By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers' ‘game in hand’ takes place on Tuesday night when they head up to South Yorkshire to face Doncaster Rovers.
In their last 8 games, Graham Coughlan's side have picked up a tally of thirteen points, with impressive form on the road of late. Doncaster have 4 wins and 4 draws from their last 8 home games. It points to what should be a much tighter game than the reverse fixture earlier this season handed out to the Gas at the Mem.
Whilst Rovers were working their socks off to earn the 2-2 draw at Plymouth on Saturday, Donny were one of many teams to discover just how good Luton Town are this season. Doncaster were without Herbie Kane (the Liverpool loanee who dominated at the Mem) and Ben Whiteman but looked the more menacing early on with John Marquis chasing down a kick out from goalkeeper James Shea and deflecting the ball narrowly wide.
The hosts took the lead on 34 minutes when Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was given time and space to finish side footed from 15 yards into the bottom corner. It took 12 minutes of the second half for the hosts to double their advantage. Impressive full back Jack Stacey was given time to drive for the bye-line and cut a ball back which substitute Luke Berry curled on goal only for Danny Hylton to get the vital touch beyond Marko Marosi.
The game was wrapped up the game eight minutes from time. Sweeping forward on the break, the ball was fed through to Kazenga LuaLua who finished confidently beyond Marosi.
There was still time for one more with Berry working space on the edge of the area before smashing a shot high into the goal. Grant McCann’s team were outclassed in every department, a point underlined by Luton having 29 efforts on goal to the paltry four mustered by the visitors.
Speaking after the game, McCann, said: "We were miles off the pace all game really, from minute one we were on the back foot, we were second best all over the field.”
"Luton are a top, top side and they’ll reach the Championship quite comfortably, but we were absolutely nowhere near it. They’re a good team but we made it easy for them. We were absolutely nowhere near them. That performance was not acceptable and I've said that to the group.”
“I'm not here to finish 15th or 16th in the league. If anyone's thinking like that they won't be here next season. I'm here to finish in the top six. That's my firm focus. I was disappointed with the lack of energy, lack of appetite and lack of aggression in my team.”
“We couldn't cope with Pelly-Ruddock running the game and we got disjointed. I wasn’t happy with the way we lacked a hunger and a desire to go out and get a result here. We had to change shape in the second half, they ran the midfield and we became disjointed. When we come to a place like this we need to move the ball quickly and that's probably the biggest disappointment.”
There have been a total of 40 games between the two teams with Bristol Rovers winning 17 and Doncaster 17. There has only ever once been a 0-0 draw in these matches and that was at Eastville on 9 January 1960 in an FA Cup tie, the Gas won the replay 3 days later in Yorkshire.
The highest score between the teams was on 22 December 1956 when the home team won 6-1 at Eastville. Barrie Meyer (2), Dai Ward (3) and Geoff Bradford scoring for the home team and Geoff Walker for the visitors.
The 2007 JP Trophy Final, won 3-2 by Donny, has been described as probably the most exciting of the Finals ever played. There can be little doubt that the pain of that victory spurred the Gas to their heroic finish to that season culminating in the last minute Sammy Igoe goal that secured the 3-1 victory and promotion.
Prior to the two games last season the last time the two Rovers crossed paths was back in the 2007/08 and it was the Yorkshire team who took all the points on offer. When the Gas visited the Keepmoat Stadium on 9th February 2008 they were defending an impressive unbeaten record against the team in second spot. After conceding two penalties they came back empty handed, Brian Stock on 65 minutes and Paul Heffernan on 90 minutes, scoring.
Within a month Donny had returned from the Mem with all 3 points again and it was Heffernan who was on the scoresheet once more, this time after just 3 minutes.
Last season in the game in South Yorkshire, John Marquis gave Doncaster an early lead, but goals from Ryan Sweeney and Rory Gaffney saw the visitors turn the tables at the Keepmoat Stadium before Ellis Harrison put the game to bed five minutes from time.
In last season’s game at the Keepmoat, the home team made an excellent start and took the lead after four minutes when John Marquis side-footed in Matty Blair's low cross at the near post.
The hosts were unsettled after defender Joe Wright was forced off with injury in the 19th minute and the Gas took advantage when Ryan Sweeney bundled in from Liam Sercombe's knockdown. They then took the lead in the 50th minute when Rory Gaffney chested down a Ellis Harrison flick-on and drilled past Ian Lawlor. Harrison made sure of the win in the 85th minute when he was sent clear by Gaffney before slamming a shot under Lawlor.
Andy Butler Donny’s Captain was not impressed with his team on Saturday “There were a few home truths said in the dressing room and it’s a reality check for us, they are a good side but we didn’t help ourselves. Our overall performance wasn’t up to standards, we didn’t deserve anything from it and they punish us.”
“We can’t change it now and we have a game coming up quickly on Tuesday night, we know how important that game is. As a group we won’t dwell on it for too much, we have a good opportunity to pick up six points from back-to-back home games.”
“Bristol Rovers have had a change in fortune over the past few games, it will be a tough one but we back ourselves against anybody at home. At this stage of the season it’s about having some perspective, we’ve got eight games left to get into the top six.”
Meanwhile Grant McCann believes that 16-year-old Lirak Hasani could have a big part to play for his team before the end of the season. He was handed his debut off the bench on Saturday. Hasani, plays in the deeper lying midfield role where Rovers are short of numbers following the injuries suffered by Ben Whiteman and Herbie Kane.
McCann said, “I didn’t bring him on to give him a debut. I brought him on because he’s a good player. He’s been in and around us, he’s trained with us a lot, he travelled to the last away game at Blackpool. It could be an opportunity for him.”
“I like bravery and people who are going to get on the ball and not be afraid of making a mistake and that is what he is. Lirak has played in that position for the U23s and he’s played against men already this season. I was really pleased with him. I don’t want to rush him, I don’t want to kill him but we’ll monitor him and see how he’s getting on.”
“He’s a 16-year-old kid and he came on and showed real composure,” McCann said. “He wanted to get on the ball. He must have had it six or seven times and just kept it simple and move it. He played a lovely pass into Marquis into his feet and I didn’t see that all game from some of the boys that have played 300-odd games. That was the most worrying thing for me. Whiteman will be out of action for three to four weeks after suffering ankle ligament damage during the draw with Barnsley last week. And Kane is set to miss six weeks after suffering a tear to his groin.”