Bristol Rovers will be looking to gain their second win of the season on Saturday when they travel up to Shropshire to face an under-performing Shrewsbury Town. After failing to gain promotion in the Play-Offs, after a remarkable season where they started as relegation favourites, Paul Hurst departed for Ipswich Town and his squad has been decimated. Two of those players, Alex Rodman and Stefan Payne, are very likely to be facing their former club in Bristol Rovers shirts.
The new man in the hot seat at Shrewsbury is John Askey, who last season led Macclesfield Town back into League football after winning the Championship of the Conference despite having one of the lowest wage bills in the Division. The Shrews, much like Rovers, have found it very difficult to build any momentum so far and have yet to record a league victory.
In mid-week they faced off against Manchester City Under 21’s in the Checkatrade Trophy and came through as winners on penalties. Askey made eight changes from the side that lost 3-2 at Luton in the League game last weekend. Lee Angol had already headed narrowly wide at the near post before he broke the deadlock six minutes after the re-start.
The striker showed good composure after Waterfall had nodded down a Loft corner to tuck into the corner for his second in two games.
City looked to have run out of steam but pressed late on and got their reward as late sub Haynes tripped sub Alpha Diounkou and Nabil Touaizi dispatched it. This put the result down to penalties and the Shrews came out on top 3-1 despite misses from Fejiri Okenabirhie and Doug Loft.
Askey was pleased his side managed to get through the fixture despite the late equalizer, “I thought it was a good night considering that we made so many changes. It was a good workout for us.”
“It’s nice that we ended up with the two points. We should have seen it out, if we didn’t have to make those substitutions then we probably would have done. One or two were feeling a little bit tight. Hamstrings and so on, we couldn’t take the risk with having a game on Saturday.”
“Overall, I think we did well. The lads worked hard and it was quite a good game to watch. Different than most Saturdays, but it was enjoyable.”
Askey was pleased to see the team perform well, despite making a number of changes, including Ryan Barnett. I thought there were a lot of good performances. It’s nice to be able to make eight changes and still be able to compete. Not only did we compete, we should have won the game as well.”
“I think it’s great in this competition where players such as Barnett can get a game and show what they can do. I thought he looked as good as anyone on the park. When you’re playing against Man City’s under 21’s and have one of your own looking as good as anyone on the park, it’s not bad.”
Historically Rovers record against the Shrews is a good one with 29 wins, 14 draws and 20 defeats. The first meeting didn’t take place until the 1951-52 season and it was the Shropshire team who came away from Eastville with a share of the points with a 3-3 draw and a 2-1 victory at Gay Meadow. Len Pickard, Vic Lambdon and Ray Warren scored for Rovers in the home game, with Harry Roberts netting all three of the Shrews goals. In the game at Gay Meadow Vic Lambdon was again on the scoresheet for Rovers and Martin Reagan and Arnie Jackson scored for the home team.
Perhaps the most memorable and certainly the one with the biggest attendance, was the very first Wembley Play-Off Final at the end of an exhilarating 2006/07 season. It took an exciting sequence of ten unbeaten League games, including the late run of five successive victories, to get Rovers to their date at the new Wembley. It placed Rovers alongside Chelsea as teams who played Finals at both the Millennium and Wembley Stadiums in the same season.
Games between the clubs that season had been very tight. Before the Final, Rovers had won two of the three games and yet only two goals were scored in total. The Final of course turned out to be something of a goal feast with Richard Walker (2) and Sammy Igoe giving Rovers their 3-1 victory as Gasheads almost literally sucked the last goal over the line in stoppage time.
Rovers’ equal best league victory was the 7-0 thrashing of the Shrews in the 1963-64 season. Bobby Jones (2), Harold Jarman (2), Alfie Biggs (penalty) Dave Stone and Johnny Brown were Rovers scorers. Rovers were 4-0 up after just 16 minutes. It was some kind of ‘payback’ for a 7-2 dumping the previous season, Frank Clarke (3), Jim McLaughlin (3) and Arthur Rowley scored for the Shrews and Keith Williams and Harold Jarman for Rovers.
Rovers last victory at Shrewsbury was on 21 September 2002. Giuliano Grazioli gave the Gas a 1-0 lead on 35 minutes. Two minutes into the second half Karl Murray restored parity for the Shrews, only for the Gas to score the next three goals, Grazioli (53 and 65 minutes) and Astafjevs (56 minutes). Luke Rogers brought the score back to 4-2 on 72 minutes before Wayne Carlisle netted Rovers 5th with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Since then Rovers have been back six times and have had just a single draw to show for their efforts. Last season’s 4-0 drubbing on 17 October was a real low point of the season for Rovers. Alex Rodman (12 minutes), Carlton Morris (24 minutes), Jon Nolan (29 minutes) and Junior Brown (41 minutes) ensured that the game was all over before half-time.
Shrews in-form striker Lee Angol, who signed on deadline day from Mansfield after Stefan Payne had signed for Rovers, has set his targets on the League One golden boot. Having scored in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Luton he repeated the feat against Manchester City’s Under 21 team on Tuesday.
Angol was previously on the books of Peterborough, where he scored 11 times in 33 appearances. He was loaned out to Lincoln before a permanent switch to Mansfield. Now he is back in League One and wants to make an impression, “No player wants to drop down. Every player wants to keep progressing as high as they can. So I’m happy to be back in League One and hopefully take this team higher and progress myself.
“I know I can score goals if I’m working hard enough and if I’m fit enough. Here I know I’m in a good team that will push each other with a lot of good competition, so I it brings the best out of everyone. It’s a healthy environment.”
“I want to be top goal-scorer. Not just in the team but in the league. I want to take this team to another level. I haven’t had that breakthrough team, all through a season. I’m hoping that this season can be the one. Everyone is focused on the (first league) win. We’ve put in good performances. When we get the win then everyone, including fans, will be pushing each week, game by game.”
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s game, Shrews Boss John Askey said, “All games are tough, Bristol Rovers haven’t done as well the last few weeks, but they’re a decent team. We know if we keep playing and get the rub of the green, there is a good chance we can get the three points.”
“There isn’t that much difference between the two teams in the league at the moment. There isn’t a great deal of differences and it’s a fine margin between winning and losing.”
“I watched their game earlier on against Southend United and they hit the cross-bar early on and hit the underside and it came back out. It’s things like that, which can make a difference. Things are still settling down and it won’t be until another month before the table tells the true story.”