By Gerry Prew
Bristol Rovers finish the 2017/18 season with a visit to Southend United’s Roots Hall. The Shrimpers look to finish the season on a four-match winning streak whereas Rovers will look to finish the campaign on a positive note heading into the summer.
When Chris Powell took over the reins from Phil Brown at the end of January, the Essex team’s fans were worried that the slide their team was on would not be halted. A run of form akin to that of Plymouth Argyle has certainly given the Blues fans hope for the future. Powell’s side has collected an impressive 31 points from 17 matches since the former England defender took over the hot seat. Not only that but Powell has been described in The Guardian as ‘the nicest man in football’!
Last weekend the Shrimpers were putting an end to Bradford City’s lingering hopes of a Play Off spot as they won 2-0 at Valley Parade. The Bantams, who lost striker Kai Bruenker to injury in the 14th minute, came closest to scoring in a scrappy first half when goalkeeper Mark Oxley dived full-length to turn away Callum Guy's 20-yard shot.
They also came close to breaking the deadlock in the 56th minute only to be denied by Oxley, who made two superb goal-line saves after a free-kick from Tony McMahon caused problems for the visitors' defence. First, he stopped a close-range header from Timothee Dieng and then blocked substitute Dom Poleon's shot when the ball rebounded into the striker's path.
Southend went in front in the 72nd minute after home goalkeeper Colin Doyle made his first serious save of the match, diving to turn San Mantom's shot away for a corner. Bradford did not properly clear the danger and, when Stephen McLaughlin returned the ball into the goalmouth, skipper John White headed the visitors into the lead.
Southend went further ahead in the 78th minute following a swift breakaway after a Bradford attack broke down. Dru Yearwood raced to the edge of the home penalty area before playing the ball out to Marc-Antoine Fortune on the left and his right-foot shot hit defender Nat Knight-Percival before looping into the far corner of the net.
Boss Powell was understandably elated after the game saying, “I thought it was a top away performance. You stick at it, you give yourself a platform and then when you have your moments you take them.”
“John got the goal to put us in front and we got a great second goal to finish it off what has been a top week with another good win. It’s been three wins, three clean sheets and nine goals without reply now. This was also a test of resolve and energy on a real pudding of a pitch after a tough week. We knew how Bradford would play, they’re quite uncompromising and direct but we dealt with that with a makeshift defence really. I’m really proud of them and we took our chances when they came along.”
In previous meetings the Essex team have the distinct advantage in the 113 games played, having won 46 of those games to Rovers’ 40 victories. 32 of those Rovers’ wins have been in the West Country, so just 8 wins for Rovers at the seaside town. The Shrimpers have a better away record than Rovers with 12 wins in the West of England.
The very first meeting between the clubs took place during the First World War as they tied 0-0 at Eastville on 16 January 1915 in an FA Cup match. In the replay at Roots Hall, Southend ran away with it 3-0. Rovers had a shocking record in the seaside town, taking 18 visits to record their first victory and there were only 4 draws in that sequence. In the first 27 games between the teams Rovers only won 8 and Southend 15.
Games between the teams are generally tight, Rovers have scored 165 goals and United 172, at Roots Hall there have been 58 games with 59 Rovers goals and 109 to United.
Back in 1964-65 season Rovers were looking a strong prospect for promotion. During that spell they had a visit to Southend on 24th October. Rovers Manager Bert Tann described the match as a nightmare.
Ian Hamilton gave Rovers a 3rd minute lead but then it was all downhill for the Gas, McKinven (2), Smillie and Smith all scored before half-time to give the Blues a 4-1 lead. Hamilton scored two more in the second half, but McKinven and Smith also scored to give a 6-3 final result. Rovers recovered from that to win 3 and draw 2 of their next 5 games.
By the end of April Rovers had dropped away from the leading pack. The day after a dull 1-1 home draw with Exeter they needed to beat Southend in their final home game of the season to give themselves a realistic chance of going up. It was that man McKinven who gave Southend the lead early in the second half, but then in the last 10 minutes the game exploded into life, Harold Jarman and Alfie Biggs gave Rovers a 2-1 lead with just 2 minutes left, but Watson equalised a minute later.
It was the following season when Southend suffered their first ever relegation and Rovers gained their revenge on 5th March 1966 for a 2-0 defeat inflicted at Roots Hall less than a month before. Harold Jarman, Dave Stone and Johnny Brown hit the net for Rovers with John McKinven once again proving the scourge of the Rovers defence. The score would have been closer had Slack not missed a penalty in the 88th minute.
Perhaps the most memorable game between the two clubs as far as Rovers fans are concerned was on 19th April 1974, a 0-0 draw at Roots Hall. Whilst the match itself was not especially exciting the one point was enough to secure promotion to Division 2. Rovers last win at Roots Hall was on New Years Day 2008 when they recorded a 1-0 victory. In the 7 games since there have been 3 single goal defeats and 4 draws.
In the game last season Rovers went close to scoring at the end of an uneventful first half when Ollie Clarke saw a 20-yard shot pushed wide of the left post by Shrimpers goalkeeper Mark Oxley. After the break, Southend winger Stephen McLaughlin had an effort easily gathered by Steve Mildenhall before Matty Taylor's 20-yard shot was tipped over by Oxley on the hour mark.
Rovers netted from the resulting Chris Lines corner from the left-hand side as an unmarked Hartley headed home from inside the six-yard box. Southend drew level in the 81st minute when referee Gavin Ward harshly adjudged Ellis Harrison to have handled Jack Bridge's left-wing cross and Cox confidently stroked the penalty past Mildenhall.
Chris Powell spoke of the pressures facing Managers and Coaches in the modern game, knowing that he will not be able to relax totally even when the full-time whistle sounds at Roots Hall on Saturday evening, “We are always contactable now. Even when you go away people can ring and send emails. I tend, if I go way, to check my phone in the morning, then leave it in the safe and don’t look at it until the evening.”
“But if you have to respond quickly, you do. Obviously, you don’t want to miss out on players if you’ve got a chance to get them; and that can be at any time.”
“I think you deserve, and every manager, member of staff, player and supporter need to have a bit of downtime because it comes around again pretty quickly. We only have four to six weeks off, but players generally do work, their off-season programmes. All of a sudden, towards the end of June you are back in. It gets earlier and earlier.”
“It used to be that you came back the weekend of the World Cup final when it was World Cup year. But the World Cup final this year is the middle of July. I think we’d have a couple of games played by then. We are busy organising our pre-season, but I think you always deserve to get your stress levels down, have a bit of time off. It’s good for the soul.”