Gerry Prewett presents an in-depth guide to our opposition on Saturday...
This weekend’s fixture between Bristol Rovers and Oxford United is always fiercely fought but extra spice was added after Rovers hero turned villain Matty Taylor joined the Yellows from our cross-city rivals on loan. That feeling has taken to the backburner when the dreadful news came through of the death of Gas hero Junior Agogo at the age of 40.
Junior was much loved by everyone at the Mem and memories of his goalscoring exploits have been shared on social media. The call for a one-minute applause immediately prior to the game seems entirely appropriate.
As Rovers were getting their first win of the season on Tuesday evening United went down, 4-2 at home to an exciting Burton Albion. The Brewers led at the break thanks to Jake Buxton's first league goal for the club. Buxton stooped low at the near post to head home Nathan Broadhead's 30th minute corner.
The U's hit back two minutes into the second half. Anthony Forde crossed for Cameron Brannagan to fire home a first-time shot. Ten minutes later Forde raced on to Rob Dickie's pass to slot past keeper Kieran O'Hara and put Oxford 2-1 up.
Albion equalised just after the hour with Scott Fraser lashing a loose ball high into the net from 12 yards. Fraser put the visitors 3-2 ahead with a deflected effort, which sneaked just inside Simon Eastwood's right-hand post. And after Liam Boyce had headed against the post for Burton, Fraser completed his hat-trick with another impressive finish from 15 yards six minutes before the end.
United Boss Karl Robinson accepted the blame for the changes that led to his team’s loss. After they went 3-2 behind, he took off Anthony Forde and Ben Woodburn, replacing them with Tariqe Fosu and Jamie Mackie. Steven Fraser bagged the Brewers’ fourth not long after and Robinson admits he shares the blame.
“We didn’t put the ball in the box quick enough, we didn’t play forward quick enough, but equally I have to take responsibility. I made a double substitution far too early and that is my responsibility.”
“You’ve seen in a number of games this year where if you keep your shape and discipline, gaps will appear at this level. From those two substitutions, the game became a basketball match. It was poor from me and is something I’ll take the blame for.”
Looking at the history of games between the teams, there have been 56 meetings since Oxford first entered the League back in the mid 1960’s, replacing Accrington Stanley. In terms of results the games between the teams have been fairly even over the years with Rovers winning 23, United 19 and 14 draws.
In recent seasons Rovers have certainly had the upper hand with 7 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the last 11 meetings. The best spell of consecutive wins in these fixtures is six for Rovers between 1995 and 2001.
The first game between the two teams was played on 18th September 1965 at Eastville. There were four goals scored, all by players with the surname Jones, one by Oxford’s Tony, but the star of the day was Rovers’ Bobby who bagged a hat-trick.
However my vivid memory of that day was the Oxford keeper, Harry Fearnley who was smoking during the game! He used to rush into the back of his net whilst play was at the other end and have a quick puff. Also in the Oxford team was "Big Fat" Ron Atkinson, who the Evening Post noted failed to keep a tight grip on Bobby Jones.
The most goals scored in a Rovers home game was a stunning 6-2 win at the end of the 2000/01 relegation season, which ended up being meaningless as Rovers’ season fell apart at the death. That 2 goal haul was only the second time the U’s have managed two goals on Rovers territory. However the next time they registered that number at the Mem was in 2002/03 season when they secured a 2-0 win.
United opened the scoring on 21 minutes, Adam Chapman fed the ball into Jake Forster-Caskey, who turned and shot on the edge of the area. Alfie Potter doubled Oxford’s lead just after the half hour mark, after a slip from Michael Smith near the half way line. The Oxford winger made a great solo run, and slotted the ball home past Walker in the Rovers goal.
In the early season televised home game in 2015/16 Rovers, who had started the game strongly, but were reduced to 10 men with just over 15 minutes played as Ollie Clarke was shown a straight red by referee James Linington for an elbow on Oxford midfielder Danny Rose (a decision that was later overturned).
Numbers were evened up just before the hour mark as, following some neat interplay by Jermaine Easter and Matty Taylor, Taylor was bundled to the ground by Liam Sercombe who was shown his second yellow of the game. Interestingly these two might well be facing one another with different shirts this weekend!
On 62 minutes the away team’s Kemar Roofe was allowed space to shoot on the edge of the area and curled a superb shot into the top right hand corner of the goal with the ball clipping the crossbar on its way past a helpless Aaron Chapman.
In 2016/17 a Jermaine Easter goal on 25 minutes gave Rovers the lead before Kane Hemmings, equalised for United just before half-time. The packed Mem was in raptures as Matty Taylor secured all three points with 20 minutes to go to secure a 2-1 home win.
On 14 October 2017 United won a closely fought game 1-0 in front of a 9,656 crowd. The best chance of an open, entertaining first half fell to the visitors after 20 minutes when James Henry completely mishit his shot from 12 yards after a low cross from Christian Ribeiro had given him a clear sight of goal.
Rovers also created opportunities, but went closest through a spectacular 20-yard volley from Chris Lines just before the break, which flashed narrowly wide. Rory Gaffney had the ball in the net for Rovers early on, but was judged offside from a Tom Nichols flick-on.
Substitute Alex Mowatt fired an 82nd-minute winner with a low left-footed shot from the edge of the box after a mistake by Tom Broadbent had allowed James Henry the chance to cross from the right.
It was a game littered with yellow cards, Ollie Clarke, Rory Gaffney and Liam Sercombe for Rovers and James Henry, John Mousinho, Christian Ribeiro and Joe Rothwell for United.
Last season’s game (played almost exactly a year after the previous fixture) saw the teams fight out a 0-0 draw. Oxford defender Curtis Nelson nodded against the foot of a post from a 40th minute free-kick, and Tom Nichols saw a 62nd minute header bounce back off the crossbar.
Oxford deserved to be ahead at the interval but Shandon Baptiste had a shot cleared off the line by Tom Lockyer before being substituted with a shoulder injury after 41 minutes.
Jack Bonham made fine low saves to keep out shots from Marcus Browne and James Henry.
After the break, Tom Nichols, Ed Upson and Kyle Bennett all went close to getting on the scoresheet.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s game Karl Robinson said, “We have played at Sunderland, Blackpool and now Bristol Rovers. There is an expectancy and an intensity at all those grounds. They are places that make you feel like you want to perform. It’s a decent ground and although there may be a few people away for Bank Holiday there will still be plenty there and a great atmosphere.”
“We are in a good place, certainly in terms of performances if not the last two results, but it is important that we go out there and play as well as we have done at Sunderland and Blackpool where in both games the fans gave us a standing ovation when we left the pitch.”
With Shandon Baptiste approaching full fitness it only leaves Malachi Napa on the injured list for the U’s, but making tough calls on team selection is not something that unduly worries Robinson...
“That’s the bit I enjoy. There will be some big decisions to make at the weekend, some say you need to be brave, some say stupid! I had a big squad at Charlton as well so it’s not something new to me. It is for me here at Oxford, perhaps, but it’s something we’ve been asking for and I can’t moan about having too many players and having to keep them all happy.”
"I can only keep 11 of them happy at 3 o’clock on Saturday and that means seven who are unhappy. But they know that the only way they are going to make a dent in this team is through their ability and attitude. We will see what team we have to go with, what shape we play, and hopefully we put in the right preparation and get the right result.”