By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers head into the Easter weekend with a chance of keeping alive their ambition of making the Play-Offs in their first season back at this level. This remarkable feat is a testament to the belief that Darrell Clarke and his backroom staff have instilled into the current squad of players.
Last week’s performance at AFC Wimbledon typified the grit and determination required to climb the mountain. No team in England has ever secured three successive promotions at League level. After the record breaking early goal at Wimbledon, whilst it was not exactly backs to the wall, the Gas defended solidly and with determination to restrict the London team to very few sniffs at goal.
As Rovers were battling away for their hard earned three points, Gillingham not only earned themselves a point at home to Millwall, but denied one of the teams Rovers would need to overtake an additional two points. The 1-1 draw at Priestfield left the South London team frustrated after the Gills scored with one of only two shots on target and held firm in the closing stages to deny the visitors.
The Lions had most of the possession and double the eight efforts of the home team. The Kent team
took the lead in the 67th minute in controversial circumstances. Lions keeper Tom King looked to have been pushed by Gills striker Cody McDonald but the Ref awarded a corner and Bournemouth loanee Joe Quigley, duly scored his first league goal since arriving from Dean Court in August after King had saved Cody McDonald’s header.
Steve Morison levelled the scores just five minutes later, following a move between Mahlon Romeo and David Worrall which ended with Worrall squaring the ball to Jed Wallace on the edge of the Gills penalty area. The on-loan Wolves winger’s shot was blocked, but Morison steered home for his first goal since February 4.
Having seen his team go down to four defeats in a row a relieved Gills head coach Ady Pennock was relieved to have something to show for his team’s efforts, “I am happy with the point. We wanted three but we were up against a very good side. Credit to all the players, they put in a good shift and the crowd were fantastic, they got behind the boys.”
“It was a big point for us. Millwall are a very good side, they are up there for a reason and Manager Neil Harris has done a great job. They are physically strong and we knew how they play. I thought it was a very good point and we showed a lot of character.”
“In the first half, it was the first time since I have been here that we have put an opposition under constant pressure. We had five or six corners first half and they were decent. I was pleased overall. It was nice to get in front again, that was a big bonus. I was disappointed with their goal we conceded so early afterwards, but it is what it is.”
“We have to play like that every week for the remainder of the season, we know that. We have showed that against the higher teams we can match them. There was some really strong performances today.”
Looking back over the history of meetings between the Gas and the Gills there has been a total of 103 games, with Rovers having the better record with 46 victories to the Gills 38. They majority of Rovers success has come in the West of England with 32 victories, 10 draws and just 8 defeats.
The very first meeting took place at Priestfield on 29 Jan 1921 in the old Division Three with the home team winning the match 1-0 followed by a 2-0 reverse in the return fixture at Eastville a week later
Prior to the home victory earlier this season, Rovers’ last point against the Gills was secured at the Mem was on Good Friday 2012 when the teams fought out a 2-2 draw, Rovers last victory was on 21 November 2009. The Gas won that game 2-1 with Chris Lines giving the home team a 17th minute lead side-footing home from 10 yards. Andy Barcham equalised on 40 minutes when he reached the edge of the area unchallenged and lashed the ball into the top corner of the net. A Jeff Hughes penalty on 81 minutes secured all three points for Rovers. In the away game Gills won 1-0 through a last minute goal from Simeon Jackson.
Generally games between the Gas and the Gills are not high scoring with the average score over those 103 games being, 1.5 to Rovers and 1.3 to Gillingham. There have been some exceptions!
On 23 August 1995 Rovers ran out 4-2 winners over the Gills in a League Cup encounter at Twerton Park. A Stewart hat-trick and a goal from Miller completed Rovers score with Bailey and Fortune-West scoring for the Kent team , after the game had been tied 1-1 at half-time.
Back on 19 October 1968 Rovers ran riot beating the Gills by 5-1 at Eastville. You have to go back to 12 April 1952 to find a bigger victory, 5-0. In Kent Rovers’ struggled in the 1980’s in 1984/85 and in 1986/87 they went down 4-1. Conversely in 1970/71 they won 4-1 at Priestfield with Robin Stubbs memorably scoring all 4 goals.
In the last game between the clubs, prior to Rovers 2-1 victory in October, the Kent team ran out 2-0 winners on 5 January 2013 at the Mem. Chris Whelpdale opened the scoring for the away team after just 3 minutes. Following some good play down the left, Whelpdale picked up the ball just outside the area, and fired home past Steve Mildenhall, into the top right hand corner of the net. Two minutes before the break Gillingham extended their lead. Whelpdale headed the ball into the box and Deon Burton turned Garry Kenneth and slotted the ball home from close range.
Speaking ahead of Friday’s game Pennock said, “We are building a bit of momentum and are on our front foot. We have got four massive games and hopefully we turn up. We can’t not.”
“There were a lot of words said the week before after MK Dons and at half-time. A lot of harsh words were said by myself, honest words, because we are in a dogfight. We are at war, at war against every team we play. A win would be massive. Looking back over the years, Easter has often been a crucial period and it’s a crucial one for us now.”
The Gills look likely to be losing defender Zesh Rehman for the Easter campaign as he is struggling with a hamstring injury. Pennock is planning for his absence, “Zesh is doubtful for the Easter period and we will again have to shuffle the pack.”
A formation change is an option, reverting back to 4-4-2, but versatile Chris Herd, who can act as a makeshift central defender, is nearing fitness following a knee injury. He could return just in time.
Danger man Bradley Dack serves the second of his two-match ban in this game, but says that teenager Noel Mbo may feature, “We have got him involved before and if needed, we will call on him.”
“But we have got Cody (McDonald) and I thought Joe (Quigley) and him linked up well on Saturday. We also have Josh Parker and Rory Donnelly. We do rate him. It is a jump to first team football but you just don’t know.”