By Gerry Prewett.
To quote John Lennon, “The dream is over”. With three games of the season left Bristol Rovers meteoric rise up through the League standings has come to an abrupt halt after the late loss at Gillingham on Good Friday. On Monday Rovers entertain an Oldham Athletic team.
One day following Rovers’ failed attempt to pick up maximum points in Kent, Oldham dented fellow Greater Manchester Bolton’s promotion credentials with a 1-0 victory at Boundary Park.
The match was decided in the 76th minute when Tope Obadeyi’s cross caused the Totter’s keeper Mark Howard to divert the ball off his defender Jay Spearing, leaving the Latic’s Lee Erwin to see it over the line.
Over the years there have been some remarkable games between the Gas and the Latics, 57 in total with 19 Oldham victories, 24 to Rovers and 14 draws. Only 5 of those games have been 0–0 and in one remarkable instance was 4-4.
The first meeting was in the FA Cup on 14 December 1935 as the teams tied 1-1 at Boundary Park, Rovers won the replay 4-1 at Eastville with a Phil Taylor hat-trick.
The first League meeting took place on 16 April 1954 with Rovers winning 1-0 at Eastville with a George Petherbridge goal. Three days later the teams drew 0-0 at Boundary Park.
In the 1967-68 season the goals really flowed in this fixture. Rovers won the home tie in front of a 6,864 crowd on 17 February 1968, 4-3 with goals by Alfie Biggs (2) and Johnny Williams (2, 1 penalty) for the home team and Tony Towers (2) and Laurie Sheffield (who had been on Rovers books at one stage without ever getting a game, he went on to score 132 goals in a 281 game career).
Oldham had gone ahead in the game but with 11 minutes left, Rovers were 3-1 up. Towers then scored and Sheffield equalised before Biggs headed his second.
At Boundary Park in the final game of the season there were even more goals as Bobby Jones (2), Wayne Jones, Harold Jarman and Stuart Taylor for the away team and an Ian Wood hat-trick for the home team led to a 5-3 away win.
Wayne Jones scored after 11 minutes and quarter of an hour later Bobby Jones doubled the lead. Wood then scored in the 53rd and 58th minutes to level the scores, but Taylor quickly restored Rovers lead. In the 78th minutes Wood completed his hat-trick and once again brought the scores level. Bobby Jones responded immediately and with just 8 minutes of the season left Jarman put the icing on the cake.
That 4-4 draw was on 27 September 1997, in front of a 5,990 crowd. A rampant Oldham team raced into a 3-0 lead, within the first half hour, with goals by Barlow (8 mins and 23 mins) and McCarthy (25 mins). 15 minutes later and Rovers had pegged it back to 3-3 with Beadle (30 mins and 33 mins) and Hayles (45 mins) scoring. Oldham re-took the lead with a 59th minute goal by Garner but Rovers were not finished, Cureton slammed home a penalty in the 87th minute.
In 2008-09 Rovers completed a 2-0 double over the Latics, which bettered the previous season’s 1-0 double! Prior to that Rovers’ last victory at Boundary Park was on 26 February 2000 as Rovers raced towards what appeared to be a certain automatic promotion.
Goals by Cureton (4 mins and 6 mins, penalty) and Astafjevs (11 mins) seemed to have sown the game up for Rovers within the first 15 minutes. A further goal by Thomson (48 mins) just after half time gave the Gas an unassailable lead and Oldham’s only response was a goal by Dudley in the 67th minute.
Speaking ahead of the Bolton game, Latic’s midfielder Ollie Banks praised returning Manager John Sheridan for putting the belief back into the squad, "We don’t go into games thinking we are going to lose, we don’t even think we are going to draw, we always feel like we’re going to win so it’s all positive at the moment.
"Performances have been a lot better personally. The gaffer allows players to express themselves, he doesn’t put too many things in your head, he just wants you to enjoy it.
“When you’re not quite on your game, the manager lets you know about it but behind the scenes he is calm and lets everyone work it out for themselves."
Sheridan equally complimented his players, who have now suffered only one defeat in 11 home games since his return, “Before I came, if you said I was only going to lose one out of 10 then I would have bitten your hand off. You have to respect the players for the way they have gone about it. You have always got a better chance winning at home than away so I look at that and we’ve done well at home.”
“If we were going to stay in the league then we would have to win at home, which is the same as last season as well.
“They weren’t winning games before I came in so they were playing with a bit of fear but you can see a massive difference in the players now. They are going out thinking they are going to win every game no matter who they are playing so that’s always a good starting point."