one of those days.
The sending off of Barnet’s Andy Yiadom early in the second half didn’t make our task any easier as the Bees then just decided to keep every man behind the ball and invite pressure. Whilst we were more than happy to be in possession of the ball, we couldn’t muster an equaliser. We seem to find it impossible to break down a team playing with 10 men.
It wasn't that the lads weren’t trying their hardest, we just didn’t have the quality in and around the penalty area to put the ball in the back of the net.
I thought Stuart Sinclair’s dipping drive from distance was destined for the top corner and home goalkeeper Jamie Stephens made a good stop to deny Jermaine Easter, but other than that it was pretty easy for Barnet to hold on. They headed everything crossed into their box and knew every trick in the book to eat away at the clock and disrupt our rhythm. It worked and, disappointingly, we suffered our first defeat since November 24 when Stevenage beat us at The Mem.
We missed the presence of former loanee Rory Gaffney massively — someone powerful who occupies defenders and creates space for those around him. I know it is easy to say that because we lost and didn’t score any goals, but I think it was clear we really did miss him.
There was a lack of physicality at the top end of the pitch and when you are trying to fashion an opening against 10 men you need exactly that to ruffle feathers in their defence. Balls were being played forwards but nobody could get hold of it and create chances.
That certainly isn’t a criticism of Matty Taylor of Ellis Harrison — that just isn’t their game. They both did whatever they could to make something happen, but they thrive on having space to move into and there wasn’t any in the second half on Saturday.
And that is why yesterday could be an absolutely massive day for us as we head into the second half of the season.
As soon as the club tweeted to say a signing would be announced later in the morning, everybody was understandably excited. Of course, there was just one person Gasheads wanted our new man to be and, thankfully, we got our wish. After an agonising wait, Rory Gaffney was revealed as our new recruit, joining from Cambridge United on a permanent basis for an undisclosed fee.
Like Rovers fans everywhere I was absolutely delighted. I don’t mind admitting I burst into a chorus of ‘Oh Rory Gaffney…’ that I have no doubt everybody on my street will have heard. It was the one thing we all hoped would happen this month and it has — just in time for our big game against high flying Oxford United on Sunday.
The U’s have been in great form recently and defeated Premier League side Swansea City and League One outfit Millwall in their last two games. With that in mind we head to the Kassam Stadium knowing full well we are in for a very tough game.
However, given their hectic playing schedule it could be a good time to be playing Oxford. We are doing well ourselves at the moment (Barnet aside) and you can see that we go into every game thinking we can win, which is exactly the right attitude to have. They will be bang up for it I am sure, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t be just as confident of getting another good result this weekend.
When Michael Appleton’s side came to The Mem earlier in the season they did manage to beat us 1-0, but we more than matched them even with 10 men after the wrongful dismissal of Ollie Clarke. On another day we would have taken a point from the game, and that was at a time when we weren't even playing particularly well.
It will be a different match-up now as both sides have gone from strength-to-strength since then, but we don’t need to be fearful of them. We should be wary of their attacking threats, but not to the point where we don’t focus on our own game.
It promises to be a great occasion with just under 2500 Gasheads making the trip to the Kassam Stadium and hopefully it will prove to be a memorable day for Rovers. The atmosphere in the away end will no doubt be superb and I can’t wait to be part of it.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!