Bristol Rovers entertain Scunthorpe United this weekend with the Iron one point and one place above the Gas on the table.
With Rovers and Scunny more usually at the top rather than the bottom of the division the points on offer will be nonetheless hard fought for.
Scunny, under Boss Stuart McCall have hit a recent poor run of form. On 2nd October his team beat Charlton 5-3 in a run of 8 games unbeaten in all competitions. Since then they have picked up just one point in 6 league games to see them plummet. That one point was gained in their last league game at home to Oxford.
James Henry gave the visitors a dream start with a crisp finish after exchanging passes with Jamie Mackie in the eighth minute and the pair combined again early in the second period in a move which culminated in Cameron Brannagan racing into the box to meet Henry's low cross.
In the 55th minute it appeared that the Iron were facing their sixth defeat in a row, when Curtis Nelson knocked the ball over the line after a spell of pinball in the penalty area before Scunthorpe, from nowhere, came roaring back.
Full-back Jordan Clarke's low drive gave them hope and when Leicester loanee George Thomas curled a free-kick into the top corner in the 64th minute, they had real momentum.
There was barely chance to draw breath either before a corner caused panic in the Oxford box and Charlie Goode lashed it home to make it 3 goals in 8 minutes.
Both sides pushed forward for a winner in an equally pulsating finale.
Speaking after the game McCall admitted to mixed emotions, “It was a rollercoaster. We know we have limitations and are lacking in certain areas because we have conceded another three goals no matter what shape we play or how much we work at it.”
“Their first goal was a bit unfortunate as it takes a deflection and goes over Jak. When they were 3-0 up they had had three shots on target and scored three times.
“We aren’t lacking a bit of desire and determination. What a manager wants if effort and there certainly wasn’t a lack of desire and effort. We have got people in the dressing room that care and know that it means something to them.
“There were instances of that today in certain peoples’ performances as they stuck at it. However, we can’t keep giving goals away but we are all working at it.”
“When you are 3-0 down at home with the run we are on it is a good point, but before the game we wanted to win,”
Looking back at the past games between the two clubs have been relatively few and far between, 38 in total. United didn’t gain League status until 1951 and played in the Third Division North until 1958 when the sides first met in a Division 2 clash. Rovers who ran out 4-0 winners on 30th August 1958 with George Petherbridge, Geoff Bradford, Dai Ward and Pater Hooper (penalty) all on target. The following season the Iron gained a point from a 1-1 draw.
In the mid sixties Rovers beat the Lincolnshire team twice by a 2-0 scoreline. On 20 March 1965 with Rovers struggling for survival they were given a 9th minute lead when Geoff Sidebottom headed the ball past his own keeper Geoff Sidebottom and over Keith Burkinshaw on the line.
Two minutes later Rovers were awarded a penalty but Dave Stone blasted his shot wide of the post. Sidebottom was kept busy as Rovers swarmed forward.
It wasn’t until 68th minute that he was beaten again as he deflected a Bobby Jones cross only for Alfie Biggs to nod it over the line to make it 2-0.
The following season on 29th March 1966 Rovers had failed to win a League game since beating Port Vale on 16 January. A muddy Eastville pitch made things very difficult and it took until 67th minute before man of the match John Brown scored a well taken goal.
Seven minutes later Brown turned provider to give Bobby Jones the easy task of scoring Rovers’ second goal.
It took 15 visits before Scunny came away from Bristol with maximum points and that was on 20 November 2004. Paul Hayes gave Scunny the lead on 18 minutes and the lead was doubled just two minutes later by Steve Torpey. Hayes made the game safe for the away team just 8 minutes into the second half with his second goal of the game.
Rovers have lost 2 and drawn 3 of the last four games played at the Mem against the Lincolnshire team, the last victory being a 1-0 win on 10 January 2004 when a Wayne Carlisle scored from the spot on 45 minutes.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s game Boss McCall said after the Oxford game, “There are mixed emotions. There is relief, it stops the rot and now we have got a couple of weeks break until Bristol Rovers.”
“The shape we used was one I don’t enjoy playing, certainly at home, and we talked about being more solid but then we go a goal down. James Horsfield has done nothing wrong but then we didn’t need a holding midfielder.”
“The pressure is off a bit in the cup but we want to go and win it. But it is back to the drawing board. We will look at how we lost the goals, work with what we have got and try to make them better.”