By Gerry Prewett.
On Saturday Bristol Rovers travel eastwards to Portman Road to face Ipswich Town for a League game for the first time since 18 January 1992. It’s a real test for Graham Coughlin’s side which rose to 5th place after their remarkable 4-2 comeback win last weekend. Ipswich have been leading the Division until recently. After the Tractor Boys got off to a flying start (their first defeat was a 2-0 reverse at Accrington on 20th October) but in their last seven games they have, won 2, drawn 3 and lost 2.
Those three draws have come in their last three games, against Blackpool, Wycombe and Coventry (who also beat them in an FA Cup replay in mid-week). In the Coventry League game at St Andrews, Gwion Edwards and Alan Judge created a great opportunity for Town after 24 minutes with just Coventry goalkeeper Marko Marosi to beat, however Judge put the ball wide of the post.
Ipswich were rewarded for increasing pressure in the 31st minute when a short corner routine allowed Luke Garbutt to chip a ball into the penalty area where Will Keane placed his header into the far corner. Keane was denied a second just minutes later when he directed a powerful header off the post.
Coventry looked a different team in the second half and a defence-splitting pass from Liam Kelly allowed Maxime Biamou to slot a composed finish past Will Norris in the Blues goal. A mass brawl between the teams broke out after an off-the-ball incident between Ipswich's Edwards and Coventry's Sam McCallum. Both clubs have since been fined for failing to control their players as Subs and goalkeepers became involved.
End-to-end football ensued with the crossbar denying Coventry from claiming victory after Callum O'Hare's delightful flick had looped over Norris and onto the woodwork.
The Blues Captain Flynn Downes commented after the game, "One hundred per cent it was two points dropped. We were flying in the first half and I think that might be the best we've played this season, but in the second half we didn't get going.”
"It's hard to say what it's down to but I think it's on us. We were in control of the game and we looked solid defensively in the first half but after the break that changed. We dropped off and invited pressure which is very frustrating. It's something we need to work on because we can't be throwing away leads.”
"There are positives to take from the game but things to work on too. That first half was a pleasure to be involved in."
Rovers overall historical record against the East Anglian team is surprisingly good, having won 15, drawn 9 and lost 14 of the 38 games played. However, Rovers have beaten the Tractor Boys just once in the last 15 meetings! The first time the teams crossed paths was in the last season before World War 2 in the old Division 3 (South). The game at Portman Road ended 0-0 and the game at Eastville 3-3, Frank Curran (2) and Tom Mills scoring for Rovers and Charlie Fletcher (2, I penalty) and Fred Jones scoring for Ipswich.
The last time the teams met in the League was in the 1991-92 season when amazingly the game at Twerton Park also finished 3-3 Devon White (2) and Marcus Stewart scoring for Rovers and Jason Dozzell, Paul Goddard and Michael Stockwell scoring for the away team. The game at Portman Road was won for the home team with a solitary Simon Milton goal.
Town’s Luke Garbutt was sanguine after the Cup loss to Coventry in mid-week, commenting, "We want to go into every game to win, obviously, but we have to look to the bigger picture because we've not had too many bad days," the Everton loanee said.
"The priority is the league and it's a massive game on Saturday in which we want to get back to winning ways. We have to dust ourselves down and be in a positive frame of mind going into the game. We have to put Tuesday behind us because we know we can play well and get results. We need to regroup because our mentality is key going into a game where we want to get three points.”
"We'll have a meeting over the next couple of days where we'll talk about a few things and try to eliminate the things we did badly so we go into the game with the right mindset.”
Town Boss Paul Lambert was very unhappy with his team’s performance, "Not good enough, without a doubt. That's the worst performance we've turned in during my year here. We never deserved to go through. All credit Coventry, they were better than us, but it's the worst performance in my time here.”
"Listen, we were poor. We never turned up, we never got going and never did the basics of the game. You cannot mask the fact that we didn't deserve to go through. Coventry were better than us right from the off. We were marginally better in the second half, marginally, but we have to be better than that.”
"It doesn't matter what system you play - three at the back, four at the back, five at the back, two at the back... If you don't do the basics of the game it doesn't matter. The principles are always the same. If you don't want to work and don't want to run and do the basics of the game then it doesn't matter what system you play.”
“You can play like Pep's team, you can play like Arrigo Sacchi's team, whoever, but you have to do the basics and work. It doesn't matter what system you play! If you don't want to work and make tackles and fight, then it doesn't matter.”
"The principles of the game of football is you have to run and you have to be aggressive. Pep, Klopp, they will all tell you they are the basics and the principles of the game. We let ourselves down with that tonight. That's what's frustrated me."
"There's no masking it. I'm not going to make excuses. I understand the game and that wasn't good enough. The lads know it wasn't good enough. Everybody recognises it wasn't good enough. But one performance in over a year like that is... I'm not saying it's okay, but I understand how it happens.'