By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers open their 2019/20 campaign with a trip to the seaside, Blackpool. Last season’s 3-0 victory at Bloomfield Road brought back very happy memories of 5 May 1990 when a similar result clinched the 3rd Division Championship for a rampant Rovers.
That Championship is also reflected in the kit design for this season. The solid blue and white quarters, the all-blue back to the shirt and the blue shorts and socks. If the performances on the pitch go anywhere near matching that campaign we will be in for a stellar season.
Finishing in 10th place last season, the Tangerines never looked likely to challenge for promotion nor were threated by relegation (unlike everyone from 13th placed Gillingham down). 15 wines, 17 draws and 14 losses with a 50 -52 goal difference shows where they fell short. Not enough goals to convert those draws to victories.
With Simon Grayson back in charge, there is a very positive vibe around the club. New signing Ryan Hardie has arrived from Rangers on a permanent deal and will likely spearhead their attack with last season’s leading scorer Armand Gnanduillet.
Grayson commented, “The club has been monitoring Ryan’s progress for some time and having watched plenty of footage and spoken to fellow coaches and players about him, he’s going to be a good addition who strengthens our attacking options. We’re getting him at the right age and have beaten some competition for his signature.”
Jamie Devitt who was at Carlisle last season should add some creativity behind the frontman or front two depending on how Grayson chooses to set his side up. Defender Ryan Edwards also joined. after playing 36 times for Plymouth last season and may well be a key player.
There has been a total of 36 meetings between the clubs over the years. The first game took place at Eastville on 28 September 1974 and the away team came away with both points (just two for a win in those days). Paul Hart, Micky Walsh and substitute Stuart Parker scoring for Blackpool and Bruce Bannister scoring a penalty for Rovers. The return match at Bloomfield Road on 15 March 1975 saw a battling 0-0 draw.
Things were better for Rovers the following season as they won 4-1 in Lancashire on 25 October 1975, Wilf Smith, Gordon Fearnley (2) and Bruce Bannister with another penalty for Rovers and Alan Suddick for Blackpool.
Things took a distinct change for the worse for Rovers however as they lost on the next five visits to the seaside town. The biggest margin in these games came on 21 February 1987 when goals by Paul Stewart (2), Mark Taylor (2), Craig Madden and Mike Davis saw Blackpool notch 6 to Rovers single goal from David Mehew. That run also included 4-0 and 4-2 defeats as well!
Possibly GasHeads all-time favourite game would have taken place on that game on 5 May 1990 as Rovers secured the 1989-90 Third Division Championship with a 3-0 win at Bloomfield Road David Mehew, Phil Purnell and Paul Nixon all scored to record a famous victory.
Paul Nixon scores Rovers third in the 3-0 win that clinched the Championship at Bloomfield Road on 5 May 1990.
On 24 April 2000 Rovers come away from Bloomfield Road empty handed, going down to a 2-1 defeat. Wayne Gill and James Thomas scored for the Tangerines and Jason Roberts for the Gas.
Last season, both sides struggled to create attacking momentum in the first half, with skipper Tom Lockyer heading Rovers' best chance over, on 25 minutes.
Mark Cullen had Blackpool's clearest opening, two minutes later, but his strike was deflected on to the post.
Rovers started the second half the brighter and Ollie Clarke put the Gas in front from close range after Ben Heneghan missed a clearance, on 48 minutes.
Tony Craig sealed all three points for Rovers 18 minutes from time when he neatly volleyed home at the back post from Tom Nichols' deep corner.
Clarke added a third for Rovers late on, slotting home from six yards after a quick counter-attack exposed the Seasiders.
Looking ahead to the coming season Simon Grayson is looking for tactical flexibility from his team and has stressed the importance of not relying on one specific system. His team has already experimented with a number of different formations in pre-season, ranging from 4-4-2, to 3-5-2 and even 5-2-3, which they adopted against Blackburn Rovers in their final friendly on Saturday.
Asked if the Tangerines have the players at his disposal to swap and change between different systems, Grayson said: “I think so. With maybe a couple more additions that I’m looking to get, that will help us along the way as well.”
'Flexibility is something I’ve done in the past and it’s something I will do going forward. You saw against Blackburn there were players playing in that system who looked quite comfortable in it.”
'We will keep working on it because we’ve not done loads and loads of work on that system, but when we picked it up in the right areas and passed with a real purpose instead of taking the easy option and going up to Armand (Gnanduillet), we looked really threatening going forward because of the pace and craft Sullay Kaikai and Nathan Delfouneso have got.”
'You’ve got to mix it up. Sometimes you have to play out from the back but if you’re getting pressed you have to make the right decision and drop it in. I don’t want them just to play it long with hopeful passes.”
'It’s got to be with quality and then, if the centre-forward gets hold of it, you can bring other players into it. It’s about mixing it up but decision-making is a big part of football. The more good ones you make, the better opportunities you have to win games.”