By Gerry Prewett.
How different things are looking for Bristol Rovers since the New Year, with 5 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss to provide 16 points from 21 available. This weekend's opposition AFC Wimbledon had a very successful January but have lost all four games they have played in February and find themselves in 21st place.
A closer inspection of the table reveals that the Wombles have, in fact, only lost one more game than Rovers but have won 5 fewer. It’s Rovers knack of not drawing games that gives them that elevated position. After Tuesday evening’s close run victory over bottom of the table Rochdale there will be no taking the south west London team lightly in the Rovers camp.
As Rovers were struggling to put Rochdale to the sword, Wimbledon were facing the surging Plymouth Argyle at Home Park. The Pilgrims took the lead after 16 minutes when Graham Carey charged down a Callum Kennedy clearance before calmly slotting past George Long. Just over 20 minutes later it was 1-1 when a Barry Fuller pass was put away by striker Lyle Taylor.
With half-time approaching defender David Fox volleyed the ball home to give the Argyle the lead and in first-half added time Fox turned provider as his free-kick was parried to Ryan Taylor, who tapped in from close in.
Just before the hour mark Wimbledon’s Taylor reduced the deficit after Sonny Bradley's attempted clearance hit the striker and roll into the net. Less than 10 minutes later the home team restored their two-goal when Ruben Lamieras latched onto a long ball before slotting home to make it 4-2. To rub salt into the wound home goalkeeper Remi Matthews denied Taylor his hat-trick with a late penalty save.
Speaking after the game, Wimbledon Boss Neal Ardley said, “It is about points at this stage of the season and we are disappointed that we did not bring any home. We are disappointed that we have conceded four goals, that does not happen often for us. We were good in other aspects; the fighting spirit was there, we kept going until the end. The boys care, I know that for a fact. We’ve had a manic 10 days. We have gone from heroes to villains in 10 days. We need to stick together, collect our thoughts, and do what we need to do. We are trying our best to do what we need to do in the last 14 games.”
“I am not going to single anyone out here, but when you are in the ascendancy and you clear the ball, you want to know it is dealt with, but it wasn’t. Within 10 seconds it is one versus one with our goalie (for the fourth goal). There is stuff that was wrong, but there was other stuff that was positive within the team; the energy they showed and the way they kept going.
“Plymouth are a team in good form and we found ourselves a bit stretched in the first-half. I think we were so eager to do well. We had a long chat yesterday. We were so positive going into the game about how we were going to put our stamp down and play the game, but we ended up forgetting to play. We ended up rushing a little bit. Even then, we had two or three good chances in the first-half.”
“The boys really care, I know that I care, it is my club. I know we are going to face some criticism for losing four games on the trot, that is natural. We will carry on and do our best. It is going to be tough and we have to get points on the board. Everyone is scrapping and fighting. We have to get some naivety out of our play. We have good players, but we need to have a strong mentality, and we are working on that. If we can put that together, we feel we can pick-up points, but it is a tough league and there are so many teams in form.”
Rovers record in these ties is excellent with 7 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the 11 games played. The first game was actually AFC’s very first League game at the start of the 2011/12 season. The live televised match provided great entertainment. Goals by McGleish and Harrold had Rovers cruising within 20 minutes. AFC then fought back and Stuart was on the scoresheet 7 minutes before half-time. On 67 minutes Kingsmeadow erupted as Ademeno pulled AFC level. It was left for Adam Virgo to spoil the party with an 84th minute penalty to take all 3 points back down the M4 to Bristol.
Rovers should have had the game out of Wimbledon's reach by half time, but allowed their hosts to get back on level terms before they settled things with that late penalty. The team contained ten players making their Rovers league debut.
The following season a poor first half display saw Rovers give away 3 goals in 14 minutes to lose any chance of taking anything from the game. To cap it all they finished the game with ten men after Tom Parkes picked up his second yellow card of the evening on 83 minutes.
It was no real surprise when Wimbledon took the lead on 14 minutes. A ball in from the right seemed to catch everyone by surprise and appeared to hit Gary Kenneth on the shin and roll into an unguarded net. Incessant pressure from the home side saw them rewarded with a second goal on the half hour mark. Midson was the provider, slipping the ball out to the right to Rashid Yussuff who comfortably slid the ball past Neil Etheridge from six yards.
Three minutes later goal number three arrived. Tom Parkes was penalised with a yellow card for a poor challenge out on the right, George Francomb floated the free kick into the area and Antwi was credited with the final touch, though from the stand it appeared to go in off of Kenneth
With just 18 minutes remaining Rovers recovered some semblance of dignity when David Clarkson set up Eaves for the fourth goal of his brief Rovers career. Winning possession some 25 yards from goal, he squared the ball to his strike partner who fired a superb shot into the top corner of the net.
Any hopes of a dramatic fightback were dashed seven minutes from time when Parkes made a rash challenge on Luke Moore and was booked for his efforts. It was his second booking of the evening, and he headed for the dressing room knowing he faced another suspension.
The following two seasons Rovers secured 0-0 draws in London. Last season Rovers had that 1-0 win after securing a goal after 11 seconds by Billy Bodin.
Simon Bassey AFC’s first team coach gave an update late this week on winger Andy Barcham’s injury, "It is not overly serious, but with Barchy you always know that with a big schedule of games he can struggle because he puts so much effort in. Obviously, the pitches are very difficult at the moment and Bury was very taxing. With all the travelling on the coach, it's not good for his hamstring to be in the same position. We took the precaution of taking him out, rather than leaving him in and taking the risk that he pulls his hamstring and is out for the season. We have to be cautious with it, but I don't see it being overly serious."
Looking at midfielder Dean Parrett he commented, "He has been out for a long time and it was quite a serious injury. Dean has been back training for four weeks now, but he had a game for the Under-23s, and obviously got minutes the other night. It gives us other options because he does different things than the other players we have got. It is good to have those options. We have got good numbers to pick from."