By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers entertain Portsmouth this weekend after an amazing month which saw them rise to the giddy heights of 4th before successive defeats has brought them back into the pack. The Division One table is now taking on some shape but has some pundits scratching their heads with teams under and over performing. Wycombe in 3rd spot would be a case of the latter, whereas Pompey currently 16th would have expected to be much higher in the table.
The Hampshire team got off to a very poor start to their campaign and it took them until the end of September before they secured their second win of the season, beating Bolton 1-0 at Fratton Park. Up until that game their League record read, Played 7, Won 1, Drawn 3 Lost 3. In the 5 games since they have Won 3, Drawn 1, Lost 1. The latest game was a 1-0 victory on Tuesday evening over Lincoln City.
Pompey very nearly went behind on seven minutes when Callum Connolly was left in acres of space from a free-kick, but the visiting defender headed well wide. He was made to regret that miss when the home team went in front in the 28th minute. The Imps’ Josh Vickers could only parry Christian Burgess’ powerful header and John Marquis was well placed to bundle home the rebound from close range.
In the 54th minute, former Pompey striker John Akinde should have levelled the scores when he got in front of Norwich loanee Sean Raggett at the near post but was unable to get anything on Bruno Andrade's cross. 11 minutes later at the other end, Burgess almost doubled the hosts lead when he met a Gareth Evans delivery, but Vickers just saved on the goal line to his left.
Kenny Jackett reflected on his team’s pragmatic performance after the game, “The players worked ever so hard and really grafted for each other to earn the clean sheet. I think Lincoln’s one proper chance was from a corner when the ball pinged around and popped into Craig’s arms. But we looked dangerous from our own set-pieces and were able to score from one of them, with John in the right place.”
"The work ethic of all the players was fantastic. That’s a really big thing and we dug in when it was needed. He put in a great and industrious performance and it’s a great feeling for a centre-forward to get the winner.”
“We have some defensive stability now. It’s a goal a game conceded in the league, which is somewhere near where we want to be. Now we want to build on that and go forward with those three guys just behind the striker and those full-backs coming out at the right time. I thought we cut Wimbledon open more on Saturday in terms of opportunities, while this was a different game. But the work ethic of all the players was fantastic. That’s a really big thing and we dug in when it was needed.”
Looking at the history of all games between the clubs, in total there have been 43, with Pompey dominating, with 23 victories to Rovers 11. Only 5 of those wins have come away from Fratton, however.
There have been some remarkable sequences of results in these fixtures. Rovers failed to win in the first 11 meetings (5 draws and 6 defeats). In the late 50’s to early 60’s Rovers won 4 games in a row but lost the next 3! Between 1989 and 2017 Rovers won 2, drew 0 and lost 11 of the 13 games!
The very first clash between the teams was an FA Cup tie at Eastville on 13 January 1912. John Jones and Lionel Louch goals for Portsmouth and a Hughes goal for Rovers sent the South coast team through to the second round.
The first League game was on 12 February 1921 when Portsmouth won their home game 1-0 with Frank Stringfellow scoring for Pompey, one week later the teams fought out a 2-2 draw at Eastville. Stringfellow and David Watson scoring for the away team and Sid Leigh and Wally Bird scoring for the Pirates.
Rovers best ever victory and the biggest between the two clubs took place on 13 November 1982. Goals by David Williams, Ian Holloway, Timmy Parkin, Aiden McCaffery and Archie Stephens for Rovers and a single response by Bill Rafferty provided an emphatic 5-1 home win.
In more recent times on 21 December, 2013 Ollie Clarke (40 mins) and David Clarkson (77 mins) saw Rovers secure a 2-0 win.
On New Year’s Day 2018 Rovers ended a four-match winless run. Billy Bodin had an early shot saved for Rovers and fired wide from one of their better opportunities after 38 minutes, while at the other end Jamal Lowe had a shot deflected for a corner and goalkeeper Adam Smith denied Brett Pitman.
Portsmouth took a 64th minute lead when Hawkins directed a header past Smith from an Adam May cross. The visitors looked in charge until Stuart Sinclair poached an 84th minute equaliser, pouncing to net the rebound after Pompey goalkeeper Luke McGee had failed to hold on to a Bodin effort.
In the last minute of normal time Liam Sercombe netted with a low shot from 25 yards through a crowded penalty area after a free-kick had been played into the midfielder's path.
Last season, in an early fixture, the visitors took a 32nd minute lead when Ronan Curtis headed the ball into the path of Gareth Evans, who finished with a crunching left-footed volley from left corner of the box.
On 76 minutes Chris Lines coolly netted an equaliser from the penalty spot with a low shot after Curtis had handled when trying to clear a corner. Two minutes later Lines went in with studs showing on Pompey sub Brett Pitman and was shown a straight red card by referee Graham Salisbury.
Pompey capitalised on their man advantage on 87 minutes when Curtis netted the winner with a shot on the turn from 10 yards.
Look ahead of this weekend’s game Kenny Jackett whilst pleased with his team’s improved defensive display (bettered only by Ipswich) would like to see them more lethal in front of goal, “There is a genuine set of players here, who want to do well for themselves, each other and also the club.”
“I felt there was a big effort on Tuesday night, which we needed, and it was nice to score from a set-piece after being on the wrong end of one a few days earlier. There has been a lack of goals lately, though. We’ve tightened up at one end but haven’t put enough away at the other.”
“Whether you’re creating the chances is irrelevant, the bottom lines is how many you score. It’s a big thing. That might be about creating more openings or it might be about being more clinical when they do come along.”
“But I do have confidence in my players that it will come and we certainly have the quality there to do that. It’s up to us to make sure we break through because we have to do something about the lack of goals, without losing anything in defence.”
“If we get our game right, we feel that we can pick up points against any side in this division, so we have to keep working away. We want to turn it into a good week for us and all our efforts are focused on making sure it’s six points out of six. It will be a tough game and we’ll analyse our opponents, respecting them while concentrating mainly on our own performance.”