By Gerry PrewettBristol Rovers travel to Barnet this weekend to face the team they chased down unsuccessfully for the Vanarama Conference title last season.
Having established an early season buffer the Bees were always ‘in the driving seat’ but it wasn’t until Rovers fell to a last minute equaliser in their last away game of the season at Dover that the Gas were forced to relinquish realistic hopes of a top spot to the North London team.
Rovers’ first home victory of this season was the 3-1 defeat of the Bees in September. Lee Brown opened the scoring with just two minutes gone. Chris Lines picked out Lee Brown on the edge of the area and he took a calm touch before firing past Graham Stack from range to put the home side a goal to the good.
On 77 minutes Rovers doubled their advantage as Matty Taylor's shot in the box was blocked by Sam Muggleton before falling perfectly for Jermaine Easter to open his account for the season.
Barnet pulled a goal back with just under five minutes to go as skipper Curtis Weston put the ball in the back of the net to a stunned silence at the Mem but it was less than a minute later when the party atmosphere was restored as Chris Lines powered through the middle and found Matty Taylor in the penalty area. Taylor took a touch in the area and calmly slotted the ball past Stack to restore Rovers two goal lead.
On Saturday the Bee’s went down to a 3-0 defeat at high flying Northampton. The Cobblers drew first blood on 5 minutes when Sam Hoskins calmly side footed his side into the lead from Lawson D'Ath's cross.
In a similar start to the second half with just five minutes on the clock, it was tricky winger Ricky Holmes who managed to bag it against his former side. The Londoner pressured Miles Weston into a poor back pass which Marc Richards reached first and poked back into the path of Holmes, who slotted it past custodian Ian Lawlor with aplomb.
The third goal came on the hour when Holmes was found in acres of space. He sprinted forward but made an early incisive pass behind the defence. Richards calmly swept the ball past Lawlor into the bottom corner and make sure of the three points with the third.
Reflecting on his team’s performance Bees Coach Martin Allen, said, “I’ve got to say that I was very disappointed in the performance. We lacked energy and we lacked our usual positive attitude during the game. We’ve been on a good run of form recently, so I think that made the game particularly disappointing for me personally.”
“We had a lot of supporters up there at Northampton, and it never happened for us from the first minute to the last. There are going to be games like that during the season. There were last year, a couple that spring to mind are away at Lincoln City and Grimsby Town. They were poor performances in both those games. That can happen during a season, but we bounced back.”
“The players have been absolutely superb over the past month – they really have adjusted and set down a marker. We’ve entertained the supporters, played good football, and done really well. So it was a knock-back on Saturday. But as I’ve always said, you’ve got to deal with that, cope with it, and expect it - because it is going to happen at some point in the season.
“We have to try and learn from the game. I have to ask myself if the team over-trained, it was our third match in a week whereas Northampton had just two games. So we were playing against a fresher, stronger team. But even so, I don’t think that we competed, and we didn’t play well in possession or out of possession. We had no control of the game whatsoever. So you could say that everything needs to improve in our play, right across the board.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash Allen said, “The players have acquitted themselves very well on the training pitch. There’s a good team spirit, atmosphere and attitude amongst the group. We’ve reduced the numbers, which also helps to improve team spirit and camaraderie.
“We’ve played much better football recently – everyone was absolutely delighted with the performance in the last home game. That was a great day to be involved in.
“Now we play our rivals Bristol Rovers. We’ve got a very good home record, they’ve got a good away record, and there’s rivalry between the two clubs. So we’re all looking forward to a great occasion on Saturday afternoon.”
Last season the teams clashed in North London for Rovers first away game on 12th August on 22 minutes John Akinde raced on to a long ball out of defence and got in behind Rovers’ back line before calmly drilling the ball under Will Puddy.
Just two minutes before half time a low drive from Mauro Vilhete saw Puddy dive to save but he couldn’t hold the effort and the ball squirmed away from him into the path of Charlie MacDonald who was able to roll the ball into an unguarded net from 10 yards.
Until 2011/12 the Bees had never beaten the Gas, but that changed with a vengeance, the Londoners winning both games 2-0. The clubs first met in the FA Cup in 1983/84 season with a 0-0 draw at Underhill and Rovers winning the replay 3-1.
When the Bees played their only season in (the Old) Division 2 in 1993/94 they met Rovers for the first time in a League encounter. Rovers had been relegated the previous season and the Bees promoted. Marcus Browning and John Taylor scored the goals that gave Rovers a 2-1 victory at Underhill in October, with Kelly Haag being on the scoresheet for the Bees.
In the return fixture having lost their previous five games Rovers were in dire need of a victory and a Justin Channing hat-trick lead the way to a 5-2 win. An own goal by Alan Walker and a contribution by Marcus Stewart completed the scoring for Rovers, whist Russell Edwards and Paul Wilson scored for the Hertfordshire team.
News from the hive is that summer signings Shaun Batt and Kevin Lisbie are still not ready to play 90 minutes for Barnet. The duo joined the Bees from Leyton Orient, but have endured a stop-start time with a hamstring injury suffered in the final game of pre-season at Eastleigh setting Lisbie back.
It was initially hoped the experienced striker would be fit within a matter of weeks. The 37-year-old is still waiting for his first start almost five months into the season. Batt by way of contrast has not been injured at any stage. However, owing to complex conditioning issues has struggled for regular minutes. The former Millwall and Peterborough United attacker has been a regular part of Martin Allen’s matchday squad, making eight substitutes appearances and one start in League Two.
Allen said, “Shaun did very well when he came on at Northampton Town. He brought on fresh energy and pace.
“But Aaron McLean and John Akinde have done very well recently and formed a good partnership. Shaun and Kevin will have to wait in the pecking order.”
Allen also provided an update on centre-back Bira Dembele who received stitches in his head in Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Northampton Town, “Bira Dembele has a head injury so he’s not training at the moment,” said Allen. It is expected the Frenchman will be fit for the game on Saturday.