Bristol Rovers face a serious test this weekend in an early kick-off for their first televised game of the season at Bradford City. Having twice missed out in the Play-Offs to their nemesis, Millwall, the Bantams will be looking to take the direct route up to the Championship this season.
The Achilles heel of the Yorkshire team last season was too many draws when in winning positions, ironically both the games between the clubs last season finished 1-1 with the home team having scored first in each game.
On Saturday the Bantam’s fatal weakness was exposed in the Midlands at the Bescott Stadium as they raced to a 3-0 lead. After a scrappy first half-hour, City took the lead when Alex Gilliead's run led to Charlie Wyke putting the ball across the six-yard box for Shay McCartan to tap home. On 38 minutes it was 2-0 as Dominic Poleon was on the end of Tom Field's cross to sweep the ball into the bottom corner from 10 yards.
With just four minutes of the second half gone Tony McMahon's deep free-kick was turned into his own net by Walsall defender Luke Leahy and it looked game over.
Leahy soon atoned for that, scoring with a bullet header from Nicky Devlin's cross to pull one back after 55 minutes. The comeback was on when substitute Tyler Roberts, signed on loan from West Brom a day earlier, headed home Leahy's 61st-minute cross from 12 yards, just eight minutes into his debut.
Walsall's fightback was completed three minutes from time as Roberts' teasing cross was bundled home from close range by Amadou Bakayoko to salvage a point for Walsall.
Boss Stuart McCall was understandably scathing of his palyers, “We were mentally and physically weak in the second half, which was very disappointing. We should have enough professionals to realise the game is never, ever over. We can look at ourselves for decisions we made, but sometimes players have to take responsibility.”
“Myself, Kenny (Black) and the staff will look at our part in it. But it wasn’t the intention to sit back and invite possession. We were looking to make a sub at 3-0 because it would have been folly to keep four strikers on the pitch, particularly when we were still conceding opportunities.”
“We simplified it for ourselves, went to a back three, wing-back against wing-back and got Jake Reeves to look after Oztumer. It was a basic shape to revert to. There was no difficulty about it, you’ve just got to be better than your man.”
“Look at their first goal. We’re well aware of the left wing-back coming in but we switch off and didn’t stop it. Then we don’t show enough desire to stop crosses going into the box and we don’t show enough desire when crosses are put in the box.”
“But I don’t just want to point the finger at defenders, a couple of them were our better players. They had a lot to do. Walsall were mentally stronger. After 48 minutes, the fans were on their manager’s back at 3-0 down and it just shows you how football can change.”
Bristol Rovers and Bradford City resume a rivalry which has had a fifteen year hiatus. During that time the Yorkshire team have been up to the Premiership and suffered three relegations and Rovers too have experienced a waning of their fortunes to see this meeting take place in the basement division.
Much like Rovers, City feel as though they ‘belong’; at a higher level and their Valley Parade ground testifies to their recent glories. Surrounded by the two Sheffield teams, Leeds, Doncaster, Barnsley, Huddersfield and to a lesser extent Rotherham life is tough for the Bantams.
Considering that Rovers and City have been in existence for so long and have spent so much time in the lower divisions there has been surprisingly few games between them, 24 in total. The very first meeting didn’t take place until 22nd November 1969 when they played out a 1-1 draw at Eastville. Rovers won the game at Valley Parade the following March 4-2.
The overall record between the clubs favours Rovers with 13 wins, 7 draws and just 4 defeats. Perhaps the most memorable game for Rovers fans was one of the early meetings at Eastville on 4 September 1971. After just 20 minutes the Gas were 5-0 ahead and had hit the woodwork 3 times! Bruce Bannister, playing for his hometown team and later to become a Gas hero, pulled one goal back for the visitors, but two late strikes sealed a 7-1 victory for the boys in blue. Brian Godfrey notched three, Harold Jarman and Booby Jones each notched a brace.
Rovers’ record in Yorkshire is excellent; Rovers have won 4 drawn 4 and lost 4 of the games at Valley Parade. A remarkable feature of this fixture is that until their last visit the Yorkshire team had never scored more than 2 goals against Rovers at home.
In 2011/12 the game played on 10 September finished 2-2. Matt Harrold gave Rovers a first half lead with a goal on 40 minutes. Michael Flynn crashed home a penalty on 64 minutes before Elliot Richards put the Gas back in front 14 minutes later. With Rovers seeming on the way to victory a last minute penalty gave Welshman Flynn the chance to crash home his second spot kick of the game.
The last time the teams clashed before last season was on 9 April 2013 and the Bantams thrashed Rovers 4-1. Nahki Wells opened the scoring. There were only six minutes on the clock when Garry Thompson cut inside Lee Brown and crossed into the box where Wells headed home from close range. Wells put his side further in front, this time from the penalty spot after Fabian Broghammer fouled Ricky Ravenhill. The spot kick was well struck into the bottom corner and although Mildenhall dived the right way he was powerless to keep it out.
The home side further increased their lead on the fifth minute of stoppage time. Mildenhall hesitated when he came for a free kick into the box, allowing central defender Andrew Davies the chance to head home.
It took just five minutes for Rovers to pull a goal back and Hitchcock did well to latch on to a long ball out of defence and roll a shot past McLaughlin that went in off the post.
However any thoughts of a comeback were extinguished just seven minutes later when the home side capitalised on a mistake by Michael Smith. The full back’s wayward pass found Wells, who played in Thompson and he calmly beat Mildenhall to restore his side’s three-goal lead.
In transfer dealings in the August window City signed Bury defender Adam Thompson on a season-long loan. The 24-year-old joined the Shakers from Southend in the summer and made three appearances for Lee Clark's side. The former Watford man is currently on international duty with Northern Ireland.
Stuart McCall commented, "Centre-half is clearly a position where we have been looking to strengthen, so we are delighted to have him on board," boss Stuart McCall
Another piece of good news for City was Burnley’s signing of Huddersfield striker Nahki Wells, which is likely to net City a major windfall. It is understood City have a sell-on clause of 15 per cent of any profit made on that fee.