By Gerry PrewettOn a rare Sunday game Bristol Rovers visit Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium in a table topping game.
Rovers lost a thrilling Sunday home game to United on a live Sky Sports broadcast on 6 September. With United in 3rd place and Rovers in 5th spot this also promises to be a cracking game. Rovers will be buoyed by the news that they secured the services of talismanic Irish striker Rory Gaffney from the reluctant Cambridge United.
Meanwhile there is speculation that the U’s Manager Michael Appleton is being targeted by our cross-city rivals as replacement for Steve Cotterill, who was sacked on Thursday. The 40-year-old has recently hit the national spotlight after guiding his team to an FA Cup giant-killing act over Premier League Swansea and taking them one step away from a JPT Wembley Final after their 2-0 victory at Millwall.
On Thursday United secured their second win over higher-tier opposition in five days. The U's took the lead on 15 minutes in a moment Millwall ‘keeper David Forde will want to forget as he spilled Kemar Roofe's miscued cross from the left into the net, to give the striker his 16th goal of the season.
Looking at ease in their game against higher Division opposition they doubled the lead before the break as John Lundstram's curling strike from 25 yards struck the underside of the bar and red-hot Roofe reacted quickest to convert from close range.
Speaking after the game Appleton said, "We can play a lot better, but the pleasing thing is we have got another opportunity to go out and perform. I knew it was going to be difficult for the players to get themselves up for tonight after the euphoria and impact of the result on Sunday. I thought they hung in there at times, stuck to task and passed the ball OK. That's the message from me to the players. But, you've got to be delighted coming away with a 2-0 win at a League One side."
In their last League game at Notts County it took almost the whole of the first half before they took the lead as Liam Sercombe burst into the box and was hauled down by the Magpies keeper Roy Carroll. Sercombe took the spot-kick and sent the Northern Ireland goalkeeper the wrong way, giving his team a deserved lead.
George Baldock hit the post for the visitors early in the second half, before the Magpies, who sacked Ricardo Moniz the previous Tuesday, drew level when Jon Stead powered in Stanley Aborah's free-kick. With just 15 minutes left County took the lead when Curtis Thompson crashed in a ball laid back by Stead.
United struck back immediately, Alex MacDonald scoring from a corner which had not been properly cleared. Callum O'Dowda and Roofe then struck two wonderful long-range strikes in the final minute to complete an emphatic 4-2 away win.
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 49 meetings since Oxford first entered the League back in the mid 1960’s, replacing Accrington Stanley. In terms of results the games between the teams have been remarkably even over the years with Rovers winning 18, United 18 and 13 draws. In all respects it’s the home teams who dominate in these fixtures with 6 United away wins and 7 Rovers away wins.
The first game between the two teams was played on 18th September 1965 at Eastville. There were four goals scored, all by Jones, one by Oxford’s Tony, but the star of the day was Rovers’ Bobby who bagged a hat-trick.
However my vivid memory of that day was the Oxford custodian, Harry Fearnley who was smoking during the game! He used to rush into the back of his net whilst play was at the other end and have a quick puff. Also in the Oxford team was "Big Fat" Ron Atkinson, who the Evening Post noted failed to keep a tight grip on Bobby Jones.
It was Rovers who, until recently, had never scored more than 2 goals, but they had scored 2 on 7 occasions. Rovers’ worst defeat at Oxford, until the 6-1 thrashing in 2010/11 in the Coca Cola Cup, was a 4-1 loss on only their second visit to the ground on 2 February 1967. Alfie Biggs was Rovers’ scorer, with doubles by Grahame Atkinson and Mick Morris for the U’s.
Rovers’ next visit, only 7 months later, was much more productive, a mid-week 2-0 victory with goals by Harold Jarman and an own goal by John Shuker sent the Eastville faithful home happy.
It wasn’t until September 1995 that the victory was to be repeated when the two Marcus’s, Browning and Stewart scoring past Timmy Carter in the U’s goal and Chris Allen scoring for the home team in a 2-1 win for the Gas. Back in 1982 and 1983 Rovers played two Boxing Day games at the Manor, scored 2 goals in both and lost both, 4-2 and 3-2 respectively.
Rovers had a remarkable spell at Oxford between 1995 and 2002. They played there five times, won four and drew the other game. Amongst those victories was a 5-0 thumping, with a hat-trick from Jamie Cureton a Robbie Pethick goal and another by Nathan Ellington, on 22nd January 2000, which looked as though it had set Rovers on the path to promotion.
In the 2012/13 game at the Kassam Rovers took the lead on 54 minutes. The ball was played up to Ryan Brunt, who cut into the area where he was brought down by Oxford skipper Jake Wright.
Brown stepped up to send Luke McCormick the wrong way with his spot kick, but the referee had seen a player encroaching into the area and ordered the penalty to be retaken . Brown kept his nerve, and put his spot kick in the same place as the first, with McCormick again going the wrong way.
Rovers wrapped things up in stoppage time. Once again Brunt was fouled and, as the Oxford defenders switched off David Clarkson found Richards with a quick free kick. The young striker did the rest, running through on goal and beating McCormick in a one on one situation.
Rovers last visit to the Kassam was a happy one on 2 November when a John-Joe O’Toole penalty secured all three points after Eliot Richards had been brought down by Jake Wright.
Latest news from United is that they have arranged a loan extension with Fulham to keep Jordan Evans until the end of the season. Winger Jonny Giles, whose short-term deal was due to expire in the summer, has also signed a new contract and will now stay at the club until the end of the 2016-17 season.
Manager Appleton commented, "Jordan is very highly regarded at Fulham and within the Wales set-up. He has found it difficult to get chances in matches so far but his time will come and anyone who saw him score that goal against Yeovil will know what a talent he is."
Evans said: "I’ve loved every minute of my time at the club so far and I’m more than happy to have extended it to the end of the season. I’d have liked to have played more but it has been great to be involved and to train with the squad every day."
Appleton was also pleased to reward Giles for the progress he has made since joining from playing university football.
He said, "We took a punt on him coming straight out of university and into professional football. He is very raw but he definitely has something. Almost every day in training or in a match he will do something that catches the eye and gets you wondering how good he might become."
Giles said, “It means I’ve got a bit more time to get my opportunity and more time to improve. I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen in the summer and it’s nice to have that reassurance that I’ve been doing well.”
“I do feel like I’ve improved quite a lot in the last couple of months and it’s nice to know that the club, which has shown faith in me, is showing faith in me now as well with the extra year and I hope I can repay them.”