By Gerry Prewett.
As the season approaches the half-way point Bristol Rovers face the last of the teams they are yet to meet this season when they entertain Fleetwood Town at the Mem. Joey Barton’s Fylde coast team sit very comfortably in 10th spot on the table with an 8 game in/loss ratio.
Having come through a traumatic week which saw the end of Darrell Clarke’s tenure at the helm and very nearly grabbing a point at Sunderland, Rovers will be looking to climb the table as we head into the New Year.
Fleetwood have had a steady season with a few outstanding results, such as, the 5-0 win at Scunthorpe, the 4-0 victory at Doncaster and a 3-0 demolition of Coventry.
Their latest result was a 1-0 win at home to Burton Albion. It was a lacklustre first half at Highbury as the wind took centre stage. The closest Burton came to a goal was aided by the conditions as Ash Hunter's wayward back-pass was whisked just wide of the post by the wind.
Paddy Madden nearly added to his 10-goal tally but the Fleetwood forward was thwarted by Bradley Collins. However Fleetwood got their goal in the 51st minute. Ched Evans was impeded by substitute Jake Buxton and the forward got up to make it eight for the term from the spot.
Burton fought back but Alex Cairns thwarted Will Miller as Town managed to absorb the pressure. It was the Cod Army who had the ball in the net again but Dean Marney was denied by the offside flag as he diverted Madden's shot home.
Speaking after the game Barton said, “Thanks to the fans for coming out because I’m not sure I would have come out on a Saturday afternoon if I looked out of the window. “It was only that we were paid to be here that we came. So to turn out in their droves as they have done, certainly behind the goal where the sleet and snow was blowing in, was a credit to them. “
“They kept singing throughout the game and I’m delighted for them that we have three points to start the festive period. We got three points over a good side. Burton were in the Championship last year and they are no mugs. We had to defend our box at key times but, with a little bit more composure in and around the box, we could have had other goals. It was a real professional performance from the lads and I’m delighted for them because it will take them four hours to warm back up! “
“Nigel (Clough, Burton manager) and his staff were urging their lads on to get a goal in the first half because they knew how important the conditions were. Obviously we get in at half-time at 0-0 and we then have the opportunity to use the wind to our advantage. Fair play to the lads, they got the penalty from Ched. It was a really tough League One fixture in really bad conditions for both sets of players. I’m just glad we got the three points.”
Rovers have had three wins, a draw and four losses in their eight 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.
When the teams met in March 2014 in Lancashire the home team repeated the score from their away victory. 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.
In 2016/17 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 Rovers won an early season fixture 3-1 with goals by Stuart Sinclair (26 mins), Billy Bodin (43 mins) and Ellis Harrison (79 mins) for Rovers and Devante Cole (60 mins) for Fleetwood. Fleetwood contributed much to a closely-fought game, but it was Rovers who came up with the finishes to claim maximum points.
Fleetwood’s Jason Holt looked forward to this weekend’s game, “Our away form hasn’t been great as of late, and we know that. Saturday will be a difficult game against a team who have just lost their manager, and I’m sure their players will want to give a reaction.”
“It’s up to us to build on last week’s performance, although that wasn’t pretty and show the same elements of determination and grit and get a good result. Whenever a squad loses a manager, players always look to give a reaction and we’re expecting that on Saturday. We’ll be more than equipped ready for the challenge.”