For their third fixture in the space of seven days, the Rovers U18’s travelled to face Oxford United's U18's on Saturday in the EFL Youth Alliance.
The young Rovers side showed good fighting spirit to overturn a two-goal deficit at the break to take home a point against the league leaders.
Lead Professional Development Phase Coach, Tom Parrinello, explains how the grittiness of the performance pleased the academy coaching staff.
“After picking up six points already this week following wins over Swindon Town and Newport County, we travelled to face table-topping Oxford Utd, who sat eight points clear at the top of the table having won eleven of their fourteen league games already this season,” explains Parrinello.
“Oxford are a good side who have some real potent attackers in the final third of the pitch, are extremely physical and athletic all over the pitch and play their system very well and in my opinion will go on to win the league so this would be a real test for the players and their recent good run of form.”
“The game proved to be very open, particularly in the second half when it really opened up and was slightly end to end. In a fairly tight and even first half wherein all honesty there wasn't much between the two sides, Oxford scored two goals in the space of three minutes from a set piece and an individual error to be 2-0 up at the interval.
“The message at the break was to continue to believe that they could easily get back into the game if they upped the intensity, played more on the front foot and scored the next goal.
“The belief was that if we were to score the next goal we would have a fantastic chance of winning the game. We pulled one back through another Tom Mehew free kick, his 5th of the season.
“We quickly followed that up with the equaliser when Ollie Hulbert scored with a fantastic header from a deep set piece into the box. Fully in the ascendancy, we would have taken the lead from a Scott Isherwood header but for a great save from the Oxford keeper.
“We did have a couple more opportunities to nick a winner, as in fairness Oxford did when the game opened up. We finished the game with 10 men after Jamie Bremner picked up a second yellow for stopping an Oxford counter attack, but the boys managed to see out the remaining 8 minutes of additional time to claim a deserved point.
“The boys have been heavily criticised by us at times this season for not being mentally strong enough, particularly in the face of real adversity. When the going has got tough in different situations throughout the season they have crumbled and showed real mental fragility in terms of their performance levels and decision-making.
“On Saturday though, from half-time onwards they performed like men. Everything we had asked of them they went out in the second half and implemented, and managed to drag themselves out of the hole they were in so they deserve massive amounts of credit for that.
“They had to face and deal with a lot of adversity in terms of poor refereeing decisions, two injuries, four different changes of formation as well as playing the last eight minutes with 10 men with a makeshift back 4, to say the least where Oxford really cranked up the pressure.
“The performance as a whole was of grit and pure determination to stick together and show the qualities of a Bristol Rovers side, as well as some individual bits and quality we possess as a group from the more attack-minded players with Ollie Hulbert again on the scoresheet after another excellent performance, and because of that they got the point the point they deserved at the very least.”
Rovers: 1. Harry Thomas-Barker, 2. Scott Isherwood, 3. Levi Paul, 4. Tom Mehew (c), 5. Luc Noble, 6. Jamie Bremner, 7. Luca Hoole, 8. Lewis Clutton, 9. Ollie Hulbert, 10. Joe Budd, 11. Zain Walker
Subs: 20. Graeme Anderson, 14. Lucas Tomlinson, 15. Mason Raymond, 16. George Fowler, 17. Kieran Phillips