By Gerry Prewett.
After securing a point at Wimbledon on Good Friday, Bristol Rovers will be looking to ensure their Division One survival on Easter Monday when they entertain Rochdale.
The Lancashire team have struggled all season and will be hoping for a dramatic recovery to emulate last season’s finish which saw their survival at this level. Manager Keith Hill was sacked early in March following a run of nine defeats in the 11 League One games, the last of these being a 2-0 loss at Luton which saw Dale 22nd in the table and five points adrift of safety.
Former player Brian Barry-Murphy was appointed full time after they won two and drew two of their next games. Since then Dale have won two and lost two more of their games. Their latest game was a crucial 1-0 victory over Wycombe on Friday.
The Chairboys had the better of a poor first half, Scott Kashket going closest when he cut in from the right and sent a curling effort goalward with a slight deflection off Jim McNulty sending the shot against the crossbar.
Wycombe kept the ball alive and Adebayo Akinfenwa's flick sent Kashket in on goal, he managed to nick the ball past Josh Lillis but wide of the far post.
Gareth Ainsworth's men continued to look the more likely scorers after the interval, Kashket rounding Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Lillis before rolling the ball towards an empty goal, only for McNulty to race back and rescue the situation with a goalline clearance.
The winner came 11 minutes from time when Aaron Wilbraham's looping header struck the crossbar, Rekeil Pyke's follow-up shot was blocked and Ian Henderson fired home the loose ball from close range.
The result saw Dale up to 17th place, 3 points above Wimbledon (in the last relegation spot) and 2 points behind Rovers.
Barry-Murphy speaking after the game said, “It was exactly as I expected. Wycombe are a really competitive team and a great squad of players, so I knew it was going to be a really hard game.”
“Pre-game, there was a lot of talk about how it was going to be a slow game and how we could take the initiative. I knew we could be fast starters. I’ve watched them loads and have huge respect for them.”
“The game turned out exactly how I expected it from their point of view. Our performance in the first-half wasn’t good from a technical point of view, but from a courage and resilience point of view, we defended particularly well.”
“Getting in at half-time 0-0 was good for us. At the start of the second-half we grew into the game and played the type of football we can play. I wouldn’t try to convince anyone that it was a great game of football, but I thought it was still an exciting game for the supporters and we gave them something to be proud of.”
Looking back at previous clashes between the teams it is remarkable that the games often result in draws, with 17 of the 35 games played finishing level. In fact the first four games between the clubs were all draws!
The very first game between the two teams took place on 27th September 1969 at Eastville. Both teams had got off to a bright start to the season and newly promoted Rochdale were happy to play an expansive brand of attacking football to thrill the 8,653 crowd.
Harold Jarman opened the scoring with a penalty after Robin Stubbs was brought down. Great work by Butler created a deserved equaliser for Dale and in the second half they took the lead with a headed goal.
Stubbs brought the game back to parity with a weak shot past Harkin into the corner of the net. Bobby Jones put Rovers in front again as he took a high up field ball and struck it past an advancing Harkin. Dale stunned the Eastville faithful with a deserved last minute equaliser. So 3-3 for the first ever game between the clubs.
In 2002-03 season goals from Paul Simpson and Clive Platt gave Dale a 2-1 victory in Bristol, whilst Lee McEvilly scored in the 1-1 draw at Spotland in March. The following season both games finished 0-0 although the game at Spotland in December ended in high drama, as late in the game Gary Jones blazed a controversially awarded penalty over the bar.
In October 2010 Rovers just squeezed out all the points with a 2-1 win. A Jeff Hughes penalty on half time gave Rovers the lead. Chris Lines appeared to make the game safe on 82 minutes before Byron Anthony put one past his own keeper four minutes later to ensure a nervous finish.
In 2012-13 both games finished 2-1 to the home team. The game at the Mem was a very dull affair until Ellis Harrison ran half the length of the pitch and let fly with a powerful shot into the top corner that the keeper had no chance of saving.
Dale were level on 75 minutes when defender Michael Rose hit a left foot shot from 25 yards into the top left hand corner.
Nine minutes later Eliot Richards sent a corner into the box, which Brunt failed to knock home from close range, but the ball fell sweetly to Harrison who slotted home the rebound to secure all 3 points for the Gas.
In 2013-14 Dale won both games. The game in Bristol was Rovers penultimate game of that relegation season. Rovers took the lead through Kaid Mohamed who squeezed the ball under Josh Lillis after 17 minutes. The Rovers wide man showed great strength to get past two Dale defenders before nudging the ball under the rushing keeper. The ball travelled goalwards before hitting the right hand post and dribbled along the goal line before the linesman gave the goal.
Dale came out all guns blazing in the second half and with less than a minute played were level through a stunning left footed curling shot from Bunney. The substitute advanced down the right hand side before receiving a pinpoint pass in the Rovers area, which Mark McChrystal attempted to intercept. Bunney composed himself and slotted his left footed effort in the far corner of the goal.
The visitors took the lead just past the hour mark as former Gas player Matthew Lund fired in from close range. Michael Rose whipped a low cross into the Rovers penalty area, which seemed to evade everyone before Lund popped up at the far post.
On 10 September 2016, the visitors went in front after 17 minutes when Callum Camps ran on to an Ian Henderson pass and rounded goalkeeper Kelle Roos before shooting into an empty net. The lead lasted only four minutes before Peter Hartley headed a Chris Lines corner across goal for Taylor to get the final touch inside the six-yard box.
Before the celebrations of GasHeads had died down, Rochdale struck again. The dangerous Joe Bunney collected a long ball from the left and crossed for Henderson to net a simple tap-in.
Taylor levelled again with a scissor-kick from Hartley's header soon after the break and Rochdale's task was made tougher when centre-back Niall Canavan was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 72nd minute but they held on.
Last season’s game was a thriller, Rovers fell behind on 29 minutes when Dale's Ian Henderson stabbed home from a corner amidst confusion following a raised linesman flag that was subsequently overruled by the referee.
Rovers equalised on 49 minutes when Liam Sercombe volleyed home at the back post to score his 11th goal of the season. Rovers took the lead after Joe Partington headed in on 65 minutes. However, the visitors replied almost immediately through Henderson to make it 2-2.
With just over 10 minutes to go Chris Lines hit a curling shot into the top corner from the edge of the box to claim all three points.