Will it be a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show” for Bristol Rovers this weekend?
After demolishing an admittedly abject Northampton Town team, the Gas will face a stiffer challenge against Oxford this weekend.
Whilst Rovers were smashing six past the Cobblers, the Yellows were comfortably putting AFC Wimbledon to one side with a 3-0 home win.
Playing on his own up front, United’s Wes Thomas took Jack Payne's pass in his stride after 12 minutes and waltzed past the Dons' two centre-halves Will Nightingale and Abdul-Yussuf Oshilaja, before firing a low left-footed drive past goalkeeper George Long from 18 yards for his fifth goal of the season to give United an early 1-0 lead.
Thomas’s 12th-minute opener was the first time United had scored before the break at home this season. He had also opened the scoring for Oxford in their stunning 4-1 win at Peterborough the previous Saturday.
Two of the biggest moments of the match arrived just after the break. United keeper Simon Eastwood pulled off a stunning one-handed save to keep out Cody McDonald’s header from a Barry Fuller cross.
United cleared the corner and were quickly down the other end. The Dons failed to clear a James Henry cross and Ricardinho arrived on the edge of the area to bury the ball into the bottom corner, 2-0 to the home team.
Substitute Xemi Fernandez made it 3-0 from close range with five minutes remaining, following up after Long saved Henry's drive.
Interviewed after the game U’s boss Pep Clotet said, of Eastwood’s game-changing save, “It would have seen it go back to a draw. They only had five shots on goal, but only one on target, and the fact your keeper saves it, that says a lot.”
“That means the focus of the players was there. And the fact we turned that ball into an immediate counter-attack and scored the second goal, I think it killed the game a little bit.”
“It is not easy to play Wimbledon. They are a team that defends very well and make things very difficult. There were a lot of difficulties we had to overcome, to dominate the game and I think we did it.
"The players did the job right and when we had to defend we did it with purpose. We have the feeling that every time we start strong and we score in the first half, we normally find it a little bit better to play our football.”
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 52 meetings since Oxford first entered the League back in the mid-1960’s, replacing Accrington Stanley.
In terms of results the games between the teams have been remarkably even over the years with Rovers winning 19, United 18 and 13 draws. In all respects, it’s the home teams who dominate in these fixtures with 5 United away wins and 8 Rovers away wins.
The first game between the two teams was played on 18th September 1965 at Eastville. There were four goals scored, all by Jones, one by Oxford’s Tony, but the star of the day was Rovers’ Bobby who bagged a hat-trick.
However, my vivid memory of that day was the Oxford keeper, Harry Fearnley who was smoking during the game! He used to rush into the back of his net whilst play was at the other end and have a quick puff. Also in the Oxford team was "Big Fat" Ron Atkinson, who the Evening Post noted failed to keep a tight grip on Bobby Jones.
The most goals scored in a Rovers’ home game was a stunning 6-2 win at the end of the 2000-01 relegation season, which ended up being meaningless as Rovers’ season fell apart at the death. That 2 goal haul was only the second time the U’s have managed two goals on Rovers territory.
However, the next time they registered that number at the Mem was in 2002-03 season when they secured a 2-0 win.
United opened the scoring on 21 minutes, Adam Chapman fed the ball into Jake Forster-Caskey, who turned and shot on the edge of the area.
Alfie Potter doubled Oxford’s lead just after the half-hour mark, after a slip from Michael Smith near the half way line. The Oxford winger made a great solo run and slotted the ball home past Walker in the Rovers goal.
In the early season home game in 2015/16 Rovers, who had started the game strongly, but were reduced to 10 men with just over 15 minutes played as Ollie Clarke was shown a straight red by referee James Linington for a suspected elbow on Oxford midfielder Danny Rose.
Numbers were up just before the hour mark as, following some neat interplay by Jermaine Easter and Matty Taylor, Taylor was bundled to the ground by Liam Sercombe (I wonder what happened to him) who was shown his second yellow of the game.
On 62 minutes the away team’s Kemar Roofe was allowed space to shoot on the edge of the area and curled one into the top right-hand corner of the goal with the ball clipping the crossbar on it's way past a helpless Aaron Chapman.
In last season’s game, a Jermaine Easter goal on 25 minutes gave Rovers the lead before Kane Hemmings, equalised for United just before half-time. The packed Mem was in raptures as Matty Taylor secured all three points with 20 minutes to go to secure a 2-1 home win.
United winger James Henry expresses his view that boss Pep Clotet’s calm and positive manner has had a positive effect on the team, “I think it has just been very consistent.
"I have had a few conversations with him as well and it’s just reiterating to the squad that it hasn’t been that bad.”
“He showed us some clips of the good stuff we had done in the three defeats and I think it gave everyone a lift. We’ve shown in the last two games how good we can be when we’re firing on all cylinders.”
“He speaks to everyone, he is very good like that. He is very good for morale, he tries to keep everyone upbeat, and he’s been fantastic.”
“Looking from the outside in, you probably think it’s all doom and gloom because you’ve lost three in a row. It probably goes for the same when we’re winning, it probably isn’t as good as we think it is.
"So all we can do is keep playing the football we want to play and try to impose our style. In the last two games, it has really worked.”