By Gerry PrewettWith a record of one win, two draws and two defeats to show this season Bristol Rovers will be anxious to start picking up a few more victories starting with this evening's fixture at home to Walsall.
The Saddlers have lost three of their last four League One fixtures and have dropped to 20th in the table.
Their latest defeat at Northampton’s Sixfields on Saturday was evenly balanced until Jason McCarthy’s poor pass gave away possession; Northampton worked the ball to the left where Harry Beautyman sent in a cross that the Cobbler’s Matt Taylor expertly headed home.
A sudden burst of life from the Cobblers saw the home team wrap up the points with the hosts first threatening when Alex Revell fired in a fierce drive from the edge of the box which Neil Etheridge (who played 12 games for the Gas in 2012) tipped over.
From the resultant corner, the ball struck the arm of the luckless McCarthy and referee Gavin Ward pointed to the penalty spot. Revell stepped up to convert, with the 33-year-old sending Etheridge the wrong way for his fourth of the season. 2-0 to the Cobblers and all three points stayed in the East Midlands rather than travelling west.
In total Rovers and Walsall have met 95 times, with the Gas having won 39 games, the Saddlers 36 and just 20 draws. So, lots of games and a very close record, with Rovers just shading it. During that time there have been some remarkable sequences of games.
Going right back to the first game, which Rovers won 5-2 on 27 August 1927 in Division Three (South), there was an all winning sequence for the Pirates of 6 games. That sequence was broken by a 0-0 draw on 30 April 1930 at Fellows Park. The Saddlers won 3 of the next 4 games.
Between 27th March 1965 and 29th October 1973, Rovers paid 14 visits to Fellows Park and won just once! Stuart Taylor and Ray Graydon (who went on to manage both teams) secured a 2-1 win on 24th April 1971.
During that same spell Rovers suffered an amazing reverse when they were leading 3-1 with 15 minutes to go, on 19th March 1973. A bomb scare caused the game to be halted. Then in the remaining 15 minutes Walsall scored 3 times to win the game 4-3!
Rovers’ longest unbeaten streak was at Eastville between 4th September 1948 and 2nd November 1963, a total of 7 games with 4 Rovers wins and 3 draws. The game that broke that sequence was on 16th March 1965.
Walsall won 1-0 and the newspaper report of the goal revealed that "Harassed by lanky Alan Clarke, Rovers keeper Bernard Hall lost possession after being lured yards from his goal. The ball rolled to Jimmy McMorran who chipped it back into an empty net from 25 yards".
Rovers gained their revenge just over 6 months later. Manager Bert Tann had complained that the team weren't taking their chances, but in this game they made 4 and scored 3.
Walsall winger Colin Taylor had Doug Hillard on the rack for most of the game but stand-in Centre Forward Trevor Meath was wasteful with the three chances that came his way. Bobby Jones in the 35th and 77th minutes and Harold Jarman with an 85th minute header were Rovers' scorers on the day to give the Gas a 3-0 victory.
Rovers have not beaten the Midlanders in Bristol for nearly 20 years, their last win in this fixture was a 2-0 victory on 9 September 1997. In that time they have lost 5 and drawn 2 games.
The last times the teams met in Bristol was on 11 January 2011. Will Grigg put the away team 1-0 up after just 5 minutes. The game took a complete turnaround within 10 minutes of the half-time break as Will Hoskins (53 minutes) and Jo Kuffour put the Gas in front. It fell to former Gas player Aaron Lescott to secure a 2-2 draw with an 83rd minute equaliser.
The Midlander’s Boss Jon Whitney bemoaned his side’s lapses of concentration during their defeat on Saturday, but he also reserved praise for the Cobblers in his post-match interview. “Northampton do things well. They do the basics well and you can see that.”
“Once they get that one goal lead it’s very difficult to peg them back. We tried to get two up top and even three up top but at the end of the day, it’s not a 2-0 game but on the score sheet it is and we get nothing for it. The first goal is so important when you come here and that’s why they’re on the run they are because they just camp in and then go on the break.”
“Revell’s always a threat because they just turn it over really quickly and get people to join in. They’re very difficult to break down and they’re very organised, Rob Page’s teams always are, and it’s the first goal which is disappointing because it came from nothing.”
“I’m disappointed. I thought the game plan was working great 25 minutes, we were frustrating them and our shape was really good and we did a job on Revell because he’s a big threat for them. But a little in lapse of concentration when we put it back into the central area which we talked about not doing; because they’re set to press, and then a cross into the box and it’s a goal from nothing.”
“It was a sucker-punch and knocked the wind out of our sails a little bit but I thought we then got back into it again and we were the team that threatened and they didn’t really have any clear-cut chances. If Scott Laird’s chance goes in on the stroke of half-time it would have been a good first-half performance but again we’ve been kicked in the teeth and we have to learn quickly because we keep giving away simple goals.”
Jason McCarthy’s handball gave Northampton the goal they needed to give them some breathing space but Whitney wasn’t convinced it should have been a penalty. “When things are like this, they all seem to go against you. The penalty is 50-50 and I can see why the referee’s given it but some wouldn’t. It’s frustrating because it’s individual mistakes.”
“We’re all hurt to get beat but we have to learn quick. You can’t feel sorry for yourselves because no one else is going to do it for you. We’ve got to do it ourselves.”
“If you lose that concentration in League One you get punished and that’s what is happening and if we don’t learn, suddenly the games run out. These young players are getting punished for small mistakes. We didn’t lose due to a lack of effort but I can’t keep coming out and saying the same things.”
“We drilled them over the two weeks and the game plan was great. On the counter we were a threat. But the first goal has changed everything.”