By Nathan BeesEveryone will have had a huge smile on their face this week after Sunday’s outstanding victory over promotion rivals (we can say that now) Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.
It is safe to say, though, very few people outside the club will have thought we had any chance of getting a result given the U’s impressive recent form. They had just despatched of Premier League Swansea City in the FA Cup and League One side Millwall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, so a home fixture against a fellow League Two side was seen as being another obvious victory for Michael Appleton’s men.
What the neutrals did not know was that this Rovers side are not an average League Two team. We have character and energy in abundance, a never say die attitude and the quality on top of that to overcome any side at this level, Oxford United included.
We displayed every single one of those traits last weekend to earn the 3 points. We had energy about our play to stay disciplined against Oxford’s possession-based game, and then demonstrated character and a never say die attitude after falling behind to Kemar Roofe’s close range opener.
At that point our hosts had the initiative; it would have been easy for us to become deflated and allow them to go on and stamp their authority on proceedings. In the past we might have done, but this squad are made of much stronger stuff. We battled hard, got stuck in and made sure we got forward whenever possible to put their defence under pressure.
That is where our quality came into play. The run and cross Dan Leadbitter whipped into the box for Matty Taylor to glance home was absolutely superb and it got us right back in the game with plenty of time remaining. You could immediately see the injection of confidence this gave the lads and every time we had the opportunity to run in behind their defence we took it.
Rory Gaffney, who had an impressive second Gas debut, did excellently to tee Taylor up with a good chance from 15 yards only for our top scorer to blast it over the bar, while another cross/shot from the left only just evaded both our strikers who were lurking around the 6 yard box.
However, as time ticked by the home side managed to pick the ball up fairly easily from our own sloppy passing and were thus able to let fly on Steve Mildenhall’s goal. Thankfully Mildy kept them out by producing some excellent saves, including one terrific stop to deny a long range Liam Sercombe effort.
It made for nervy viewing from the stand as we were camped in our own half for long periods, but with the players and management team we have got you just felt as though the victory was still there for us if we really wanted it. We were defending resolutely, we just needed another chance to catch them on the counter.
Darrell Clarke had made 3 substitutions in an effort to make that happen and, to the delight of the 2400 Gasheads who out-sung the home supporters all game, it did.
Ellis Harrison and Jermaine Easter came off the bench and made exactly the sort of impact Clarke would have been hoping for. Harrison did well to chest a long ball forward into the path of Easter, who knocked the ball beyond a defender and sprinted as fast as he could to get on the end of it. Goalkeeper Sam Slocombe raced off his line in an attempt to smother the danger but Easter got there first and was subsequently wiped out inside the penalty area.
The ref pointed to the spot, signalling our opportunity to notch the winning goal in the 88th minute. Harrison confidently stepped up and blasted the ball straight down the middle to make it 2-1 and that was that. We had done it!
We had to withstand a few more high balls into our box and Roofe bent an effort just over from 15 yards, but we saw out the remaining minutes and sealed our eighth away success of the campaign so far.
It was obviously a massive result for us and I think it made the promotion chasers in the division sit up and take note of the fact this Rovers side can beat absolutely anyone. With league leaders Plymouth Argyle up next at The Mem tomorrow, it was a damn good statement to be making this week.
The Pilgrims have sold our their allocation of tickets and as of Wednesday over 9000 tickets had been sold altogether for this all-ticket clash. This means we have a very good chance of breaking the 10,000 barrier and securing our largest home attendance of the season so far!
It would be great to have a full house packed inside The Mem for arguably our biggest game to date, so if you haven’t got your ticket yet make sure you buy one before the close of play today.
Argyle are a good side with plenty of goals in them, but with the way we are playing at the moment there is no reason why we can’t register another big 3 points. Let’s get behind the lads and help them overcome the Green Army.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!