By Gerry Prewett.
This weekend Bristol Rovers face one of their most challenging away trips of the season, against Blackburn Rovers. The Lancashire team started their season poorly, losing their opening two games before discovering their form and they currently sit in the last Play-Off spot with 31 points from 17 games.
They are in a rich vein of form having won four of their last six games and drawn the other two. For the Gas their best sign of hope is that the Riversiders who have suffered just four league losses and those games have been against; Southend, Doncaster, Wimbledon and Oldham. Their latest game was a stunning victory on the road at Oxford.
After creating two early chances Rovers went ahead on on five minutes when the Charlie Mulgrew tapped in at the far post after Marcus Antonsson flicked on a Bradley Dack corner.
The combination of Dack and Antonsson helped double the advantage in the 12 minutes later with the assistance of Oxford defender Aaron Martin. His square ball was cut out by Dack, whose shot was parried by Simon Eastwood in the home goal but Antonsson had the simple job of tapping into the empty net.
On twenty-two minutes Dack was tripped in the box by Dwight Tiendalli and Mulgrew’s powerful penalty beat Eastwood even though he went the right way.
Right on half-time Jack Payne gave the home team some hope when his left-footed drive went across David Raya from the tightest of angles and in off the post.
With less than twenty minutes left to play Rovers restored their three-goal advantage as Joe Nuttall converted Ryan Nyambe's cross.
Oxford sub Jon Obika twice went close, once denied by a flying Raya save and then heading over a Payne free-kick, before he finally got himself on the scoresheet six minutes from time.
Games between the two BRFC’s have been few and far between with the Lancashire team more often enjoying the upper echelons of the League. The first meeting of the two teams with a unique combination of blue and white colours took place on 23 January 1931 as Blackburn entertained the Gas in a 4th Round FA Cup tie and promptly won 5-1. Syd Puddefoot, John Bruton and Les Bruton (3) scored for the home team and Ronnie Dix scored Rovers’ only goal.
The first League meeting took place on 22 August 1953 and Rovers gained a hard earned point from a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park John Campbell scoring for the home team and Barrie Meyer for the Gas. Blackburn won the game at Eastville 2-1 with Eddie Quigley and Bob Langton scoring for the away team and Jackie Pitt for Rovers.
The most remarkable game between the clubs took place on 5 February 1955 at Ewood Park, Rovers were 3-2 ahead at half-time Bill Roost and Vic Lambdon (2) scoring for the Gas and Eddie Crossan and Tommy Briggs for the home team. It was Briggs who ran riot in the second half as the game eventually finished with an 8-3 home win and Briggs netted 7 of them! He scored 4 in the last 12 minutes and also hit the post.
From 1972 until 1981 the clubs crossed paths 15 times and the Gas won 11 of those games and 4 were drawn. Amongst that run were two 4-1 victories including Bobby Gould’s debut for Rovers when he notched a hat-trick on 15 October 1977.
The last times the teams crossed paths was on 7 March 1992 at Twerton Park and the home team won 3-0 with goals by David Mehew (2) and Devon White.
The overall record for the clubs is remarkably even with 15 Gas wins, 8 draws and 12 Blackburn victories.
Blackburn’ s Derrick Williams says he's prepared for "a few boos" on Saturday afternoon. Having spent three years playing for the team south of the river he knows what to expect, "I'll probably get a few boos from the travelling fans, but that doesn't bother me. I'm looking forward to the game and hopefully we can extend our winning run with another victory.”
"It's a massive week for us, especially coming back to Ewood. We want to make it a fortress at home, play some good football, and make it difficult for teams to come to Ewood. We want to make it a daunting prospect for opponents who play us at home. With the lads playing so well at the moment and with confidence high, I expect us to carry on this good form."
Blackburn Boss Tony Mowbray is considering his options for the game, “The key for this weekend is to assess who we feel can play three games in a week. What positions on the pitch do we need some fresh legs?”
“We have another game on Tuesday and every game is as important as the next one so to not blow the team energy wise with three games in a week we have to get the balance right. We want to get to a stage where the individuals can play at the same levels that they have been showing.”
Mowbray is studying performance data collated by the sports science department closely, “We get their numbers every day, their physical data of what they do in training, how much sprinting, how much high intensity running, the metre reach they do. You understand and look at individuals. Some people can run all day and not get fatigued, others need a break, so it’s understanding which ones can do it, yet it’s not always like that.
“Harry Chapman was easing his way into the team and we would now have hoped that he would have been starting every game and influencing matches, but the week after his first start he broke down. Not everyone will work as you assume but they’re the calls we have to make and the players accept that.”
“Whittingham for instance was left out in the second game of the four, but I anticipate that he will be out there on Saturday having done pretty well over the last six to eight weeks.”
Despite the stats Mowbray still trusts his instincts, “I think the sports science department are respectful enough to know that’s how it works. At the end of the day as the manager of the football club you have to be in charge and make the decisions and the sports science department are there to support and help you.”