By Gerry PrewettNow sitting comfortably in 4th spot in the Second Division, Bristol Rovers will test their credentials over the coming weeks with a series of games against close rivals.
The first of those games comes on Saturday when they face the long trip up the M5/M6 to face Accrington Stanley. Stanley are three places and five points behind Rovers, but they have played four games less. As Rovers know to their cost sometimes ‘games in hand’ can be more of a curse than a benefit when they mount up.
On Saturday Stanley went down 2-1 at Exeter as Rovers fought out their draw with the other Devon team Plymouth Argyle. The Grecians made a blistering start to the game with Tom Nichols and Jordan Moore-Taylor both missing chances in the first two minutes and it was against the run of play that Stanley broke the deadlock just a minute later.
Shay McCartan benefited from Moore-Taylor's slip and ran through, rounded Bobby Olejnik and rolled the ball into an empty net. However, Exeter hit straight back and after just five minutes Nichols latched on to Matt Oakley's superb through ball and drilled the ball past Jason Mooney for the equaliser.
Both sides continued to create chances in a wonderfully open game, but it was Accrington who came closest to regaining the lead when McCartan's shot came back off the inside of the upright. Substitute Christian Ribeiro put Exeter back in front on 79 minutes when he bundled the ball home after Accrington failed to clear a corner and the ball fell at his feet six yards from goal.
Speaking after the game Manager John Coleman said, “It is a setback and we have to dust ourselves down and go again. There was some excellent football played in the first half by both teams and, because of the conditions, the game was always going to be decided by a scrappy goal and so it proved.”
“I can have no complaints, you have got to give credit to Exeter. What we have got to do is take our chances when we are dominant. If we do that, we will win more games than we are doing but we need to convert chances into goals when we are on top.”
“We did not start well and our keeper had made three saves before we got going and then we broke away within two and a half minutes and scored. Two and a half minutes later and they have equalised. I don’t know if it was off-side, but we don’t play off-side. He hit it well but we are disappointed with their goal.”
“We got on top towards the end of the half and in the first 25 minutes of the second half we were comfortable. We hit the woodwork twice – one hit the inside of the post and bounced across the goalline and was cleared and then the next hit the crossbar and fell to one of their players to clear.
Then, in our area, the ball’s fallen to one of their players and they score the winner. You get that luck sometimes and it’s football.”
Rovers and Stanley have played one another 11 times before. The very first time was an FA Cup tie on 14 December 1929 at Eastville, the home team running out 4-1 winners. Four years later at the same stage Rovers visited Peel Park and came back out of the Cup, losing 1-0.
Fast forward over 70 years before the rejuvenated Stanley were back into the League after their 1961 demise and visited Bristol once again. The very first league meeting again took place in December 23 2006. Once again Rovers hit 4 goals but this time Stanley were scoreless. The return game in Lancashire on 6 March ended in a 1-1 tie.
When Rovers visited the Crown Stadium on 5 November 2011 little did Paul Buckle realise that it was to be the start of fireworks for him. A defeat that day was the beginning of a run of 8 games during which Rovers were to pick up just 2 points and culminated in his sacking.
Rovers finished their 2011-12 home programme with a flourish as they disposed of Stanley with a 5-1 victory. The following season Rovers lost both games 1-0 and again 2-1 at the Crown Stadium in October.
In the last two games in Bristol, Rovers lost twice by a single goal. On 28 January 2014 the Reds scored in added time to take all three points at the Memorial Stadium on 28 January 2014.
The Gas dominated for most of the game, and put the Accrington goal under plenty of pressure, but they could not find the back of the net and the visitor’s took advantage at the last minute to win 1-0. It was heartbreak for Rovers when Peter Murphy volleyed home the winner in the final seconds of added time.
Earlier this season the visitors that took the lead through substitute Billy Kee. Following an Accrington corner the ball was hit up into the air and substitute Kee stabbed the ball home acrobatically with his first touch of the game.
Accrington could have had a second in the dying seconds as Shay McCartan raced free of the Rovers defence before playing in Matt Crooks who scuffed his shot wide when it seemed easier to score.
There has been some transfer activity at the Crown Stadium this week as former Bristol City player Scott Brown joined until the end of the season. Brown, who made over 60 appearances for City from 2004 to 2007, was released by Grimsby Town.
Coleman said, "I think he's a top player. He's a good character, he's got a tremendous will to win and he'll fit in with our lads seamlessly. It hasn’t quite worked out for him at Grimsby but while I was at Southport and while I was out of the Football League I was telling everyone I knew in the Football League to go and get him because I thought he was an exceptional talent.”
“He did ever so well in helping us avoid relegation at Southport and if we’d had better finances in place we probably would have signed him here in the summer but it just wasn’t to be.”
Brown commented, “I was at Southport with John (Coleman) and Jimmy (Bell) so I know them well. I went to Grimsby and we got to the play-offs last season but I broke a bone in my ankle in pre-season and so I haven’t been playing and it hasn’t worked out for me. Coley got in touch and gave me the opportunity to come here and it’s great to be back in the league.”
“I know a lot about the gaffer and Jimmy and Accrington are obviously doing well this season. I obviously know Terry (Gornell), Bazza (Anthony Barry) and have played against Proc. It’s a case of trying to break into the team now.”
Stanley midfielder Sean McConville believes the team spirit within the camp can help the promotion run this season. The 26-year-old signed a two-and-a-half year contract earlier this week and is now looking forward to the remainder of the season.
He commented, “As a squad it’s probably the most close knit I’ve been involved in. We’re close, we socialise together outside of games and training and I think being that close has been reflected on the pitch.”
“The lads that haven’t been playing deserve a lot of credit because it’s so hard to let your head go down when you aren’t in the side but they haven’t done that, they’re shaking your hand before the game, wishing you luck and giving you advice and encouragement. It’s great.”
Talking about rejoining Stanley after a spell of non-League football he said, “I think I’m more consistent this time around. I’ve got a position and nailed it down. I think my performances have been good but I’d like to score more goals as I’ve had a lot of chances and I’m confident I’ll keep getting in the right areas, taking players on and I know those goals will come.”
“League football is a massive thing for any player. I’m just looking forward to trying to keep my place in the team and being here for the long term now I’ve signed this new deal.”