By Gerry Prewett.
After a break following the Christmas/New Year fixtures, Bristol Rovers are back in action again as they face the trip up the M5/M6 to Blackpool. This will be Rovers first visit to Bloomfield Road since 24 April 2000.
Having been in the Premier League as recently as 2011 the Tangerines suffered a rapid decline to the basement Division but bounced back immediately beating Exeter in the Play-Off Final and earned themselves the title of most successful Play-Off Finalists with 5 victories from 8 Finals.
The Fylde Coast team started their season well with 5 wins, 2 draws and just one defeat in their first 8 games, prior to their visit to the Mem. The defeat came in the opening day of the season at Bradford. However things have not gone so well since with 3 wins, 6 draws and 10 defeats in the 19 games following.
Whilst Rovers were enjoying their well-earned break, Blackpool were visiting Shrewsbury in the Checkatrade Trophy on Wednesday evening. The game ended up 0-0 despite both teams having chances to score. Shrewsbury had a ‘goal’ disallowed and Stefan Payne forced keeper on loan keeper Joe Lumley into three saves. The Shrews custodian Dean Henderson also made a fine stop from Sessi D'Almeida.
Blackpool duo Danny Philliskirk and Rowan Roache failed from the spot after the tie had ended 0-0 after 90 minutes. That left former Grimsby player Lenell John-Lewis to net the decisive spot-kick for a 4-2 win.
Speaking after the game Blackpool Manager Gary Bowyer said, “It’s disappointing to go out. When it goes to penalties you’ve got to step up but unfortunately, we’ve missed two and find ourselves out of the competition.”
“It was unbelievable how it ended 0-0. After ten minutes I turned to the bench and asked ‘well, we should be 2-1 up’. They had chances as well so it could have been any score really, first half especially.”
“Second half it settled down a little bit but we still had chances. I was pleased with some of the performances. It was important to get 90 minutes out of Ollie Turton, it was important to get 90 minutes under Will Aimson too. I thought Rowan Roache did well off the bench too and was a real positive for us. At just 17 years of age he did well, apart from his penalty, which he normally scores. But from a performance point of view I’m delighted."
There has been a total of 33 meetings between the clubs over the years and (with the exception of the match at the Mem earlier this season) they all came in the years between 1974-2000 and all in our current Division. The first game took place at Eastville on 28 September 1974 and the away team came away with both points (just two for a win in those days). Paul Hart, Micky Walsh and substitute Stuart Parker scoring for Blackpool and Bruce Bannister scoring a penalty for Rovers. The return match at Bloomfield Road on 15 March 1975 saw a battling 0-0 draw.
Things were better for Rovers the following season as they won 4-1 in Lancashire on 25 October 1975, Wilf Smith, Gordon Fearnley (2) and Bruce Bannister with another penalty for Rovers and Alan Suddick for Blackpool.
Things took a distinct change for the worse for Rovers however as they lost on the next five visits to the seaside town. The biggest margin in these games came on 21 February 1987 when goals by Paul Stewart (2), Mark Taylor (2), Craig Madden and Mike Davis saw Blackpool notch 6 to Rovers single goal from David Mehew. That run also included 4-0 and 4-2 defeats as well!
Possibly GasHeads all tie favourite game would have taken place on 5 May 1990 as Rovers secured the 1989-90 Third Division Championship with a 3-0 win at Bloomfield Road David Mehew, Phil Purnell and Paul Nixon all scored to record a famous victory.
That last visit on 24 April 2000 saw Rovers come away empty handed, going down to a 2-1 defeat. Wayne Gill and James Thomas scored for the Tangerines and Jason Roberts for the Gas.
Reflecting later on the Shrewsbury game, Bowyer focussed on two players in particular. Joe Lumley, who of course had a loan spell at the Mem at the end of last season. Bowyer commented, “I certainly didn’t want him to be as busy as that in the first-half but, at the same time, it has given us a great look at him. I thought he was immense for us tonight. He’s a good physical size and he uses his presence well. He’s done well, and it’s what we’ve brought him in for.”
Then on Jim McAlister, who had been out of action with an injury for 11 months, “The massive positive for us is obviously Jim McAlister tonight. For him to have battled back and gone on and showed us what he’s capable of, I’ve got nothing but praise for him. First and foremost, he’s a wonderful bloke but the effort he’s shown, he’s a fantastic example to the young players in there with his desire, heart and bravery to get back on the pitch.”