By Gerry Prewett.
After the disappointing opening to the 2018-19 season at Peterborough last weekend Bristol Rovers entertain last season’s Division 2 Champions Accrington Stanley.
Last April Accrington were flying high. They had beaten Championship Lancashire rivals Preston in the Carabao Cup, striker Billy Kee named League Two player of the season and finally promotion to League One for the first time in the club's history. The reality of life in Division One was made harsh reality last weekend when they hosted Gillingham.
The home team’s Jonny Maxted was the first goalkeeper in action, pulling off a diving save to deny Mark Byrne in the seventh minute. Stanley threatened as Sean McConville's header beat keeper Tomas Holy but the Gill’s Max Ehmer headed off the line.
The away team took the lead on 23 minutes when Brandon Hanlan fired home from close range after getting on the end of a Regan Charles-Cook cross. Just two minutes before half-time the Kent team doubled their lead, Luke O'Neill played in a cross from the right and Josh Parker's diving header found the back of the net.
Stanley again looked to get back in the game in the second half; Scott Brown's goal bound shot hit his own player, Offrande Zanzala headed over and Ross Sykes had a header cleared off the line but they could not find a way through.
Despite the result boss John Coleman is confident his team will learn and adjust quickly to life in League One, “Obviously I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in the way we played for half an hour in the first half.”
“We started off OK but I think they got a corner after about 15-16 minutes and they missed a couple of chances and that gave them a bit of confidence, and unfortunately it was a mistake by Callum Johnson, who has been flawless for long periods. Unfortunately he made a mistake and they punished us with the goal.”
“And then they got their tails up, they swamped us in midfield, we were guilty of giving the ball away and when we did it was a classic counter attacking performance to be fair. They were better than us and they could have scored four or five in that spell.”
“And then we missed the best chance of the match really, Jordan Clark at the far post, and he puts it in the side netting when you think it would be easier to put it into the net. He might have been a bit unsighted with the ball coming in. But that gave them even more confidence and they go and score again.”
“I’ve to give our lads some credit because in the second half they took the game to them.
“They had a couple of corners in the first five minutes of the second half but after that it was one-way traffic, we just couldn’t find a way to break them down. They were well organised. Maybe that’s down to sitting off and trying to keep hold of a two-goal lead or us upping our work-rate and effort and our determination.”
“We know we’ve got to be better and it might act as a wake-up call because I think a lot of them have seen them getting beat 5-1 by Colchester last week, we’ve had a good pre-season, we’ve probably been a little bit blasé going into it and as my old dad used to say ‘we’ve had our eyes’. But we’ll learn from it. We can’t get too downbeat. We know we’re a good side and believe me we’ll give them a game at their place."
Rovers and Stanley have played one another 12 times before. The very first time was an FA Cup tie on 14 December 1929 at Eastville, the home team running out 4-1 winners, as George Reay netted twice, Jack Phillips and Fred Forbes also scoring for the Pirates with Danny Ferguson scoring for the Peel Park team. Four years later at the same stage Rovers visited Peel Park and came back out of the Cup, losing 1-0.
Fast-forward over 70 years before the rejuvenated Stanley were back into the League after their 1961 demise and visited Bristol once again. The very first league meeting again took place in December 23 2006. Once again Rovers hit 4 goals but this time Stanley were scoreless. Richard Walker put Rovers ahead on 6 minutes, Steve Elliott on 22 minutes and Walker with a 26th minute penalty made the game safe. Stuart Nicholson completed the scoring on 88 minutes. The return game in Lancashire on 6 March ended in a 1-1 tie, Richard Walker again giving Rovers the lead, but Shaun Whalley equalised for Stanley in the last minute.
Rovers finished their 2011-12 home programme with a flourish as they disposed of Stanley with a 5-1 victory. Matt Harrold scored twice on 11 and 22 minutes (the second a penalty), Andy Dorman 29 minutes, put Rovers 3-0 up, before Kevin McIntyre on 38 minutes put Stanley back in the game before half-time. In the second half goals by Matty Lund 58 and 78 minutes gave Rovers their last victory over the Lancashire team.
In the last 6 games, Stanley have come out winners by a single goal every time. In the last game between the clubs in Bristol Rovers lost out after the Reds scored in added time to take all three on 28 January 2014.
The Gas dominated for most of the game, and put the Accrington goal under plenty of pressure, but they could not find the back of the net and the visitors took advantage at the last minute to win 1-0. It was heartbreak for Rovers when Peter Murphy volleyed home the winner in the final seconds of added time.
With the transfer window closing on Thursday there has been lots of last minute activity. Stanley boss John Coleman has been seeking reinforcements in attack all summer and is hoping new signing Andy Mangan could help fill the void left by the departing Kayden Jackson whose move to Ipswich went through on Thursday.
Mangan spent two years with Stanley from 2005-2007 and was most recently with Tranmere Rovers in the National League. He joined Welsh League team Bala in June and featured for the club in their Europa League defeat to San Marino side Tre Fiori.
Stanley’s Captain Seamus Conneely spoke after the opening day defeat to Gillingham, “There are lessons to be learned. We were caught out in the first half, we were like a rabbit in headlights, and we were probably lucky to be just 2-0 down at half-time. In the second half, we were better, we upped our game but we have learnt, at this level, mistakes are costly. If you make a mistake you get punished in League One and we were.”
“We are also disappointed to lose our unbeaten home record in this year. Home form is important in any division as we showed last season, our home form played a massive part in us going up. Gillingham went 2-0 and let us have more of the ball in the second half and soaked up any pressure we threw at them.”
“I think we have also learnt that, in League One, the first goal is even more crucial than last season. They did to us what we did to teams last year, got the first goal and then soaked up the pressure and hit teams on the break.”
Speaking about ‘star’ players leaving he went on to say, “It goes with the territory, when the team is successful as bigger clubs come looking, we knew it would happen. The Gaffer and Jimmy (Bell) kept us focused on the game though so there are no excuses. It’s just a shame we have seven days until the next game but we will be raring to go at Bristol Rovers.”