By Gerry PrewettAfter last Sunday’s encouraging away win at Oxford United, Bristol Rovers entertain second placed Plymouth Argyle this weekend.
These games provide Darrell Clarke with a really good indication of just how good his current team are. Whilst many Gasheads thought the Oxford game was perfect, Clarke himself was less enamored with the performance and thought there was still room to improve.
Argyle have been riding high all season and last weekend they worked hard to overcome a determined Stevenage team at Home Park. The home team were given an ideal start as Carl McHugh headed Argyle into the lead in only the third minute from a Jake Jervis corner kick.
The visitors were soon on level terms, though, as Charlie Lee pounced at the far post after the Pilgrims were caught out having failed to clear a corner. The early scoring continued as Gregg Wylde made it 2-1 in the 16th minute with a powerful header high into the net after a superb run and cross from Jervis on the right flank.
When Craig Tanner struck five minutes before halftime, shooting into the far corner of the net, Argyle were totally in command. Right-back Kelvin Mellor broke into the box before playing the ball across to McHugh, who spotted Tanner outside him. Tanner cut inside onto his right foot and placed a firm shot into the corner of the net for a fine finish.
A change of tactics and a couple of substitutions saw the visitors start the second half as a completely different proposition. Lee struck again in the 49th minute, sliding in as Argyle dithered defensively, to convert a low cross from former Pilgrims' loanee Dean Parrett. The remainder of the second half proved to be a battle of attrition as Argyle held on for a 3-2 victory.
The Argyle Manager Derek Adams recognises that he will need to rotate his relatively small squad if they are to maintain their promotion push. The Devon team have won five of their last six games. Adams left out striker Ryan Brunt and midfielder Oscar Threlkeld for the Stevenage game, despite good recent displays from both of them.
He recalled Craig Tanner and Gregg Wylde to add pace to his side and that decision paid off as they each scored. Adams said, "Ryan Brunt and Oscar have done terrific for us this season but we can't look at every game the same. We have got to look at each game in isolation and pick a team that we feel that can win."
"We haven't got a big squad, but with the bodies we have got we can change about a wee bit." Talking of Wylde’s attributes other than goal scoring, he went on to say, "He has got a number of assists as well and I think it's important you have that in the team. He brings excitement. He has got pace and he's direct as well, and that can help us in this league."
Like Rovers, Argyle were founder members of the Third Division in 1920-21 season. They finished one spot below Rovers at the end of that season in 11th place. The first ever League meeting between the clubs took place on 23rd April 1921 when goals by Ellis Crompton and Billy Palmer secured a 2-0 victory in front of a 14,000 Eastville crowd. The return match saw Plymouth win 2-1 a week later, Crompton scoring for Rovers again and Jimmy Logan notching two for Argyle.
Looking back over the history of games there have been some real high scoring encounters. The Boxing Day fixture of 1973 kept a 22,353 crowd on their toes as goals by Stuart Taylor, Alan Warboys (2) and Bruce Bannister swept a rampant Rovers to a 4-2 win.
Going back even further to 14th October 1961 a Bobby Jones double, Geoff Bradford and Peter Hooper goals made the score 4-3 to Rovers. This provided some sort of revenge for Argyle’s 5-2 win, just 11 months prior.
It’s also worth remembering that “Goodnight Irene” was first heard on 4 November 1950 in a game between Rovers and Argyle. Rovers came back from being 1-0 down at half time to score 3 goals. The Rovers fans changed the words of the current hit by the Weavers to ‘Goodnight Argyle”
The last meeting of the teams in Bristol took place on 8 March 2014 when a 7,799 crowd saw Rovers run out 2-1 victors. It only took the home side 6 minutes to find the back of the net through loan striker Chris Beardsley. Michael Smith delivered a long flat throw into the Argyle penalty area to Kaid Mohamed at the near post. Mohamed flicked the ball across the 6-yard box to find an unmarked Beardsley who nodded in from close range.
The home side were made to pay for their missed chances as just before half time Plymouth drew level. A Luke Young free kick was palmed wide by Mildenhall but only to the head of Maxime Blanchard. Blanchard headed the ball back across the Rovers 6-yard box and Neal Trotman jumped highest to make it 1-1.
Rovers looked the more likely to break the deadlock and did on the 79th minute through the head of Kaid Mohamed. Further pressure from down the Rovers left allowed Lee Brown to deliver a pinpoint ball to the far post and an unmarked Mohamed restored Rovers advantage.
Prior to that game The Mem had been a happy hunting ground for the Pilgrims in recent seasons; they had collected maximum points in the previous three League encounters, the last two of which had seen the Devon team record 3-2 wins. The overall record in Bristol and Bath reads, Played 48, Rovers wins 20, draws, 14, Argyle wins 14.
Speaking about the strength of his squad Adam’s said, “We've got a good squad here. We've got players coming back from injury and we're looking stronger and stronger. I think I've got a better squad now than I did at the start of the season.”
"I think, on Saturday, we will probably see that the 18 we have is a strong 18, and that's important. Yes, we would like to take in players, but they've got to be better than the ones that are here, or they've got to compete with the ones that are here to get into the starting eleven. That's never easy in January. There are many players out there we could sign, but I've just got to be careful I sign the right player at the right time."
Graham Carey is in contention for a return to Argyle's squad the midfield playmaker returned to full training after injury and, according to manager Derek Adams, is 'looking good'. 26 year old Carey has been out of action for the last seven weeks having suffered medial knee ligament damage during the 1-1 draw away to Dagenham and Redbridge at the end of November.
Adams commented, "He's back training this week and looking good. Hopefully he can progress and build up his stamina over the next couple of days and we will see what he's like for Bristol on Saturday."
"We have got a good group of players here. Graham Carey is an important part of the team, and he was one of the ones that was able to propel us on. Some of them have come in and performed really because they have been given that opportunity. Some players are now looking like they are first choices, and that's a good problem to have."
"We had Reuben Reid out and he didn't start a game for us for 15-16 matches. So to have two goalscorers back in contention is very good. We have got Brunt, Jervis, Wylde and Tanner all scoring goals. I think it's good we have that competition. Everybody who has been put in has staked a claim to stay in the team."