By Gerry Prewett.
This weekend Bristol Rovers entertain AFC Wimbledon hoping they can bring a horrendous run of form to an end. Since thrashing Northampton Town 6-0 at Sixfields, the Gas results have plummeted with just one win and seven defeats in eight games. It’s fortunate for Rovers League position, if not the bank balance, that three of those losses have come in Cup competitions.
AFC Wimbledon have had their own struggles this season and have picked up just 4 points in the last 8 games and currently sit in 21st place, 5 points behind Rovers. Last weekend they picked up a very creditable draw against 8th placed Peterborough.
The Wombles Lyle Taylor took only 36 seconds to give the home side the lead as he drove the ball into the bottom corner. Peterborough hit back in the 26th minute when Marcus Maddison's cross led to the equaliser. There was confusion as to whether it was an own goal by Barry Fuller but it was given to Danny Lloyd in the end, for a debut League goal.
Ten minutes later, Maddison won a penalty after a blatant push by Tom Soares and stepped up to score it himself. Shortly before half time, a long ball over the top by Deji Oshilaja caught Peterborough's defenders out and Cody McDonald was left one on one with goalkeeper Jonathan Bond and beat him.
It was an 85th minute incident that brought international notoriety and ridicule to Maddison who clashed with Liam Trotter and then hit the turf, after their heads just about made the very slightest of contact, with a shocking piece of simulation which fooled no-one including referee Darren Handley.
Speaking after the game Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley commented, “He will be embarrassed when he sees it, when he watches it back. I don’t agree with trying to get a fellow player sent off. To try to get someone sent off is disappointing. It’s not what we want in the game.
“There was no way that anyone tried to throw a head at each other, they were just head-to-head giving each other the eyeballs... handbags at 10 paces."
Rovers record in these ties is excellent with 7 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat in the 10 games played. The first game was actually AFC’s very first League game at the start of the 2011/12 season. The live televised match provided great entertainment. Goals by McGleish and Harrold had Rovers cruising within 20 minutes. AFC then fought back and Stuart was on the scoresheet 7 minutes before half-time. On 67 minutes Kingsmeadow erupted as Ademeno pulled AFC level. It was left for Adam Virgo to spoil the party with an 84th minute penalty to take all 3 points back down the M4 to Bristol.
Rovers should have had the game out of Wimbledon's reach by half time, but allowed their hosts to get back on level terms before they settled things with that late penalty. The team contained ten players making their Rovers league debut.
The following season an appalling first half display saw Rovers give away 3 goals in 14 minutes to lose any chance of taking anything from the game. To cap it all they finished the game with ten men after Tom Parkes picked up his second yellow card of the evening on 83 minutes.
It was no real surprise when Wimbledon took the lead on 14 minutes. A ball in from the right seemed to catch everyone by surprise and appeared to hit Gary Kenneth on the shin and roll into an unguarded net. Incessant pressure from the home side saw them rewarded with a second goal on the half hour mark. Midson was the provider, slipping the ball out to the right to Rashid Yussuff who comfortably slid the ball past Neil Etheridge from six yards.
Three minutes later goal number three arrived. Tom Parkes was penalised with a yellow card for a poor challenge out on the right, George Francomb floated the free kick into the area and Antwi was credited with the final touch, though from the stand it appeared to go in off of Kenneth.
With just 18 minutes remaining Rovers recovered some semblance of dignity when David Clarkson set up Eaves for the fourth goal of his brief Rovers career. Winning possession some 25 yards from goal, he squared the ball to his strike partner who fired a superb shot into the top corner of the net.
Any hopes of a dramatic fight back were dashed seven minutes from time when Parkes made a rash challenge on Luke Moore and was booked for his efforts. It was his second booking of the evening, and he headed for the dressing room knowing he faced another suspension.
In Rovers first home game against the Dons, Tom Hitchcock scored his first ever league goal in the 83rd minute. Tounkara put the ball into the path of the young striker who shot home from 12 yards out. Hitchcock could have made it 2-0 after getting on the end of a Broghammer cross, but he headed wide of the right hand post.
The following season Rovers won 3-0 with goals by David Clarkson on 19 minutes, Tom Parkes just after the half-hour and Matt Harrold with a last minute penalty.
Last season Rovers won both games, 2-0 on New Years Eve at the Mem and 1-0 at the Cherry Red Records Stadium on 8th April.Wimbledon striker Cody McDonald is looking to kick on from his first league goal for the Dons. Speaking ahead of this week’s game McDonald said, “There was a lot of pressure on me, but I’m quite relaxed about it.”
“I think everything happens for a reason, not just on the football pitch, but in life in general. It’s happened now and it’s down to me to really kick on. I wouldn’t say I’ve played particularly a lot better than I have been, I’ve been playing OK and the goals haven’t been coming, but maybe that goal will just give me that little bit extra and I’ll push on from there.”
“It’s really nice to get off the mark. It was a funny one really, as they are the sort of chances you want in a game. The defenders sort of looked at each other and I wasn’t sure if they were going to go for it! Then it just seemed to really open up for me. Hopefully it’s time for me to really push on now.”
“I had an overhead kick in the second half and looking back maybe I could have held the player off and brought it down, but you always look at things in hindsight. A lot of strikers go off instinct and at the time it felt the right thing to do.
“I’ll take confidence from the goal and the lads for the performance. There were a lot of positives to take from the Peterborough game and we go on to Saturday now full of confidence, after last Saturday’s win in the FA Cup and now this result too.
“Credit to all the lads, everyone grafted, it was a well-earned point. There’s a lot of characters in that dressing room and these boys won’t give up. We haven’t performed as well as we’d hoped for this season with the quality we’ve got in there, but they’ll keep trying. I think we’ve showed that, even in games we’ve lost, we’ve been really pummelling teams at the end.
"I think that’s all you can ask for, from the manager and the fans, they want to see passion from the lads. There’s no doubt about the commitment, unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t work out, but against Peterborough we had the quality and the stability to do it.”