By Gerry Prewett.
On Saturday Bristol Rovers entertain a Bradford City team pushing for an automatic promotion spot, having failed in the last two seasons to advance by the Play-Offs, both times denied by Millwall.
Having been in the Premier League as recently as 2000/01, City dropped three divisions in six seasons. Whilst their descent was rapid, City maintained a very healthy following by innovative ticketing schemes, which ensured Valley Parade was never a near-empty stadium.
The Yorkshire team have failed to have a solid run of results so far this season. Every time they look to be hitting a good run of form they seem to slip on a banana skin. Their last League game at home to Northampton, who they had beaten away, was a good example.
The Bantams had the ball in the net after 37 minutes when Cobblers keeper Richard O'Donnell could only parry Paul Taylor's free-kick from outside the box. Defender Matt Kilgallon turned the loose ball into the net, but was ruled offside.
Northampton took advantage of this let-off six minutes later when ex-Gas player John-Joe O'Toole broke free to score with a close-range header from Matt Grimes' corner to give the visitors a 1-0 half-time lead. Northampton went further ahead in the 62nd minute when Chris Long benefited from hesitancy in the home defence to score with a shot just inside the near post.
The Yorkshire team pulled a goal back in stoppage time with a 25-yard shot from Taylor following a quickly taken free-kick, but it proved to be merely a consolation.
Boss Stuart McCall commented after the game, "This is when you need leadership. I need to get among the players and lift them up again and we need to be united throughout the club. The players need to help each other, we as a staff need to help the players. I take responsibility with the team I put out and the decisions that we make. I'll never shy away from that.”
"I'm not personally going to let this all crumble now. I'm going to lead from the front. In a short space since summer, we've come too far and amassed too many points to let things crumble. But we all need to support each other and that's throughout the club. It's no good pointing the finger or blaming this and that. No, it's not a time for that. It's a time for being united as a football club."
Considering that Rovers and City have been in existence for so long and have spent so much time in the lower divisions there has been surprisingly few games between them, 25 in total. The very first meeting didn’t take place until 22nd November 1969 when they played out a 1-1 draw at Eastville. Rovers won the game at Valley Parade the following March 4-2.
Rovers have won 9 and drawn just 3 of the home games against the Yorkshire team. Perhaps the most memorable game for GasHeads was one of the early meetings at Eastville on 4 September 1971. After just 20 minutes the Gas were 5-0 ahead and had hit the woodwork 3 times! Bruce Bannister, playing for his hometown team and later to become a Gas hero, pulled one goal back for the visitors, but two late strikes sealed a 7-1 victory for the boys in blue. Brian Godfrey notched three, Harold Jarman and Bobby Jones each notched a brace.
On 24 November 2012 an entertaining game ended 3-3, with City equalising on three separate occasions. Ex-Bantams player Guy Branston scored with his first touch as a Rovers player, heading home a second-minute corner from Jim Paterson. Just before the half hour, Nahki Wells netted an equaliser from a narrow angle after being put through by Will Atkinson midway through the first half.
Tom Eaves restored Rovers' lead just five minutes later with a low drive from the edge of the box, but centre-back Carl McHugh levelled for the visitors again 10 minutes after the interval with a powerful header from a Gary Jones corner. Michael Smith volleyed Rovers back in front for the third time just after the hour mark, yet still Bradford refused to Buckle as James Hanson headed home a 68th minute equaliser.
The game erupted in injury time when an ugly touchline exchange ended with Bradford's Nathan Doyle sent off, while Rovers midfielder Wayne Brown was also dismissed for a second yellow.
Last season the fixture ended up with a 1-1 score-line. Chris Lines gave the Gas a 15th minute lead before Nicky Law equalised 11 minutes later.
It looks as though Blackpool defender Kelvin Mellor may be heading to Valley Parade. The Bantams had an offer rejected over the weekend but they have since come back with an improved second offer, which has been accepted by the Seasiders. Wigan Athletic are also thought to be keen, but the Yorkshire team are leading the chase for the Crewe-born defender, although a deal is not yet cut and dried.
That defeat to Northampton was the Bantams seventh defeat at Valley Parade this season, as well as a third defeat in their last five league games. They’ve lost the last three that burly striker Charlie Wyke hasn’t started but McCall insists there is no risk of his best players leaving and that his concern is purely down to injuries. "It's 100 per cent nothing to do with that. It's a genuine injury. He didn't train last week at all and I still think he'll be a doubt for the next game, if I'm honest.”
"He had a bit of illness early on last week but we knew from when we were coming back from Yeovil that he was feeling his back. I'd like to hope he could be available for next weekend but it's too early to say. Backs can be notorious problems because they can linger.
Charlie is a huge miss and we've got to find a way without him. But he gives everyone a lift. With the players out injured, there were five who would be regular starters for us. We are threadbare."
McCall is determined to lift any gloom by stressing what is at stake for the rest of the season. Fifth-placed City still have a six-point cushion within the League One top six.
"Yes, it's disappointing, but you can relieve that by looking at the league table. Let's push on now. There is absolutely everything to play for. We can't let all the hard work done since the summer, evaporate. That's everywhere throughout the club.”
"We know supporters are disappointed and frustrated at this moment in time. But you have ups and downs in football in a season, even in a month. It was only a couple of weeks ago we had back-to-back victories and probably one of our best home performances. Now we've had a disappointing result on Saturday with mitigating circumstances.”
"Who knows what this Saturday will bring. We might have a couple of players in, which would give everyone a lift, and a couple back from injury. But we've got to rally round and lift each other and that's something I'll relish. I'll be up for the fight.”
"We can influence the feelings outside the dressing room by putting in a true performance and getting a win in the next game we play. It's time to stand up, take the criticism that's going to come along, take the punches aimed at you and come out fighting.”
"That's what we'll certainly be doing as a group in the dressing room. I can only control what's going on here. I can't affect outside influences. But what I will control is the mood of the dressing room and the atmosphere around the football club. There will be no downing tools."