By Gerry Prewett.
On Saturday when Bristol Rovers entertain Charlton Athletic two of the form teams will go head to head. Over the last 8 games the Gas are 3rd on the table and the ‘Addicks 6th. Rovers recent run of three consecutive victories and three clean sheets is the best that most GasHeads can remember for a long time.
Graham Coughlan has described the last two games as being ugly and there aren’t too many that would argue with him. The clinical finishing of Jonson Clarke Harris has made him an instant hit at the Mem and he is being mentioned as similar to Ricky Lambert. If he can achieve the heights that the affable Liverpudlian reached he will have done exceptionally well.
Charlton’s performances this season, in the context of the chaos off the field, is remarkable.Lee Bowyer and Johnny Jackson have managed to keep the players focussed and challenging for a Play Off spot, currently 11 points clear of 7th placed Peterborough.
On Tuesday night as Rovers were taking all three points just down the road at Gillingham, Charlton were hosting Burton Albion. The home team started the game on the front foot and Tariqe Fosu struck the bar inside three minutes. Just three minutes later, Lyle Taylor broke the deadlock from 12 yards after being dragged down by John Brayford.
Burton equalised on 19 minutes when David Templeton's shot hit the arm of Patrick Bauer, with Akins converting The game was then settled on 33 minutes when Taylor's pinpoint right-wing cross was met by a bullet header from Ben Reeves. The South-East Londoners then held out for all three points despite two second-half chances for Liam Boyce. It extended the ‘Addicks unbeaten home league run to 13 games.
Speaking after the game Bowyer commented, “It was a good dogged performance, not every game is going to be pretty. Burton are a good side, they came down from the Championship, they’ve got some good players that can hurt you. I thought we dug deep, ground out a result, and sometimes you have to do that especially after the effort the lads put in on Saturday on a heavy pitch.”
“I thought it wasn’t the best of games, but these are the ones we didn’t win last season, but we are grinding them out. That’s a credit to the lads and the fans, especially second half because they could tell the lads were tired. But they got behind us and kept driving them on and helped them get over the line. For me they are great wins when you have to grind them out.”
Looking back at games between Rovers and Charlton the record is very even and dates right back to Rovers' first season in Division 3 (South). In those seasons the games were played on opposite weekends, so Rovers won the first ever game at Eastville 4-2 on 10 September 1921 and the Addicks won the London game 2-0 one week later. In the Eastville game the scorers were, James Liddell, Jerry Morgan, Joe Walter and a David Steele penalty for Rovers and Bert Green and Alex Steele for Charlton. Bill Cox scored both goals for the home team at the Valley.
Perhaps the most memorable game of all between the clubs occurred on 18 November 1978 when the two undefeated teams clashed at Eastville. Charlton took the lead, then Rovers scored twice to go in front. The Addicks scored twice to take a 4-2 lead, Rovers pulled a goal back for 4-3. The Londoners once again restored their two goal lead before a Rovers double tied the game at 5-5! Following the game Bobby Gould commented that Father Christmas had arrived early, there were that many gifts around. Everyone in attendance knew what he meant as some if the goals were gifts. What was even more remarkable was that there were no goals in the last 20 minutes.
In last season’s game, Rovers took a 21st minute lead after an error by Charlton skipper Jason Pearce, whose header back to goalkeeper Ben Amos lacked sufficient pace and Kyle Bennett nipped in to shoot home from close range.
Just before half-time the scores were level as Ben Reeves exchanged passes with Sullay Kaikai on the edge of the box and saw his shot brush the leg of Lee Brown to beat the dive of Sam Slocombe.
To date Rovers have won, 22 games, 18 draws and Charlton 23 victories. In recent season the Londoner’s have the upper hand with 4 wins and 3 draws in the last 7 meetings.
When Bowyer was asked whether their Play Off spot was now secure, he responded, “No, football is crazy, as quick as we have got that gap it could close up again. I’m not really looking behind I mean I haven’t looked behind all season. It has never been a focus of mine it’s always been looking up to the top.”
“All we are going to do now is try and win games and when we have got maybe four, five games left then we can have a look and see where we are and see what possibilities there are. For me there is a lot more to change between now and the end of the season. Look at us last season we had ten games to go, everyone wrote us off. We were in tenth, I think, and we made the play-offs so there is a hell of a lot of football to be played.”
Speaking about the game at the Mem he commented, “Saturday is going to be tough they are a good side. They are a completely different side to who we played at home, watching them win at Sunderland in the Cup I thought they were the better side by far in the first half.”
“Sunderland got a goal late first half, early second half and the game was over but they pressed quickly. They have got good movement off the ball they pass the ball. They are a completely different side to who we played against earlier in the season. It is going to be tough, the conditions are going to be hard just like our game on Tuesday, heavy pitch. It is going to be the same up there so yes it is going to be a hard game for sure.”