By Gerry Prewett.
Last weekend’s win at home to Coventry has put a bounce back into the step at the Mem as the Gas look to improve their points tally when they tackle on Bradford City this weekend at Valley Parade. The Bantams start to the season has been very poor, picking up just 6 points from their opening 9 games and with a goal difference of -8.
Things have been so bad in South Yorkshire that their head coach Michael Collins was sacked after just 6 games. Collins, at 32 was the youngest boss in English professional football having been promoted from his role as the club's under-18s manager in June. His successor David Hopkins is the fourth man to take full-time charge at Valley Parade this year.
Stuart McCall was sacked after six successive losses in February before Simon Grayson left the club at the end of the season when his contract expired.
On Saturday city travelled the 32 miles to Doncaster. Both sides had early chances but the home team took the lead when James Coppinger found John Marquis, who smashed a shot into the top corner from the edge of the area on 23 minutes. City felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Joe Wright appeared to haul down Eoin Doyle early in the second half.
On 52 minutes Marquis doubled the home team’s lead. Matty Blair and Coppinger combined, before Herbie Kane slid a pass through for Marquis to drill home from 15 yards.
Bradford ensured a nervy finish when they pulled a goal back in the 81st minutes, substitute George Miller beating goalkeeper Marko Marosi to a long ball and slotting into an empty net, but Donny held on to secure a third straight win.
O’Donnell said: “Everyone’s affected confidence-wise. You’re not human if you don’t feel it after losing five games in a row.
“We’re going to be a little bit low. But we’ve got a very small group right now and the lads are working really hard to put things right and do what the gaffer wants.
“Since he’s come in, you can see the work rate, the energy and commitment has been there.
“If I’m being honest, I think that has been lacking earlier on in the season.
“That’s now down to Micky or Martin (Drury), that’s down to the players. That’s a player mentality.”
City were furious not to be given a penalty at the start of the second half after Eoin Doyle was pushed over by defender Joe Wright.
But they also failed to make the most of several promising openings before sub George Miller did pull one back.
Bantam’s keeper Richard O’Donnell reflected after the game “Everyone’s affected confidence-wise. You’re not human if you don’t feel it after losing five games in a row. We’re going to be a little bit low. But we’ve got a very small group right now and the lads are working really hard to put things right and do what the gaffer wants.”
“Since he’s come in, you can see the work rate, the energy and commitment has been there. If I’m being honest, I think that has been lacking earlier on in the season.”
“We feel we deserved something but at the minute we’re getting punished for anything. We’re not doing enough in both boxes, you can’t concede two goals and expect to get something out of it. We’re giving ourselves too much to do.”
“But we also had chances at 0-0 and should have had the penalty. I watched it back afterwards and it’s a stonewall one for me.”
Bristol Rovers and Bradford City resume a rivalry which has had a fifteen year hiatus. During that time the Yorkshire team have been up to the Premiership and suffered three relegations and Rovers too have experienced a downturn of their fortunes to see this meeting take place in the basement division.
Much like Rovers, City feel as though they belong; at a higher level and their Valley Parade ground testifies to their recent glories. Surrounded by the two Sheffield teams, Leeds, Doncaster, Barnsley, Huddersfield and to a lesser extent Rotherham, life is tough for the Bantams.
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, 26 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.
The overall record between the clubs favours Rovers with 14 wins, 7 draws and just 5 defeats. Perhaps the most memorable game for Rovers fans 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.
Rovers’ record in Yorkshire is excellent; Rovers have won 4 drawn 4 and lost 5 of the games at Valley Parade. A remarkable feature of this fixture is that until their last two visits the Yorkshire team had never scored more than 2 goals against Rovers at home.
In 2011/12 the game played on 10 September finished 2-2. Matt Harrold gave Rovers a first half lead with a goal on 40 minutes. Michael Flynn crashed home a penalty on 64 minutes before Elliot Richards put the Gas back in front 14 minutes later. With Rovers seeming on the way to victory a last minute penalty gave Welshman Flynn the chance to crash home his second spot kick of the game.
On 9 April 2013 the Bantams thrashed Rovers 4-1. Nahki Wells opened the scoring. There were only six minutes on the clock when Garry Thompson cut inside Lee Brown and crossed into the box where Wells headed home from close range. Wells put his side further in front, this time from the penalty spot after Fabian Broghammer fouled Ricky Ravenhill. The spot kick was well struck into the bottom corner and although Mildenhall dived the right way he was powerless to keep it out.
The home side further increased their lead on the fifth minute of stoppage time. Mildenhall hesitated when he came for a free kick into the box, allowing central defender Andrew Davies the chance to head home.
It took just five minutes for Rovers to pull a goal back and Hitchcock did well to latch on to a long ball out of defence and roll a shot past McLaughlin that went in off the post.
However any thoughts of a comeback were extinguished just seven minutes later when the home side capitalised on a mistake by Michael Smith. The full back’s wayward pass found Wells, who played in Thompson and he calmly beat Mildenhall to restore his side’s three-goal lead.
Last season Rovers were undone by an ‘on fire’ Charlie Wyke. The burly striker, who has since departed to Sunderland, notched a hat-trick with goals in the 13th, 62nd and 73rd minutes. Billy Bodin notched a late consolation for the Gas in front of a 19,284 crowd despite the game being televised live.
Young City winger Jordan Gibson made his first start of the season in Tuesday’s penalties win over Everton under-21s, after seven appearances from the bench. After the game he said, “It was my first 90 minutes for almost five months and it was good to get out there. It was an opportunity to impress the new manager and gain some confidence.”
“I’ve been coming off the bench this season and had the role as an impact player. I’ve been coming on in games when we’ve been 2-0 down like last week and I’ve had to try to do something to get us back in it. It’s much better to play from the start and I was happy to get some minutes in to show what I can do.”
“The squad has been strong so these are the games I need to do well in and show what I’m all about. The manager has been playing five at the back with wing-backs so it’s been tough to get into the team at times. It was good that he changed it up and played two wingers. I thought it worked in some part at Doncaster.”
“I want to help in any way and obviously I’ve got to work my way into the team by working hard and being patient, and I’ve got to take the opportunity when it comes. I thought it went OK and hopefully I’ll get another chance going into the weekend.”
“We just needed a result and it’s something to build on after the last five games. It brings a different vibe into training and everyone’s got a little bit more intense. There are people smiling again and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
“We’ve had quite a rough patch but I’d rather have it now than at the back end like we did last season. Everybody has been a bit more positive since Tuesday and three points would be massive.”