By Gerry Prewett.
When Bristol Rovers emulated the name of Northampton Town’s ground with their score, when the team’s met there on 7 October, little did they realize what a lean spell they were about to endure. To the end of the year picking up 11 out of 36 points on offer, since the start of the year they have picked up 20 of 30 points on offer.
With the season now entering it’s final phase Rovers are looking to mount a challenge on the top six places in the table. Realistically speaking only one of those spots is available, Blackburn, Wigan and Shrewsbury seem to have the top 3 places locked up and Rotherham and Scunthorpe are both well placed behind. With Rovers 4 points behind Plymouth (who occupy the 6th spot) it’s all to play for.
Northampton look to have finally arrested a poor run of form of their own in recent weeks and are finally out of the bottom 4 by one point, of concern is their goal difference of -22 equalled only by bottom club Bury and a lot worse than everyone around them.
In their latest game the Cobblers drew 0-0 with Oxford United at Sixfields in a match in which both teams were profligate in front of goal. Chris Long was guilty twice inside the first 18 minutes for Northampton, skewing over from 18 yards and then side-footing wide after good play from Gboly Ariyibi, before Richardinho's goalbound shot was blocked on the line by Brendan Moloney.
Isaac Buckley-Ricketts clipped the top of the crossbar as Oxford grew into the game with Ryan Ledson also whipping a long-range effort narrowly wide. Long went close for a third time in the second half when blazing over from inside the box before Matt Crooks and Sam Hoskins were unable to force home a goalmouth scramble.
The best opening of the entire game fell late on to Wes Thomas, who should have won it for Oxford but he headed wide from six yards.
As members of the old Third Division (South) Rovers have a long tradition of games against the Cobblers. The first meeting between the clubs took place in the FA Cup in 1907/08 season Rovers ran out 1-0 winners at the County Ground on 11 January 1908.
The first League games took place in one week in 1921. The first game saw Rovers win 2-1 at the County Ground on 12 March with goals by Sid Leigh and Billy Palmer and Bill Thomas scoring for the home team. On 19 March Rovers doubled the dose with a 4-2 home win, Harry Boxley, Billy Palmer and a double by Ellis Crompton for the Pirates with George Whitworth and a John Bethune own goal for the Cobblers. In the first four post-World War II meetings between the teams the away team won the lot!
The 1989/90 Championship season probably summed up the difference between a winning and losing team. In the game at Twerton Park on 29th October 1989, Bobby Brown was running the Rovers defence ragged and the undefeated home record looked in danger. Goals by Devon White and Paul Nixon had the game tied at 2-2.
Late in the game Devon White was controversially brought down in the box and Ian Holloway converted the penalty to give the Gas an unlikely lead. Then with the seconds ticking away an unlucky Trevor Quow guided a clearance into his own net to give the final score of 4-2. It was all 6 points to Rovers largely due to their 'never say die' spirit, after another Ian Holloway penalty secured a 2-1 win at the County Ground.
The previous time Rovers had 'done the double' over the Cobblers was back in 1967/68 season. Two goals in the home game by Stuart Taylor secured the points at Eastville. However, it was the game at the County Ground that had been so remarkable.
Rovers’ away record was nothing to shout about, of their first 7 away games they had won 1 drawn 2 and lost 4, the Cobblers had won 5 of their previous 6 games. Converted Left Half Ray Mabbutt had a field day in the County Ground mud.
Frank Large gave the home team an early lead but Rovers were quickly level when a Johnny Williams pile driver was parried by Harvey straight to Mabbutt, who stabbed the ball home. Soon after Large was brought down in the box and Mackin scored from the spot past Ronnie Briggs. It fell to Bobby Jones scoring against his old club to restore Rovers to parity.
A 30-yard shot from Johnny Williams gave Rovers a 3-2 lead but that man Large made sure things were all square by half time. It was some while into the second-half before the goals started to roll in again, Mabbutt accepting a simple tap in past Bryan Harvey before Large scored the Cobblers fourth goal and completed his hat trick. Not to be outdone Mabbutt scored once more to complete the only hat trick of his career and to give Rovers an incredible 5-4 away win
In the 1997/98 Play-Off Semi-Finals, having secured a 3-1 home win many Rovers fans were already booking tickets for Wembley. However the Cobblers thought (quite rightly, as it turned out) that their away goal, scored late in the game, would be crucial. Peter Beadle (penalty), Frankie Bennett and Barry Hayles scored for Rovers and John Gayle scored the late Cobblers goal. So it turned out, the 3-0 reverse at Sixfields was stunning. Carl Heggs, Ian Clarkson and Ray Warburton ensured that it was the Midlands team who went through.
The last time the Cobblers visited the Mem, Ellis Harrison was on fire, with goals in the 17th, 21st, 24th and 54th minutes after Billy Bodin had already given the Gas a 1-0 lead in the 7th minute. The Midlanders last victory in Bristol was the opening day of the 2015/16 season when it was inevitably John-Joe O'Toole who scored with a 57th minute header to spoil the opening day party.
Cobbler Boss Jimmy Floydd Hasselbaink knows this weekend could be an uncomfortable one if his players are not up for the fight, “Rovers are a good team, and it is a hostile ground. Their players are in your faces when you play there, they make it really hard for you, and we will have to try to cope with it. We have to cope, we have to be strong, and we have to try to be in their faces and try to play positive football.”
“We have to try to quieten the crowd down and earn the right to play. It is one of those grounds where you go and you know what you are going to get, you are going to get an honest, hard working team, who can also play really good football if you let them. We can’t afford to let them do that.”
“They are a good team, and we know they are, and against MK they were the better team,” said the Cobblers manager. “They gave MK some problems, especially in the first half, and then in the second half MK Dons were on top and they gave them some problems. Hopefully we can learn from that, do the same, and capitalise.”