By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers head up to South Yorkshire to face a Rotherham United team, which seems to have comfortably secured a Play Off place, in an effort to bounce straight back to the Championship. Currently in 4th place the Millers are a massive 17 points behind 2nd placed Blackburn, but 9 points above Plymouth in 7th spot.
When Rovers beat Rotherham 2-1 on 2nd December it ended a 10 game horror run for the Gas, in which there had been just 3 points gained from a single victory (yes there were a number of Cup games in that run). Both teams had started the season well, although both lost the opening fixture, but seemed to have hit the buffers.
Since that defeat United have put together a run, which has seen them lose just 3 games as they leapfrogged up the table. Only the top-two have picked up more points at home than Rotherham (42), who have lost just once the New York Stadium since December.
On Tuesday evening the Millers put in a strong performance at Priestfield to come away with all three points. After withstanding early pressure the away team took the lead on 20 minutes. Some excellent work down the right flank from Josh Emmanuel saw him deliver a low cross to Smith, who held up the ball with his back to goal, before teeing up the advancing Vaulks to lash a powerful effort into the bottom corner and give his side the lead.
Gillinghham had the ball in the net just four minutes later when Josh Parker had the beating of Marek Rodak with a header in the six yard box. It came following an excellent delivery from Mark Byrne on the Gills' right which was met with a clean connection from the forward, who was greeted by the offside flag as he wheeled away to celebrate.
After the game Millers Boss Paul Warne said, "I thought that we played the conditions as well as we could, is probably the nicest way to put it. It didn't suit our play really but I thought that we deserved our lead at half-time and then we had enough chances in the second-half to reduce my heart-rate by about 50 beats."
"They have some real physical force and strength so we changed it and put Semi Ajayi on as a sitting midfielder which sort of gives us some more height on the pitch. Richie Towell was having a great game to be fair, it wasn't a criticism of him but it made us more solid."
"We kept breaking and I thought that we would get a second goal but they had a free-kick near the end and I'm thinking if this goes in then I will struggle to sleep but thankfully we defended really well. I think the lads performed really well away from home, it was a difficult place to come. I watched them play Blackburn and they got a 0-0 here last week when Gillingham probably deserved to win. Credit to the lads, two away games, two good teams and to get four points is great for us."
"I think on another day Ryan Williams could have had a couple. Jon Taylor was excellent tonight, he was a constant threat. He kept putting 'goal' balls in during the first half and second. We should have scored more which made it more difficult for us, but it was a really good Gillingham team so I am really pleased to get on the bus with a win."
Results between the teams are very even with 23 Rovers victories, 14 draws and 20 Rotherham in 56 games. The first ever meeting was on 21st November 1953 at Millmoor, where a Barrie Meyer goal secured a 1-1 draw. The return game at Eastville saw Paddy Hale score to give Rovers a 1-0 victory.
What was remarkable about Rovers visits to Millmoor was their lack of success in the early years. It took 19 games before they secured maximum points! During that spell, there were 5 consecutive defeats followed by 6 consecutive draws. This included their worst defeat in only their second visit when they went down to a 6-2 hammering on 16 October 1954. By way of contrast the Gas have twice beaten the Millers 5-2.
In 2011/12 Rovers did the double over their South Yorkshire rivals. On October 14th 2011 in a rare Friday night game, Rovers equalled their best ever result against the Millers. After 10 minutes Scott McGleish opened the scoring and later doubled his tally with a penalty. Cian Bolger, Lee Brown and substitute Joe Anyinsah all added their names to the list of Rovers' scorers. Jason Taylor and Danny Schofield, scored for the away team in a game that the Gas dominated.
On 25th February Rovers held out in the game at the Don Valley Stadium until added time when Andy Dorman put the icing on the cake with a driven winner for the Gas. The following season the away teams won both fixtures, Rovers winning 3-1 at the New York Stadium and the Millers winning 2-1 at the Mem. In the away game Lee Brown gave the Gas the lead with a 43rd minute penalty and 2 minutes later Millers defender Claude Davis literally saw red for his second yellow of the game. Ellis Harrison netted on 52 minutes and Joe Anyinsah made the game safe nine minutes later. David Noble scored for the home team on 73 minutes but it was not enough to get his team back into the game.
Miller's captain Richard Wood is looking for his team to win their final three League One matches of the season so they kick off their impending play-off campaign as the team to fear. Wood has targeted maximum points against the Gas, away to Plymouth Argyle and then at home to Blackpool. "If we can win the last three games, we'll go into the play-offs with nobody wanting to play us before a ball has been kicked. I've loved every minute of this season and being captain means a great deal to me."
"We can go up. All day long, we can. We can beat any team on our day and we've shown that for most of the season."
Manager Paul Warne meanwhile is bemoaning the lack of protection given to big striker Michael Smith, "The refs can give only what they see. I do moan now and again. I do think he takes a battering. The sad thing for Smudge is that he's too honest. Smudge can get karate-kicked in the back and he will not go down."
"I'm not encouraging him to dive, anything but; I like my players to be really honest, but then you do ask for the officials to help him out. He shouldn't have to go down to get a free-kick if he's getting his shirt ripped off his back. "