By Gerry PrewettWhen Bristol Rovers entertain Mansfield Town this week there will be one date on the minds of every Gashead, 3 May 2014.
It was the day that mid-table Mansfield gate crashed, Rovers celebrations at having staved off relegation the week before after winning at Wycombe and consigning the Chairboys to the Conference.
As we all now know the Stags hadn’t read the script and Rovers grew increasingly nervous as time wore on and the game remained 0-0, then 8 minutes before half-time the unbelievable happened, the Midlanders, Colin Daniels put his team ahead. Rovers huffed and puffed for the rest of the game even hitting the woodwork three times.
News came through that the two teams who had started the day below them, Northampton and Wycombe had both won. Rovers were down.
There will be an inevitable element of revenge in the air on Saturday. There is no one in North Bristol who holds a grudge against the Stags but there is a feeling of ‘unfinished business’. At the same time the Nottinghamshire team have their own demon to face, their failure to beat a side in the top half of League Two this season.
The Stags gaffer Adam Murray commented, “If there was ever a time for us to beat these teams, maybe we’ve just left it until now? I’ve got a sneaking feeling it’s fell this way for a reason, trends might just change.” Town have secured a solitary victory in the last five games and Murray felt, “It’s been more frustrating than disappointing as we’ve not played bad. I even spoke to my mum on Sunday and she hasn’t got a clue about football and she said she was listening to it on Sky Sports News and they were saying it was all Mansfield and you lost what happened? That sums it up.”
On Saturday Town went down at home to Yeovil, 1-0. The Stags had the better of the first-half chances with Yeovil goalkeeper Artur Krysiak reacting well to keep out a long-range shot from Reggie Lambe.
He then missed the target from 10 yards after Adam Chapman's corner.
Yeovil's best chance of the first half came through defender Nathan Smith but home keeper Scott Shearer saved his low shot. In the second-half the Glovers custodian Krysiak reacted well to an effort from Mansfield's Adi Yussuf and later grasped a powerful Lee Collins header.
Right on the death Yeovil substitute Brandon Goodship broke clear and crossed for Ryan Dickson to strike with his left foot for his second goal in two games.
Murray said, “I think against Yeovil last Saturday we got too carried away with trying to score. Yes we want to win the games, but we can’t concede sloppy goals like that. The focus was on scoring and we let our guard down and got sucker-punched like we did at Newport last week.”
“The good thing for us is we keep getting little lifelines and you look at the results on Tuesday night again, unfortunately for all the teams that had four or five games in hand on us, they’ve now gone and we are two points off the play-offs. So it’s all leveled out now. We have 11 games to go and we’ve got to play them all.”
Murray was not pleased with some of the home fans on Saturday, “I heard some sausage shout on Saturday ‘They don’t look interested and there’s no urgency’. I was nearly sick in my mouth, as you’re not going to get a more willing team than this one. They can’t run any more. I know as I have the GPS satnavs on them.”
“It makes you angry as you know how hard the group is working. Yes, we are missing certain bits. But we are Mansfield Town. We can’t have everything. We are doing the best with what we’ve got and the boys are doing fantastic. We are competing and we should be proud of what we’ve done this season so far. We are in a position to affect these teams now, which we shouldn’t be at the minute. We are battling with the big guns.”
He added: “Rovers turned down a big bid for striker Matty Taylor as they said he will get them promoted, which is great to be able to do that as a football club and ‘say we don’t want this money’. Rovers have also taken centre forward Ollie McBurnie on loan from Swansea. We asked about him three weeks ago but we couldn’t do it. They went and did it. That’s the difference. We will keep scrapping. No one can question this group’s work ethic or fight. The last two weeks we’ve not had that rub of the green.”
The first ever League meeting between the Stags and the Pirates took place on 19 September 1931 and ended in a 1-1 draw at Eastville. Billy Routledge scoring for Rovers and Ernie England scoring a penalty for the away team. The return match at Field Mill saw Rovers run out 3-0 winners, ironically their best ever result at Mansfield, with Routledge, Ronnie Dix and Tom Cook notching the goals.
