By Gerry Prewett.
The 2-1 victory on Good Friday over bottom of the table Bury, was the first part completed of the Easter task. The second part, taking all three points from the trip up to Fleetwood will be no less difficult.
On paper, Friday’s game looked fairly straightforward for the Gas, but a stubborn Bury team not only held their own but crafted a good goal to take a second-half lead. Kyle Bennett proved his worth as Billy Bodin’s replacement as it was assists from him that lead to both Rovers goals. As Darrell Clarke admitted in his post match interview Rovers 85th minute penalty ‘looked a bit soft’, which seemed to have been some karma from the two given recently at Home Park.
Meanwhile Fleetwood Town sitting 6 points below Rovers, were also enjoying a 3 point start to their Easter programme as they came away from AFC Wimbledon with a 1-0 victory.
Ashley Hunter had a powerful long-range effort beaten away by Wimbledon goalkeeper George Long, but conditions were difficult for both sets of players due to the standing water on the pitch.
Fleetwood adapted better, however, and were ahead when in the 22nd minute Conor McAleny found Jack Sowerby in plenty of space and he gave Long no chance with an emphatic finish. Sowerby’s effort owed much to the sodden conditions as McAleny pounced on a loose ball at the back to tee-up the midfielder. It was a neat spot by McAleny but Sowerby showed his strength to shrug off a Dons defender and rifle the ball home left-footed.
Egli Kaja then fired just wide after being well found by Tom Soares before Lyle Taylor wasted a glorious opportunity to equalise for Wimbledon from Dean Parrett's free-kick.
The game looked to have ended in the 70th minute, but it turned out the referee had merely suspended play temporarily as he called on the rollers to deal with a problematic puddle in the middle of Town’s half.
Taylor was then denied by a brilliant save by Alex Cairns before Liam Trotter's 30-yard half-volley flew just over, but the hosts could not find a leveller. The Cod Army's third straight win took them eight points above the relegation zone with seven games left and look to be safe.
Speaking after the game, Town Manager was asked about the ground staff’s inactivity during half-time, ”I don’t know anything. We finished the game, we won it, so happy days. The referee pulled myself and Neal (Ardley, Dons boss) in before the game. Neal was probably questioning the game more. I wanted the game on, didn’t I? Full credit to the referee, he could have easily called it off but he went with it.”
“I know the ball was stopping when you passed it, but both sets of players tried their best and got through it. It was difficult. It was a big game for us both but the most pleasing thing is that we have come out with a massive three points."
“We had gone 1-0 up and had the advantage, but I did not want to come back down on a Tuesday night. I didn’t want the journey. We’ve got games coming up thick and fast and I wanted this game through. We’ve seen it through well.”
“They were putting balls in the box but we didn’t half defend well and the keeper has made some good saves. Even towards the end we had some opportunities on the break. 1-0 is a magnificent score-line for me. A clean sheet again, four on the spin, and it is down to the players.”
“I’m going to applaud my players, applaud both sets of players because conditions were very tricky. I applaud my players’ desire you could not pass a ball on it. It could possibly get called off but when we’ve got the goal we want to be playing.”
“We are not half doing well as a team to keep the ball out of the net. Not that they had many chances. They had a good one in the first half and we have had a couple. Sowers scored a good goal and it is just a brilliant result.”
Rovers have had three wins, a draw and three losses in their only seven games against the seaside club. In 2012/13, the first season that the teams met, the game at the Mem saw a steely 0-0 draw and Rovers came out on top in Lancashire as they returned victorious from Highbury Stadium with a 3-0 win, with goals by Danny Woodards, Eliot Richards and John-Joe O’Toole.
In the game in Bristol the following season it was 0-0 until the 64th minute when Jamille Matt netted from close range to give the visitors the lead. That lead was short lived, as Rovers equalised just two minutes later. John-Joe O’Toole headed into the top of the net following a good cross whipped in from the left from Bond.
As Rovers pushed for the winner Fleetwood re-took the lead on 87 minutes, Matt scoring his second of the game from the edge of the box after good interplay with Antoni Sarcevic who opened up Rovers defence. In time added on the Cod Army got their third to seal the three points. Substitute Jon Parkin, scored an impressive volley from a tight angle.
The last two times the teams clashed in Lancashire the home team ran out 3-1 winners. On 25 March 2015, Fleetwood took a 21st minute lead when Rovers’ Skipper Tom Parkes tried to cut out a through ball some 30 yards from goal, but failed to control it and it fell to Sarcevic whose shot beat Steve Mildenhall with the aid of an apparent deflection off of Mark McChrystal.
With five minutes of the half remaining. Michael Smith blocked a shot from David Ball at the expense of a corner and when Morris swung the ball in from the left, the home skipper rose unchallenged to direct a header past Mildenhall.
Within six minutes of the second half the game was over as a contest, a cross from the left found Ball in space and his header beat Mildenhall who got a hand to the ball but couldn’t prevent it crossing the line. Ellis Harrison pulled a goal back in the 79th minute from Lee Brown’s corner as he headed in his first goal of the season from close range.
Last season Rovers won the game at the Mem, 2-1. Rovers trailed to a fourth-minute strike when Ashley Hunter's angled right-foot shot found the top left corner. Rovers dominated possession but it wasn’t until the 61st minute that Matty Taylor headed home Daniel Leadbitter's cross to level. Leadbitter was again the supply line when Cristian Montano shot home right footed to win the game on 73 minutes.
Fleetwood's livewire strikers Hunter and Chris Long caused Rovers plenty of problems in the first half, both having efforts saved. At the other end, Taylor forced three saves from Chris Neal and had another effort deflected over.
Last season in the game at Highbury the home team took the lead on 13 minutes when David Ball found room down the right to feed Ash Hunter, who shot low into the far corner from six yards out for his 10th goal of the campaign.
Rovers looked to hit straight back, Billy Bodin stinging the palms of Alex Cairns with a long-range effort before a mix up at the back for the Gas then gifted Amarii Bell a rare sight of goal.
The wing-back was unable to get a clean shot away and the ball diverted behind. But, from the resulting corner, Fleetwood doubled their advantage, Cian Bolger stealing in at the back post to apply a firm foot to George Glendon's delivery.
Darrell Clarke made a double switch within minutes of the restart, the change quickly paying off as Conor McLaughlin and Nathan Pond collided, allowing Bodin to pick up the loose ball and smash home from close range.
In the 82nd minute a piece of sublime skill put the game beyond doubt when Ball picked the ball up on the edge of the box and waltzed through the Rovers defence before placing his shot into the far corner.
Jack Sowerby was elated after the victory on Friday, “Every game means so much to us because we’re down the bottom fighting for our lives, and so are Wimbledon. But we got the three points and we have to stick at what we’re doing and get the three points again.”
“The manager was very pleased. In the conditions, we battled hard and defended well. We’re really confident we can stay up. We have to carry on with our good form and not get dragged back into it. None of the lads look at the points total, but we know our target.”
“We’ve won our last three, we’re undefeated under our new manager and we’ve kept a clean sheet in a few games recently so we go into Monday full of confidence. Knowing we’re keeping clean sheets gives us a huge boost. He’s allowed me to be more attack minded and get forward. He’s told me he likes the way I play and I’m building more confidence."