By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers had the relief last weekend of breaking their losing hoodoo and this week’s opposition Southend United also broke a hoodoo of their own. Whilst it was not a sparkling performance by the Gas coming back from being a goal down showed the resilience that will be required to climb the table.
Southend are four points and six positions above Rovers and certainly have their eyes on a Play-Off spot. After winning their opening fixture against highly fancied Blackburn the Shrimpers took another seven games before they picked up another three-point haul. Since then they have steadily accumulated points without ever really achieving any consistency.
In their game on Saturday it was Oldham who threatened first with Eoin Doyle hitting a first minute 20-yard shot just over the bar. But in the 17th minute the Blues broke their hoodoo. Referee Charles Breakspear pointed to the spot after Josh Wright was brought down. Jason Demetriou put his effort to the right hand side of the net with Oldham goalkeeper Johny Placide diving in the opposite direction. The Shrimpers had missed four of their last five penalties.
The Lancashire team had a penalty of their own in the 41st minute when Demetriou turned villain for his challenge on Rob Hunt. Craig Davies was dismayed to see his well-struck penalty tipped over the crossbar by Mark Oxley in the Shrimpers goal.
The home team doubled their lead in the 54th minute; Fortune’s pass to Stephen McLaughlin gave hi the chance to make a fabulous cross, which was converted by Wright on the volley.
Speaking after the game, the Essex team’s Boss Phil Brown said, “I didn’t want to watch it because I was sick to death of seeing us miss penalties. I turned to watch the crowd’s reaction instead so it was great when they all cheered. We’ve been waiting for someone to step up and pass the ball into the back of the net but whether or not JD did that I can’t tell you because I haven’t seen it, I just know he came out on top.”
“We’re hanging on the shirt-tails of the top six and we want one of them to come out but we need to hit the form now which is what we’re doing. If we had not have won here then the gap was probably too big to bridge. But we’ve jumped a few places now and psychologically that helps everybody.”
“The win also means we’re now on the same number of points we had at this stage of last season so I think we’ll have a bigger total this year, especially playing like this. I could have given man of the match to five or six players because there were some outstanding team performances but most of all it was an outstanding team performance.”
In previous meetings the Essex team have the distinct advantage, having won 46 of those games to Rovers’ 39 victories. 31 of those Rovers’ wins have been in the West Country, so just 8 wins for Rovers at the seaside town. The Shrimpers have a better away record than Rovers with 12 wins in the West of England.
The very first meeting between the clubs took place during the First World War as they tied 0-0 at Eastville on 16 January 1915 in an FA Cup match. In the replay at Roots Hall, Southend ran away with it 3-0. Rovers had a shocking record in the seaside town, taking 18 visits to record their first victory and there were only 4 draws in that sequence. In the first 27 games between the teams Rovers only won 8 and Southend 15.
Games between the teams are generally tight with 112 games played, Rovers have scored 162 goals and United 172, at home there have been 54 games with 106 Rovers goals and 63 to United.
Looking at those previous meetings, back in 1964-65 season Rovers were looking a strong prospect for promotion. By the end of April they had dropped away from the leading pack. The day after a dull 1-1 home draw with Exeter they needed to beat Southend in their final home game of the season to give themselves a realistic chance of going up. John McKinven gave Southend the lead early in the second half, but then in the last 10 minutes the game exploded into life, Harold Jarman and Alfie Biggs gave Rovers a 2-1 lead with just 2 minutes left, but Watson equalised a minute later.
It was the following season when Southend suffered their first ever relegation, Rovers gained their revenge on 5th March 1966 for a 2-0 defeat inflicted at Roots Hall less than a month before. Harold Jarman, Dave Stone and Johnny Brown hit the net for Rovers with John McKinven once again proving the scourge of the Rovers defence. The score would have been closer had Slack not missed a penalty in the 88th minute.
In more recent times Rovers scored four times against the Essex team in Bristol. On 25 October 2008, Rickie Lambert had a game to remember even by his standards as he hit four goals. He notched a first half hat-tick with goals in the 10th, 16th and 33rd minute and scored the fourth ten minutes after half-time. There was then something of a scare as Peter Clarke (70 minutes) and Francis Laurent (75 minutes) gave the away team some hope.
The following season the situation was almost reversed as Scott Vernon with a 5th minute penalty and Scott Spencer seven minutes later gave the away team an early 2-0 lead. By half time it was 2-2 as Joe Kuffour (34 minutes) and Jeff Hughes (38 minutes) with a penalty brought the game back to life.
Seven minutes into the second-half, Hughes put Rovers in front but within 5 minutes Vernon had his second of the game to bring the scores level again. The game was turned on its head in the 65th minute with a yellow card to Byron Anthony but a red to Francis Moussa. It wasn’t until the last minute of the game before the ten men capitulated as Anthony Grant put the ball past his own keeper, Steve Mildenhall.
Last season Rovers won the game at the Mem 2-0. Billy Bodin cut in from the right and buried a trademark left-footed shot into the opposite corner of the net after just 57 seconds. The on 31 minutes Rory Gaffney took aim from the right corner of the box and found the net via the inside of the far post with his right foot to double the score.
Phil Brown has praised left-back Stephen Hendrie who replaced the suspended Michael Timlin to make his first League start since the beginning of August prior to the mid-week game against Peterborough, “Stephen did enough to keep the shirt, it will be a knife through Tims’ heart but we have a game on Wednesday at Peterborough and another on Saturday at Bristol Rovers and football has a weird and wonderful way of delivering presents to people’s door-steps. But Stephen delivered some great balls into the penalty box and played well.”
After losing the game on Tuesday Brown looked to pick out the positives, “We’re injury free for Bristol Rovers which, without a shadow of a doubt, is a bigger game. But we never really stretched them and when we were being dispossessed we were in our own half and some mistakes led to their goals. Stephen Hendrie was fairly solid on Saturday but he was a little bit indifferent tonight.”