By Gerry PrewettHaving for so long been part of the ‘chasing pack’ for an automatic promotion spot, Bristol Rovers find themselves as the occupants of one of those spots and now become one of the teams to be hunted.
They successfully negotiated the first hurdle on Friday as they swept aside Cambridge United 3-0 in style and now face the team who replace them in 10th spot Carlisle United.
The Cumbrians, who are managed by former Gas favourite Keith Curle, have been on the fringes of the Play Off spots without ever making a serious run for the top spots. They have experienced good Cup Runs, only losing to Liverpool on penalties in the League Cup, but have not been able to put a run of victories together in the League.
Their recent form has seen them draw five of their last six games and pick up just five points from the eighteen on offer. Meanwhile during that time Rovers have picked up maximum points and have lifted themselves towards the top of the table.
On Friday they travelled all the way down to Yeovil to face Darren Way’s improving Glovers. They ended up recording their fourth straight draw in a drab game at Huish Park. Entertainment was in short supply as both sides struggled to create chances and defences held firm. The ball often travelled directly from one keeper’s kick-out directly to the other.
Yeovil had their best opportunity on the hour mark when Ryan Dickson's cross eluded all in the box, before substitute Jabo Ibehre headed just wide for the visitors.
Curle was highly critical of Referee Kevin Johnson claiming the official was favouring the home side and accusing Glovers of trying to get his side's players booked during the game, "I did have a slight indication from the referee's accent before the game that he was one of my fellow (Bristol) countrymen down here. So obviously a little bit of bias might be creeping in. It was summed up for me when we had a corner, and someone sat behind me said he blew up before we even took the corner. That tells you that we weren't going to be allowed to get anywhere near their goal."
"We weren't being helped in that any sort of challenge from us was resulting in a free kick, whilst any sort of challenge from them was waved play on. Then players were starting to get a little bit frustrated with that and they started looking for free kicks and looking for things that weren't there. It was evident that every time one of their players went down and kissed the grass, they got a free kick. It's something that I'm not going to advocate or ever put on a training session for us to go and get players booked, but I think that today some of the Yeovil players went down very very easily."
Talking about his team’s performance Curle commented, "We lacked a little bit of quality in our decision-making in the final third. I'll take the clean sheet away from home. But we didn't put enough balls into the box and every time we did put the ball in the box, for some reason the referee blew up, which was always causing a level of frustration.”
“So we didn't have enough passages of play and we didn't keep hold of the ball well enough, but when we did get into the final third we didn't deliver quality. But overall you take a point away from home. We had 94 minutes there and our goalkeeper hasn't made a save, but likewise we don't think we worked their goalkeeper enough. Our goalkeeper was untroubled - he had more trouble from his own team with our back-passes than any attempts on goal from them."
Looking at the history of games between these teams the overall scoresheet reads 35 games, 14 Rovers wins, 12 United wins and 9 draws. The very first game between Rovers and Carlisle was played as recently as 1962/63 season when the Cumbrians visited Eastville and went away with a point from a 1-1 draw, Bobby Jones scoring for Rovers and Billy Stark for United.
Rovers first visit to Brunton Park was an unhappy one coming back with their worst ever defeat there, 4-0. It was ironic that Carlisle were relegated that season and Rovers stayed up. Les Dagger, Barry Brayton, Joe Livingstone and Frank Kirkup all found the back of the net.
After their first visit to Brunton Park Rovers gained their revenge on 5th September 1964. Rovers were actually top of the table before the game coming off a 5-3 thrashing of Grimsby. They repeated the dose against the Cumbrians with a 5-2 score line. Hugh McIlmoyle (later to play for our City rivals) had given Carlisle an 18th minute lead but two goals just before half-time sent Rovers in with a 2-1 lead.
An opportunist goal by Alfie Biggs, as keeper Alan Ross had gone down injured after a Harold Jarman shot thumped down off the crossbar, gave Rovers a 3-1 lead. Eventually the 12,580 Eastville crowd were sent home happy as goals by Alfie Biggs (2), Ian Hamilton, Harold Jarman and a Terry Caldwell (own goal) gave Rovers that 5-2 victory. Eric Johnstone scored the other United goal.
Rovers came away from Brunton Park with both points in the return game too after Ian Hamilton and Johnny Brown secured a 2-1 win on 2nd January 1965, John Evans scoring for the home team. After the end of January Rovers lost their top spot and fell away to eventually finish sixth, five points behind Champions Carlisle United!
The teams didn’t meet again until 1975/76 season when the Cumbrians took all four points on offer with a 4-2 win at Brunton Park and a 1-0 victory at Eastville. The following season the roles were reversed as Rovers won the Eastville game 2-1 and snatched a very late and unlikely 3-2 win on 7th May.
