By Gerry Prewett.
In their first League game since the dramatic 4-3 victory at Shrewsbury, Bristol Rovers take on Southend United at the Mem this weekend. The Essex team are in a perilous position having won just one and drawn 4 of their 19 games so far. They have scored a total of 18 goals (just 5 less than Rovers) but have conceded 53 (31 more than Rovers) and it points as to where the Shrimpers issues are.
The change in the Manager’s position has not aided the on-field performances. Club hero and reputedly ‘the nicest man in football’ Chris Powell was sacked on 26 March 2019 with his team plummeting down the congested table after 11 games without a win, with the club in 20th place in the league, on goal difference.
On 2 April 2019, Kevin Bond was appointed and under his leadership, finished one place higher avoiding relegation on goal difference following an improbable win on the last day of the season against Sunderland. After a run of six defeats at the start of this season, he resigned on 6 September. Former Gas player Gary Waddock, Bond’s assistant, took on Caretaker duties until the appointment of Sol Campbell on 22 October. He watched his new side lose 7–1 to Doncaster before taking charge for his first game, a 3–1 home defeat to Ipswich.
Campbell performed a minor miracle himself last season, saving a very poor Macclesfield Town from an apparently inevitable relegation. He has had a torrid time so far at Roots Hall and has twice seen his team concede for times at Portsmouth and at home to Oxford.
There was some light for the Essex team on Tuesday evening when they took a point from Burton Albion. The Shrimpers stunned their hosts by taking a 21st-minute lead through Stephen McLaughlin. McLaughlin had already seen Burton goalkeeper Kieran O'Hara push one goalbound header onto the crossbar on the quarter of an hour mark but 6 minutes later he met a Brandon Goodship corner to head emphatically home.
Burton's evening got worse when ex-Gas player John-Joe O'Toole was red-carded by referee Darren Drysdale for an on-the-floor altercation with Southend striker Tom Hopper.
The Brewers equalised four minutes into the second half as Scott Fraser’s pinpoint free-kick left Nathan Bishop rooted to his line after Liam Boyce had been brought down just outside the box. David Templeton rattled the crossbar from the edge of the box and Nathan Ralph denied Ryan Edwards with a last-ditch clearance as Albion, despite being at a numerical disadvantage, searched for a winner.
Asked after the game whether he thought it was a point gained or two lost Campbell responded, “Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a point that we’ve secured but for me, we didn’t utilise the extra man on the pitch and that’s disappointing. Nothing comes easy and we have to work and work and work.”
“We got a goal and their goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara has also made a great save. We’ve just got to keep on working. When you’re down there you have to scrap, keep on trying to play well, right attitude, the right intensity. That’s what we had in the first half, but after that we should have utilised the extra man and we didn’t. It’s something to build on, and I think a month ago we would’ve lost that game.”
In previous meetings the Essex team have a distinct advantage, having won 47 of those games to Rovers’ 41 victories. 32 of those Rovers’ wins have been in the West Country, so just 9 wins for Rovers at the seaside town. The Shrimpers have a better away record than Rovers with 13 wins in the West of England.
The very first meeting between the clubs took place during the First World War as they tied 0-0 at Eastville on 16 January 1915 in an FA Cup match. In the replay at Roots Hall, Southend ran away with it 3-0. In the first 27 games between the teams Rovers only won 8 and Southend 15.
Looking at those previous meetings, back in 1964-65 season Rovers were looking a strong prospect for promotion. By the end of April, they had dropped away from the leading pack. The day after a dull 1-1 home draw with Exeter they needed to beat Southend in their final home game of the season to give themselves a realistic chance of going up. John McKinven gave Southend the lead early in the second half, but then in the last 10 minutes the game exploded into life, Harold Jarman and Alfie Biggs gave Rovers a 2-1 lead with just 2 minutes left, but Watson equalised a minute later.
