By Gerry PrewettWhen Bristol Rovers clashed with Cambridge United earlier this season it was also a Friday game.
Rovers recorded their sixth victory from eight road trips at the Abbey Stadium and interestingly it was the first game after Rovers 4-1 home defeat to Newport County.
Cambridge also had come off a reverse fixture from last weekend having defeated Yeovil Town 3-2. Last weekend they ended the Glovers four-game winning run in League Two thanks to a Ben Williamson double. United were ahead within four minutes when a mazy run by Josh Coulson fed Harrison Dunk who then provided a lethal cross towards Williamson, to fire home from close range.
That was the first time the in-form Somerset team had conceded in 460 minutes following four consecutive 1-0 victories during a six-match unbeaten run. Yeovil had Liam Walsh dismissed after 16 minutes for raising his hands during an off-the-ball incident involving James Dunne.
Dunk teed up Williamson to score again just before the break, before James Spencer wrapped up three points with three minutes left on the clock.
Those goals took Williamson to within three goals of leading scorer Barry Corr, who is out for the season following a knee operation in late January, "Strikers always want to score as many goals as they can, so when you're one away from a hat-trick you want to score another, but I'm happy with two goals," said Williamson.
"Losing Baz was massive. His goals and his presence means he's a big player for us, so somebody needed to go in and score the goals and I've tried to do that. I've had to lead the line on my own at times and it's been hard, but Baz will come back stronger and next season for him will be big.”
"I'm three goals behind him now so hopefully I can get them in the nine games left. I'm getting closer now so I might have a little word with him! We're trying to play football and we're trying to be creative going forward, getting the wingers on the ball in one-v-ones. They did that really well and H (Dunk) has probably set up all three goals, so that sums him up as he's got loads of assists this season. Zeli was just as hot on the other side, getting at his man and getting crosses in the box, so they're going to be really important for us going forward."
“I was obviously delighted to get on the score sheet, not once but twice. It was a big win for the team and has allowed us to keep on the tails of the top seven. When the teams around us win, it is important we do the same to keep in contention and obviously when they don’t it opens up the chance to close the gap.”
“The three points have set up the two games over the Easter break nicely, where again we can look to push on. When you go a few games without a goal, as a striker you start thinking, where is it going to come from? But you have to stick it out, work hard to get into the box and on Saturday I scored two, perhaps should have even had three or four. However, I’ll take the two which give me good confidence and more importantly we are happy with the three points.”
“Easter is a big time of the season, going away to Bristol for starters will be tough especially considering they have come off a big 4-1 win. If we can go there and produce a performance like we know we can do, then there really isn’t any reason why we can’t go there and win.”
Looking back at that earlier game against Yeovil there is a certain irony that the goal scoring hero that day was none other than Rory Gaffney who also hit two goals. Gaffney was recovering full fitness after a foot injury and had to wait until September to make his debut.
Speaking about his preparation for the Yeovil game Gaffney commented, "I trained up front with Barry Corr and we did well so we tried to do the same against Yeovil. I want to keep pushing and improve my fitness but there are areas I need to improve on and then I can bring more to the team apart from goals.”
"It's my first start in over a year and last time I played was in the League of Ireland last season so I am happy with the result. We have had three games in a week and to get six points is a good return. Two points for each game is good."
Looking back at past clashes, the very first game between the clubs was on 11 December 1971, when the Southern League team lost 3-0 to goals by Stuart Taylor, Bruce Bannister and Brian Godfrey in a 2nd Round F.A. Cup tie at Eastville. There have been three other Cup ties all played in Bristol and all won by Rovers.
Within two years United were back at Eastville for a Division 3 game, which Rovers won 1-0 with a Colin Dobson goal. Rovers have a reasonable d at the Abbey Stadium with 5 wins, 4 draws and 5 defeats. Two of those defeats have been resounding ones, 4-1 in September 1979 and 6-1 in February 1992. Attendances at Cambridge haven’t generally been too impressive either; the worst was 1,711 for a Rovers 2-0 win in April 1985 and the best 6,164 for that 6-1 reverse.
In the game at the Abbey Stadium earlier this season the hosts took the lead on 33 minutes when Barry Corr nodded in his eighth goal of the season from Harrison Dunk's left-wing cross.
After 66 minutes Ellis Harrison tapped in an equaliser on the rebound after the break when Chris Dunn parried Matt Taylor's shot. With just eight minutes left Taylor capitalised on a poor backpass from Greg Taylor to round the keeper and calmly move Rovers up to ninth.
United Boss Shaun Derry is massively excited by his team’s Easter programme following the Yeovil result. They are within five points of the play-offs with nine matches remaining. After their visit to the Mem, United host Oxford United on Easter Monday before travelling to Accrington on April 2, meaning their next three games are all against sides in the top five.
"What a Bank Holiday we've got coming up," said Derry, "A 4-1 away win for Bristol sets it up fantastically well for Friday and I'm really looking forward to the game and the Easter period. There are two great games. I'm sure we'll travel in great numbers as a football club and then bring it back here on the Monday and have a fantastic following at home.”
"I've always stressed that I want to play for something and not just see the season peter out. To still be in it with nine games to go is a fantastic accolade for everybody."
Derry was pleased to take maximum points and was impressed with the manner in which his team went about the challenge of breaking down the 10 men.
"We pride ourselves on the intensity we play at and I felt we started the game really well. That was a suggestion of how the afternoon would go. We got the early goal, which calmed everyone down, and I was really pleased with everything about the first half.”
"It can be really difficult and I've been out on the pitch when there's been 10 men, and it can galvanise the opposition and cause a problem. I felt we handled the real clinical moments of the first half exactly how I would want the boys to handle them. Fair play to Yeovil as their substitutions kind of put us on the back foot, but we got ourselves in the position where we scored the third goal at just the right time."