Since then Rovers have had some memorable victories against United. A 4-0 win on 22 April 1987 in front of a 2,435 Twerton Park crowd helped to keep Rovers afloat in a season that very nearly saw them go out of existence.
There have been two victories in Cumbria too, 2-1 on the last day of the 1981/82 season when Mark Hughes scored two of his three goals for the club and a repeat of the same score line on 13th August 1995 when Billy Clark and Marcus Stewart scored. In 2004/05 the teams met in the FA Cup and after a 1-1 draw at the Mem, United went through with a 1-0 victory at Brunton Park.
Rovers’ last League victory at Carlisle was on 1st October 2005 when they returned with all three points after a 3-1 victory, remarkably there were two own goals for Rovers; Daniel Livesey and Zigor Aranalde, Junior Agogo the only Rovers player to score on the day, Alan O’Brien notched the Cumbrian’s goal. The first goal in that game, the own goal by Livesey, was Rovers 5,000th in the League.
Earlier this season, Rovers picked up their second win at the Mem with a 2-0 victory. It wasn’t until the 66th minute that Rovers took the lead. Matty Taylor won the ball back inside the Rovers half; he offloaded the ball to Stuart Sinclair in the middle of the field. Sinclair turned his man before feeding Billy Bodin who was charging through the middle of the pitch.
Bodin lifted his head, saw Chris Lines powering down the left hand side of the area, picked him out before Lines squared the ball across the six-yard area where Matty Taylor was on hand to fire the ball past Mark Gillespie from close range.
The home team continued to dominate the game but it was not until the 87th minute that they secured the points as Matty Taylor picked the ball up from outside the area, twisted and turned his way into the penalty box before hitting a shot quickly with his left foot catching out Gillespie at his near post.
United Captain Danny Grainger talking about the draw with Yeovil said, “We’re disappointed that we didn’t win it,” he said. “We think we were the better team and I can’t really remember Mark having to make a save. They’ve had a few decisions go their way round the keeper and that favoured them. It’s a really frustrating day but they’ve been on a good run. We give them the respect they deserve for that but we were the better team by a mile.”
“It was a good defensive performance from us and I thought Michael Raynes was excellent,” he commented. “He was man of the match in my eyes because he was up against players with a physical presence. The rest of the back four did well and it’s another clean sheet for us. We have to take the positives and it’s another game unbeaten on top of that. We now have a big game on Monday to look forward to.”
He then looked forward to the rest of his team’s run-in, “We’re certainly not going to give up. That won’t happen until it’s mathematically impossible. We’re still in with a shout but we know we need to start turning a few of these draws into wins. It’s ironic because last year we couldn’t seem to draw a game and this season we can’t seem to stop it from happening. We said at the start of the season when we were conceding goals that it wasn’t just down to the keeper and the back four that it was happening.”
“The reason they were going in is that we weren’t working together as a unit. Now we’re keeping clean sheets but not scoring goals we can’t just lay the blame with the strikers. Everyone has to chip in and we have to make sure we start picking up the wins. This is a group of players with high expectations of themselves.”
“Another thing I’ve said before is that I’ll be disappointed if we don’t reach the play-offs with what we’ve got in that dressing room. We’re doing it the hard way but I will be disappointed if we don’t get there. We have the game in hand and the gap is only six points. I think you’d have taken that at the start of the season if you’d been offered it. It’s still there for us and it’s up to us to kick on.”
“The difference between last season and this is night and day. It was a hard place to be last year because there was a lot of negativity around the place. It’s been a tough few years for Carlisle United as a football club but we’ve turned the corner and we’re starting to look up. We put expectations on ourselves and the fans put expectations on us, and I have to say we had fantastic support again. It’s a long way to come and we do appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll give everybody something to smile about.”
“The game on Monday will be a fantastic test, Bristol Rovers are flying and it’ll be interesting to see if they take their foot off the gas a little bit with the way they turned us over down there. We’re at a stage where we might need to take more risks by pushing a few extra players into the box to try to make sure we score, be that from a good goal or from something that hits someone on the backside and goes into the bottom corner. We’ll take it either way.”
Team news from Brunton Park reveals that Louis Pedro might be involved for the first time, the Angola-born winger was signed last week but he did not travel to Yeovil on Friday. QPR midfielder Brandon Comley has extended his loan stay until the end of the season and he is pushing for a recall. Leading scorer Jabo Ibehre has been on the bench for the last two games and the striker could be ready to return to the starting line-up.