By Gerry Prewett.
When Bristol Rovers beat Coventry City at the end of September it was Rovers first home League victory of the season. Many thought it would be a turning point for the Gas, but it was something of a false dawn. It was until Graham Coughlin took over Managerial duties at the Mem that the defence tightened, but the problem of providing and scoring goals remained.
By the end of the January transfer window, two players, Abu Ogogo and Jonson Clarke-Harris arrived from Coventry and turned Rovers season on its head. Ogogo made an immediate start at Southend and made his presence felt, Clarke-Harris came on as a Sub and proved to be more of a slow burn.
Coventry seemed to have overcome their off field issues which saw them drop from the Premier League to the basement division when they won promotion last season. Whilst they have performed well this season (currently on 9th spot) the off field issues have come to the fore once again and the possibility of expulsion from the League is on the horizon if they are unable to secure a home ground for next season. They have even held ground sharing discussions with other clubs.
Meanwhile, on the field, last weekend as Rovers were going down to Luton, the Sky Blues earned a very creditable draw at Barnsley. The home team took the lead in the 10th minute, counter-attacking quickly from their own corner flag.
Cauley Woodrow picked out Mamadou Thiam with a cross and a one-two with Ryan Hedges sent him to the byline where he pulled the ball back to Alex Mowatt for an easy finish.
Jordy Hiwula levelled in the 35th minute when he chested the ball down and volleyed home from point-blank range. The Tykes regained the lead three minutes after the break. Hedges made a good run down the left and pulled the ball back for Woodrow, who slotted into the bottom corner for his 15th goal of the season.
City levelled again after 63 minutes when Luke Thomas latched onto a loose ball inside the box and curled it beautifully into the top corner. Coventry had a chance to snatch victory in stoppage time when a header from Amadou Bakayoko forced a stunning save from goalkeeper Adam Davies.
Speaking after the game Sky Blues Boss Mark Robins said, “Barnsley stretch and stretch you and it’s really, really difficult to keep in he game but I thought we did it really well. And we are still better than what we have shown because we’re still rushing one or two things and making poor decisions at times.”
“But Barnsley are outstanding because Alex Mowatt picks the ball up and they have got a way of playing. The second goal they scored was like one/two city and it’s really difficult because before you know it they are round you and in behind your back line and it’s in the back of your net.
“Cauley Woodrow is a Championship striker, minimum. He’s outstanding and there were things he did there that are way, way above the level. But you could say that about quite a lot of their players.”
“They are outstanding and don’t forget they were Championship last year with most of these players and they have added to it. They have sold one or two, but that’s what they do. Look around, the stadium is outstanding and they have a training facility just outside and they’ve spent money on that, and they do things in a really good way. And they have got really powerful players, so it’s a model to look at.”
It’s an indication of the respective recent histories of the two clubs that there had been a hiatus of 52 years since they clashed in a competitive match, between 1964 and 2016 and if statistics that old mean anything at all, the teams are well matched, in 40 games, there have been 17 Rovers wins, 16 to Coventry.
The very first game took pace at Eastville on 10 October 1908 and Coventry went away with a 3-1 Southern League win, the return game on 13 February 1909 ended up 2-2. Most of the Southern League fixtures were close results with the exception of a 4-0 home win for the Midlanders on 4 March 1911.
The first League meeting took place on 18 December 1926 as Rovers went down 2-1 at Eastville, Bill Culley scoring for Rovers and a Jimmy Heathcote double for the away team. The return fixture ended up 2-2, Fred Herbert hitting the net twice for the home team and Tom Williams and Earnie Whatmore scoring for Rovers.
Prior to the 2016-17 meetings last time the club’s clashed was back in the 1963-64 season as the Sky Blues embarked on their run under Jimmy Hill to the First Division. That season Hill’s team did the League double over Rovers but in the only ever Cup tie between the teams Rovers ran out 2-1 winners at Highfield Road.
Prior to this season the last meeting in Bristol was Boxing Day 2016. The Gas took an 18th-minute lead when Billy Bodin's free-kick from the right was met by Peter Hartley, who sent a glancing header past Lee Burge from 12 yards. Bodin grabbed the second in the 54th minute, making space to drive a fierce left-footed shot into the centre of the goal from Rory Gaffney's pass.
Three minutes later the Sky Blues replied when centre-back Jordan Willis took advantage of poor defending to volley home Gael Bigirimana's left-wing corner from close range. Bodin clinched the points in the 74th minute with another sweetly struck left-footed shot, this time from 25 yards.
The midfielder completed his treble from the penalty spot nine minutes later after being tripped by Turnbull. Andy Rose headed against the crossbar for Coventry late on but they were well beaten.
Mark Robins was asked about his team playing better against better opposition to which he responded, “I think that’s possibly true. But I think we have played brilliantly against a lot of teams this season and not really got what we needed.
Clearly they focus the mind when you play teams like that (at the top end) but we have got some tough games to play.”
“Bristol Rovers at home is going to be a tough game on that pitch. We have just got to make sure we prepare like we do and really have a go. I think they lost today and in midweek as well, so they will have lost a little bit of ground.”