By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers will be looking to continue the momentum they gained with their last two victories when they travel to Kent to face Gillingham. The emphatic victory over the Gills’ neighbours from across the Thames, Southend, last week will have buoyed Rovers. It was not just the 3-0 score line but the manner in which Rovers went about their business that should fill them with confidence.
As Rovers were securing all three points the Gills were going down to a 2-1 defeat, down the M5 at Plymouth. There was controversy early on when the away team thought they had scored. Plymouth debutant keeper and former Gas loanee Kelle Roos, their seventh different keeper this season, allowed Tom Eaves’ shot to slip through his grasp. But the Dutchman scrambled back to pull the ball away from the line.
Joel Grant gave Plymouth a 56th minute lead, showing persistence in the box to get past Luke O’Neill, then driving a low shot through the legs of Max Ehmer and past keeper Tomas Holy.
Gillingham’s corner count was in double figures but they struggled to test the keeper. The Gills equalised on 87 minutes when Tom Eaves latched onto a ball from deep before gently lifting it over keeper Roos to notch his ninth of the season.
Just as the Gills thought they had secured an away point, Argyle’s Toumani Diagouraga denied them, miscuing his first shot, to leave Ben Nugent in no-man’s land and side-footing home at the second attempt.
Steve Lovell the Gill’s Boss said, ““The second half was most probably one of the best we have played, this year. I was pleased with the performance of the boys and from what I saw, as a manager, you are confident and positive going into the next set of games.”
“If we can produce that level on a weekly basis we will be fine. It is hard to lose a game like that in the last minute but we have to stick together, knuckle down, keep working and keep doing what we are doing.”
“I believe what we are doing is right and the players believe it. They gave everything and we just need a little luck in front of goal, then we will be fine.” Finally Lovell said, “We shouldn’t be down where we are in the relegation places of League One but we have to dig in deep. I have always said it is performance related and if you perform, you will get your just deserts and hopefully that will come.”
Looking back over the history of meetings between the Gas and the Gills there has been a total of 104 games, with Rovers having the better record with 46 victories to the Gills 39. They majority of Rovers success has come in the West of England with 32 of those 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, with a goal by George Needham followed by a 2-0 Rovers’ victory in the return fixture at Eastville a week later with Sid Leigh scoring twice for the Pirates.
Prior to the home win last season, Rovers last three point haul was on 21 November 2009. The Gas winning 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.
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.
On paper the game at Priestfield on 22 August 1998 appears to be a remarkable 0-0 draw. Indeed the game was pretty uneventful until a mass brawl broke out in the last 5 minutes of the game. It all appeared to be handbags at 5 paces until Referee Matt Massias reached into his top pocket and brandished his red card, four times! Trevor Challis and keeper Lee Jones sent off for Rovers and Ady Pennock and Barry Ashby for the Gills.
Last season in a late season away game Rovers went down to a 3-1 defeat. After a goalless first-half in which neither side seemed able to exert any control it was the home team that took the lead on 64 minutes.
A long throw saw confusion in the Rovers box. The ball bounced and sat up nicely for Josh Wright after a deflection. Wright didn't need asking twice and he poked the ball into the net past a helpless Joe Lumley to put Gillingham ahead.
Gillingham’s lead lasted 10 minutes. Deji Oshilaja was penalised for a shove on Tom Lockyer, just inside the box, leading to referee Mark Heywood pointing to the spot. Billy Bodin converted.
With Rovers desperate for all three points they were leaving themselves exposed to a swift counter-attack and so it proved as substitute Cody McDonald won it for the hosts with a thunderous strike with just 30 seconds of normal time remaining The striker had Stuart Sinclair to beat, and he flicked the ball past the Rovers man before beating him to the ball to fire the ball past Joe Lumley.
Then in the sixth minute of added time Rovers fate was sealed, as the Gills striker chipped in his second he was put clean through on goal with Lumley rushing off his line.
The mood in the Kent team’s camp is surprisingly upbeat as Captain Lee Martin Spoke after the loss last weekend, “The boys are massively disappointed because I thought we dominated the game. We have played worse in other games and got the three points and I would say, arguably, that was the best we have played technically on the ball.”
“Their keeper made three or four good saves and we had good opportunities. After the game our players were so disappointed and I was disappointed for them. Even if we had come off and it was 1-1 we would have been feeling the same. Just because they get a goal at the end you can’t turn everything around and say, ‘how are we going to change this?’, ‘we need to change that’. People look into it too deeply.”
“If you look at the performance levels, the amount of chances we had, the amount of corners and opportunities to make them struggle defensively, which we did, the way we played and passed and got forward and our fitness levels, those were all positives.”
“The way they got their second goal was unbelievable, he couldn’t do that again if he tried, the way the ball went in the air and landed perfectly. His first shot wasn’t going anywhere, Ben Nugent couldn’t see it, Max Ehmer didn’t know where it had gone, and before you know it it’s in the back of the net.”
“That’s the way it’s going but we shouldn’t have even been in that position, to worry about that last kick. We have to focus on the positives, take it into Saturday and if we play that well again we will win the game.”
Speaking about Rovers, Lovell noted, “They are a very good, well-organised side, they will be good going forward, like most teams in this league. A game of football is all about counter-attacking and we had a plan against Plymouth because we knew that when they went forward they would leave themselves open at the back. Second half it proved it, until they put bodies behind the ball, when they realised they weren’t going to out-do us going forward.”
“We will play our normal way and attack them, take the game to them. They will come and have their tactics to try and stop us. It is about spotting what is going on to adjust it from a tactical point of view and a technical one. It will be down to us, we will take the game to them and hopefully get the breaks that I think we deserve.”
He then went on to speak about the January transfer window, “We have looked at quite a few players that we would like to bring in. We are watching them. It is all right bringing people in but they have to fit with what we are looking for.”
“Their attitude has to be spot on as well because at the moment the attitude in the dressing room is great. Everyone is enjoying it and we have to make sure we bring in the right kind of person. It doesn’t matter how old they are, as long as they can do what we want them to do, then we will try and get them in.”
“Hopefully, we will have at least two, hopefully three. The chairman has told me to give him some targets when the time comes and we have to make sure these targets are the right people. There may be an experienced one out there as well, which would help the squad. I am not too disappointed with the squad. I am happy with the boys but it would be nice to just have a bit more in certain areas to perhaps go on and finish teams off.”
“I have a couple of boys already who will be coming in January to train with us, who have been earmarked, with a licence to us signing them. That is what I have to do. I have to go and see them or get them here so I can see what they are like. Hopefully, they will fit in with us.”