It was the following season when Southend suffered their first-ever relegation, Rovers gained their revenge on 5th March 1966 for a 2-0 defeat inflicted at Roots Hall less than a month before. Harold Jarman, Dave Stone and Johnny Brown hit the net for Rovers with John McKinven once again proving the scourge of the Rovers defence. The score would have been closer had Slack not missed a penalty in the 88th minute.
In more recent times Rovers scored four times against the Shrimpers in Bristol. On 25 October 2008, Rickie Lambert had a game to remember, even by his standards, as he hit four goals. He notched a first-half hat-trick with goals in the 10th, 16th and 33rd minute and scored the fourth ten minutes after half-time. There was then something of a scare as Peter Clarke (70 minutes) and Francis Laurent (75 minutes) gave the away team some hope.
The following season the situation was almost reversed as Scott Vernon with a 5th-minute penalty and Scott Spencer seven minutes later gave the away team an early 2-0 lead. By half time it was 2-2 as Joe Kuffour (34 minutes) and Jeff Hughes (38 minutes) with a penalty brought the game back to life.
Seven minutes into the second half, Hughes put Rovers in front but within 5 minutes Vernon had his second of the game to bring the scores level again. The game was turned on its head in the 65th minute with a yellow card to Byron Anthony but a red to Francis Moussa. It wasn’t until the last minute of the game before the ten men capitulated as Anthony Grant put the ball past his own keeper, Steve Mildenhall for a 4-3 home win.
On 11 March 2017 Rovers won the game at the Mem 2-0. Billy Bodin cut in from the right and buried a trademark left-footed shot into the opposite corner of the net after just 57 seconds. Then on 31 minutes Rory Gaffney took aim from the right corner of the box and found the net via the inside of the far post with his right foot to double the score.
In the 2017/18 game Rovers went ahead after 15 minutes when Billy Bodin tricked his way past Stephen Hendrie inside the box and buried a left-footed volley from close range. Ellis Harrison made sure of the points with a low 74th-minute finish from the edge of the box after Bodin had set him up.
Liam Sercombe put the icing on the cake four minutes from time, shooting home after Rory Gaffney's drive had been parried by Southend keeper Mark Oxley.
In last season’s game at the Mem, Rovers could have taken a ninth-minute lead when a fine move involving Ollie Clarke and Liam Sercombe ended with Tom Nichols striking the crossbar with a shot from inside the box. Sercombe was forced off by a hamstring injury after 18 minutes and he was sorely missed.
The visitors went ahead when five minutes before half-time as Rovers failed to deal with Michael Kightly's near-post cross from the left and the ball broke across goal for Tom Hopper to shoot powerfully past Adam Smith.
Southend might have increased their lead late on when Hopper bundled the ball over the crossbar from a Stephen McLaughlin cross.
Talking ahead of Saturday’s fixture Sol Campbell is looking for a better performance from his strikers than in the draw at Burton, “The main thing for us is we need to see the space and see our runners. We had a lot of runners and good situations and we didn’t see it and capitalise on it.
"We’ve got to work harder and those opportunities will appear. We were lacking the last pass when it was on, we just didn’t see it. We’ve got to get better at that.”
"It’s coming and the more we work at it the better we will get and that luck will drop our way. When we’re in the last third we need to start utilising the final pass. I don’t want us to be gung-ho, but our mindset when we’re 1-0 up needs to be to go again and kill the game off.”
"1-1 away from home is a good result so we have to take every positive when it comes.
Speaking about his expectations for this weekend he commented, "It is going to be hard competition and we’ve got to compete in the game. We’ve let ourselves down in giving goals away. I don’t mind teams working hard and scoring against us but we have given away far too many goals because of a lack of concentration or a lack of appreciation of where you are on the pitch. What you can get away with and what you definitely cannot get away with.”
"We’ve got to play football at the right moments but then we’ve got to put our foot in and tackle, have desire, get back into position, heart and soul and spirit. We’ve got to do that, and then you can start playing your football.”
"You’ve got to put your tackles in, get your first headers in, not shanking your header or your clearance, calmness under pressure and then quicken the pace of your game. We have to earn the right to play football and we’ve not done enough of that."