By Gerry PrewettAfter two home fixtures, this weekend Bristol Rovers head north to face Bradford City who currently sit in third spot with 13 points from their 7 games played.
Above City sit the two teams who have beaten the Gas so far this season, Bolton and Scunthorpe.
City, who made the play-offs last season, are unbeaten so far with 3 victories and 4 draws. The real story of their season can be seen in the goals column, with 9 goals for and 5 against. It has been showing their superiority on the scoresheet that has troubled the Bantams thus far.
On Saturday they travelled down to the Kent to face Gillingham. After dominating the early possession it was the home team who took the lead on 12 minutes with their first real opening of the game.
Emmanuel Osadebe got to within shooting distance of the goal before feeding Cody McDonald inside the area. The striker dug the ball out of before arrowing his shot into the top corner leaving Colin Doyle clutching thin air.
City worked their way back into contention, despite the threat posed by the long throws of Ryan Jackson, and on 29 minutes the scores were level. Nicky Law dropped a corner to the near post and Jordy Hiwula was in the right position to glance a header past Jonathan Bond and into the far corner for his second goal of the season.
Jackson’s second bookable offence and subsequent dismissal for a foul on McNulty presented City with one last chance to win the game deep into injury time. The defender was given his marching orders for barging into McNulty just outside the box as the striker looked to run clear on goal.
Bristol Rovers and Bradford City resume a rivalry which has had a fifteen year hiatus. During that time the Yorkshire team have been up to the Premiership and suffered three relegations and Rovers too have experienced a waning of their fortunes to see this meeting take place in the basement division.
Much like Rovers, City feel as though they ‘belong’; at a higher level and their Valley Parade ground testifies to their recent glories. Surrounded by the two Sheffield teams, Leeds, Doncaster, Barnsley, Huddersfield and to a lesser extent Rotherham life is tough for the Bantams.
Considering that Rovers and City have been in existence for so long and have spent so much time in the lower divisions there has been surprisingly few games between them, 22 in total.
The very first meeting didn’t take place until 22nd November 1969 when they played out a 1-1 draw at Eastville. Rovers won the game at Valley Parade the following March 4-2.
The overall record between the clubs favours Rovers with 13 wins, 5 draws and just 4 defeats. Perhaps the most memorable game for Rovers fans was one of the early meetings at Eastville on 4 September 1971. After just 20 minutes the Gas were 5-0 ahead and had hit the woodwork 3 times! Bruce Bannister, playing for his hometown team and later to become a Gas hero, pulled one goal back for the visitors, but two late strikes sealed a 7-1 victory for the boys in blue. Brian Godfrey notched three, Harold Jarman and Booby Jones each notched a brace.
Rovers’ record in Yorkshire is excellent; Rovers have won 4 drawn 3 and lost 4 of the games at Valley Parade. A remarkable feature of this fixture is that until their last visit the Yorkshire team had never scored more than 2 goals against Rovers at home.
In 2011/12 the game played on 10 September finished 2-2. Matt Harrold gave Rovers a first half lead with a goal on 40 minutes. Michael Flynn crashed home a penalty on 64 minutes before Elliot Richards put the Gas back in front 14 minutes later. With Rovers seeming on the way to victory a last minute penalty gave Welshman Flynn the chance to crash home his second spot kick of the game.
The last time the teams clashed was on 9 April 2013 and the Bantams thrashed Rovers 4-1. Nahki Wells opened the scoring. There were only six minutes on the clock when Garry Thompson cut inside Lee Brown and crossed into the box where Wells headed home from close range. Wells put his side further in front, this time from the penalty spot after Fabian Broghammer fouled Ricky Ravenhill. The spot kick was well struck into the bottom corner and although Mildenhall dived the right way he was powerless to keep it out.
The home side further increased their lead on the fifth minute of stoppage time. Mildenhall hesitated when he came for a free kick into the box, allowing central defender Andrew Davies the chance to head home.
It took just five minutes for Rovers to pull a goal back and Hitchcock did well to latch on to a long ball out of defence and roll a shot past McLaughlin that went in off the post.
However any thoughts of a comeback were extinguished just seven minutes later when the home side capitalised on a mistake by Michael Smith. The full back’s wayward pass found Wells, who played in Thompson and he calmly beat Mildenhall to restore his side’s three-goal lead.
City striker James Hanson is looking to kick-start his season after admitting he was to blame for his latest injury blow. He is pushing to start on Saturday after coming off the bench the draw at Gillingham. That was his first game for a month after suffering a calf problem, which Hanson felt he made worse by trying to play on.
Bantam’s skipper Romain Vincelot has warned his team not get ahead of themselves after their seven-match unbeaten start. The Frenchman is adamant that they cannot afford to let intensity levels dip just because results have gone well. "The hardest thing is to keep it going when everything is nice because you can take it too easy," he said.
"You have to be careful to put the same effort in all the time, not 99 per cent one day and think that is good enough. It's normal to have expectation. As a professional sportsman, you always have to be ambitious. It's still very early and it's not a case that everything's going to be nice. We've got to focus a lot but it looks promising."
"It will be interesting when everyone is fit because it looks a big, strong squad. There was a lot of quality already but with a few injuries and the club has been really ambitious in terms of signings. You know you have to work with what we've got now and it's nice to have a proper group.”
"You need some depth in the squad if you want to achieve and it is very high quality in training every day. That is good and it brings out the best in everyone. You know you have to push and push to get in the team because there is another good player for your place. If you manage to take his position, then it means you are doing even better."
The Yorkshire team’s Boss Stuart McCall speaking after the Gillingham draw said, "I thought the performance from the lads in the first half was excellent. Coming in at half time, I felt that if we could keep the quality and tempo up then we'd be confident of going on to get the win.
"Because we've not got that win though, there is a slight feeling of frustration and disappointment in the dressing room afterwards. Looking on the positive side, coming from a goal down away from home, it is another good point to the total. We played a lot of great stuff, we carried a good threat, but we just lacked that final ball.”
"We also defended well when we had to do. The throw-ins into the box here are like corners at times. Once we've gone behind, we've shown great resiliency and played some good stuff. It was just that final bit of quality we needed in the box to finish off one of the moves when engineered throughout the game.”
"The final shot or final pass just let us down a little bit today. We came here looking for all three points from this game but this result at least still keeps the unbeaten run going."