By Gerry Prewett.
Having reached the FA Cup Second Round Bristol Rovers are excited to face the prospect of entertaining Plymouth Argyle in what is certain to be a full-blooded encounter. Games between the Gas and the Pilgrims are always fought with passion by both teams.
After struggling at the start of the season under new Manager Ryan Lowe, who produced his own miracle in getting Bury promoted against all the odds, the Greens have found some form and climbed to 8th in the table. They have won four and drawn three of their last eight games, the one defeat being their 4-0 Devon derby mauling at Exeter City.
Their latest game was a 2-1 victory over promotion rivals Bradford City. The Devon team were ahead after just five minutes when Antoni Sarcevic raced down the right flank and produced a pinpoint cross to ex-Gas player Byron Moore at the near post. The forward poked his first effort towards goal only to be denied by Richard O’Donnell in the Bantam’s goal. Moore reacted quickest to stab into the far corner at the second attempt.
Bradford went two down on 25 minutes. Dwelling on a routine back-pass with Joe Edwards bearing down on him, O’Donnell hashed his clearance direct to Joel Grant on the right flank. Grant cooly laid the ball back to Edwards, who smoothly dropped his shoulder to leave Callum Cooke sprawled on the turf before placing the ball into the bottom corner.
Just 6 minutes into the second half Bradford were back in the game, Argyle were unable to clear their lines and when Hope Akpan hoisted the ball across to Anthony O’Connor on the right-hand side of the box his low drive across goal was turned inadvertently into his own net by Niall Canavan.
City could have levelled when keeper Richard O'Donnell's long clearance found Zeli Ismail, but the second-half substitute sent his first time shot just past the post. Sarcevic came close to making it 3-1 after 82 minutes but his thumping goal-bound shot was deflected wide by two defenders.
Interviewed after the game, Boss Lowe said, “Every single one of them, to a man, was different class. The willingness and desire to press, and close people down, do everything we ask, was brilliant. You feel comfortable in games and that comes from putting the work in, feeling confident in the boys that they’re going to perform and withstand any pressure, which they did.”
“They [Bradford] play with one up front and James Vaughan is a handful. They changed in the second half to match us up with a 3-5-2 and it was tough, but we dealt with it. It shows the work we’ve put in, to be 2-0 up at half-time, they had to change it to try and get back into the game, but the quality of our lads shone through in the end. The game is never won at 2-0 because it’s a tough scoreline.”
“We are on a good run of form and we have to continue that. You can’t win every game because the league is so inconsistent but if you get a run together, you can start looking forward.”
There is a rich history of games, 102 in total, between the clubs. Like Rovers, Argyle were founder members of the Third Division in 1920-21 season. They finished one spot below Rovers at the end of that season in 11th place. The first ever League meeting took place on 23rd April 1921 when goals by Ellis Crompton and Billy Palmer secured a 2-0 victory in front of a 14,000 Eastville crowd. The return match saw Plymouth win 2-1 a week later, Crompton scoring for Rovers again and Jimmy Logan notching two for Argyle. It was the first of 10 games in which Argyle remained undefeated against Rovers.
Looking back over the history of games there have been some real high scoring encounters. The Boxing Day fixture of 1973 kept a 22,353 crowd on their toes as goals by Stuart Taylor, Alan Warboys (2) and Bruce Bannister swept a rampant Rovers to a 4-2 win.
Going back even further to 14th October 1961 a Bobby Jones double, Geoff Bradford and Peter Hooper goals made the score 4-3 to Rovers. This provided some sort of revenge for Argyle’s 5-2 win, 11 months prior.
It’s also worth remembering that “Goodnight Irene” was first heard on 4 November 1950 in a game between Rovers and Argyle. Rovers came back from being 1-0 down at half time to score 3 goals. The Rovers fans changed the words of the current hit by the Weavers to ‘Goodnight Argyle”
On 8 March 2014 a 7,799 crowd saw Rovers run out 2-1 victors. It only took the home side 6 minutes to find the back of the net through loan striker Chris Beardsley. Michael Smith delivered a long flat throw into the Argyle penalty area to Kaid Mohamed at the near post. Mohamed flicked the ball across the 6-yard box to find an unmarked Beardsley who nodded in from close range.
The home side were made to pay for their missed chances as just before half time Plymouth drew level. A Luke Young free kick was palmed wide by Mildenhall but only to the head of Maxime Blanchard. Blanchard headed the ball back across the Rovers 6-yard box and Neal Trotman jumped highest to make it 1-1.
Rovers looked the more likely to break the deadlock and did on the 79th minute through the head of Kaid Mohamed. Further pressure from down the Rovers left allowed Lee Brown to deliver a pinpoint ball to the far post and an unmarked Mohamed restored Rovers advantage.
Prior to that game The Mem had been a happy hunting ground for the Pilgrims; they had collected maximum points in the previous three League encounters, the last two of which had seen the Devon team record 3-2 wins. In 2015-16 both fixtures ended up 1-1 as Rovers late assault on the top of the table saw them gain automatic promotion.
Last season’s League encounter at the Mem saw Argyle head back down the M5 with a point from a 0-0 draw. The Gas crafted a handful of chances, with the closest opportunity coming via a sweetly timed volley on the hour mark from Sam Matthews that required an admirable diving save from Matt Macey.
Matthews again tested Macey with a powerful drive from inside the area that forced a stop from the Plymouth 'keeper. At the other end, on his first start at the Mem, Jack Bonham produced an extraordinary save to prevent Carey from breaking the deadlock, with a reaction save from close-range keeping the scores level in the final stages, as the game ended with deadlock intact.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Cup tie and reflecting upon the season so far Ryan Lowe said, “I will never get too carried away because you will have your highs and lows if you like. We have had a couple of lows and we have had a few highs.”
“The most pleasing thing for me is we have got this place bouncing. The fans are behind us, the owner and the board of directors are behind us. The boys are buying into everything we are doing, the football we are playing is fantastic and we are winning matches.
“So if that continues I won’t get too carried away but we know now we have got the trust in the boys. If they keep performing to their levels of expectation they will be there and thereabouts (at the end of the season).”