Looking back at some of the home games, on 4th January 1958 the clubs met in the F.A. Cup and Peter Hooper (2), Alfie Biggs, Dai Ward and George Petherbridge thrilled a 20,446 Eastville crowd as Rovers ran out 5-0 victors.
The opening day of the 1964/65 season saw Rovers win 4-1. Robin Perry in his Evening Post match report described the performance as “Efficient and often exciting….in the style that has become traditional under the Tann management”. Harold Jarman opened the scoring after just four minutes and Johnny Brown scored a second goal very shortly afterwards. Alfie Biggs netted the third and Jarman created the fourth for Ian Hamilton. Peter Morris the Stags left half netted a consolation goal eight minutes from time.
The following season Rovers were in a shocking slump and had their longest spell ever without a win. Then they suddenly saw off Grimsby with two goals in four minutes and beat Brentford away 5-0. Their next home game was against the Nottinghamshire team. Alfie Biggs headed Rovers into a second minute lead, scored another 22 minutes later, which was quickly followed by a Johnny Brown goal. Bobby Jones and Roger Frude added quick second half goals before Johnny Petts sealed a 6-0 victory with just four minutes left.
A game in Bristol on 19 March 2005 was a real thriller, with the Stags taking an early lead but Rovers scoring twice before half time to go in 2-1 up at the break. Two goals in three minutes, just after play resumed gave the advantage to the Nottinghamshire team and a Callum Lloyd goal on 68 minutes seemed to have ensured that all three points were going back to the Midlands. Rovers’ determination was not to be underestimated and two goals in the last 10 minutes ensured a remarkable 4-4 draw.
That result was the second time that the teams shared 8 goals in Bristol. The previous occasion was 15th October 1966. Alfie Biggs, Harold Jarman (2) and Kenny Ronaldson scored for the home team and John Rowland (2), Tommy Mitchinson and Stuart Brace scored for the Stags. In some respects that match was even more fabulous, in that the half-time score was 0-0!
Adam Murray is full of admiration for what Darrell Clarke has achieved at the Mem, “Speaking to a couple of people down there on Tuesday, the one thing Bristol Rovers have got at the minute is a bit of momentum. What Clarkey has done down there is he’s put a group together that got relegated, but he kept most of them together and they obviously got promoted. Now they are going again.”
“What they are showing is what we’re trying to get and what will come with time which is consistency. His group and their settled environment has given him time to get that consistency. Yes, they have good players, but I look at my players and they are just as good. The thing they probably have over us at the moment is that consistency because they have been together for almost three years. They have a togetherness which gives you the chance to build and be consistent.”
“It made me happy going to watch them as I know in my heart of heart that that’s where we will be, it will come to us. That may sound a bit arrogant but I am sure you want to quicken it up but unfortunately you can’t quicken time up. We know which bits and bobs we need to tweak to make us better. That will come with time. To go and watch Bristol on Tuesday night was great with us playing them on Saturday but also to look at the bigger picture a bit.”
“I had watched a few of their games before last night and they are obviously very good at playing a couple of different shapes. He is a bit like us as he changes his shape for different teams. They are very efficient at doing that as they have played together a lot. They work very smoothly and are strong in areas.”
“They are a threat going forwards and have some good goal scorers in the team which always helps. But this is League Two so every team have their weaknesses and I thought here at home against them we were the better side first half until we got the 28 sending-offs that left us with three players”
“We are going there to try to win the game. We are looking forward to it. We are in the part of the season now that’s exciting. We want to get three points on the board and get the frustration of the last two weekends out the way. They were two games that I don’t know how we lost and you come away from them feeling very angry.”
Speaking of his Tuesday visit to the Mem, he said, “The atmosphere down there is fantastic. It is a massive club, you don’t realise how big it is. We looked around on Tuesday and it was packed. They are not a League Two outfit. Fair play to them, they are going for it.”
“They just got new owners and I read in the programme they have put all kinds of things in place already. They’ve got a performance specialist and this is in League Two. They are having a crack and it will be interesting how it pans out.”