Bristol Rovers head down the M5 for a 120 mile, ‘West Country derby’ with Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday night in an EFL Cup fixture. Goalkeeper Jordi van Stappershoef is likely to provide the main narrative to the fixture, as the Dutchman likely to be given his first opportunity to show his abilities as Anssi Jaakkola is on international duty with Finland.
After suffering a very contentious final day relegation last season, Argyle were one of the pre-season favourites to bounce straight back. Currently sitting in 6th place they look as though that prediction may well be correct. The abrasive Derek Adams fell foul of the Argyle fanbase and was replaced by Ryan Lowe, who had guided Bury to a very unlikely promotion.
Argyle have got off to an encouraging start but on Saturday went down 3-1 at Sixfields to a Northampton Town team who were seeking their first victory. The Cobblers were ahead on seven minutes when Sam Hoskins' cross hit an arm and Ryan Watson stuck away the spot-kick, but it was 1-1 just three minutes later as Danny Mayor was fouled and Joe Riley drilled the free-kick under the wall.
Northampton were back in front midway through the first half as Hoskins sent in a teasing low cross and Andy Williams stretched out a leg to divert into the bottom corner.
Argyle's Gary Sawyer headed over from underneath the crossbar and Nicky Adams hit the post with a Northampton free-kick before the home side made it 3-1 just shy of half-time thanks to Williams, who volleyed home another Hoskins cross.
Alex Palmer produced a brilliant save to thwart Hoskins in first-half stoppage-time and though Plymouth pressed in the second half, Byron Moore skied over from just a few yards out and David Cornell brilliantly denied George Cooper late on.
Speaking after the game Lowe said, “It just wasn’t us. It wasn’t a Plymouth Argyle team that I put together. I’m disappointed in the goals, disappointed in the first half performance, but I will always say we are not the finished article, nowhere near.”
“Fair play to Northampton, they had a game-plan and they stuck to it. The goals, I will always say, are avoidable. They are at our cost because no-one has ripped us open and played the way we play. In the second half we gave a good account of ourselves, made a few changes. We brought a couple of players on who we thought changed it for us a little bit. We were more direct in terms of running with the ball forward, but the first half performance cost us three points.”
“In the first half we weren’t going around them enough. We were trying to go through the middle and that’s what they wanted. As you have seen, they were very aggressive, on the front foot and trying to counter. That’s what Keith Curle’s teams do, but I was disappointed that we didn’t keep the ball.”
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 between the clubs 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.
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 just 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”
Meanwhile in Plymouth, Rovers have not won since their 2-1 victory there in the Worthington Cup on 23 August 2000. That is 9 games in which there have been 4 defeats and 5 draws. The last League win was on 10 January 1998 in Division 2 when goals by Jamie Cureton and Barry Hayles (later to pull on the Argyle shirt) for Rovers and one for Carlo Corazzin for Argyle saw a 2-1 result. Back on 5 February 1994 there was a memorable 3-3 draw, when Justin Skinner, Lee Archer and Worrell Sterling replied to goals by Dwight Marshall, Paul Dalton and Mike Evans to keep a 13,318 crowd entertained.
Going back to 1982 Rovers visited Home Park twice, on 2 January they went down to a 4-0 defeat with Jeff Cook and John Sims grabbing a brace each, but on 28 September, goals by Paul Randall (2), Errington Kelly and David Williams ensured the result was reversed, to give Rovers their best ever result on the ground. Argyle certainly found the Rovers defence to their liking in the 1959/60 and 1960/61 seasons, beating Rovers 5-3 and 5-0 (Rovers worst result in Plymouth).
The 2017-18 game was a real roller coaster Chris Lines opened the scoring with a 12th-minute free-kick from outside the box that he swept home past Argyle keeper Remi Matthews. Argyle levelled when Jamie Ness sent a header over Sam Slocombe and in at the far post from a cross from the right by Ruben Lameiras on 34 minutes.
Within two minutes Ellis Harrison restored Rovers lead, scoring with a low shot.
Argyle levelled again in the 48th minute when Ness' cross-cum-shot was deflected off Ollie Clarke and the post and in.
A minute before Lameiras' penalty was brilliantly saved by Slocombe, diving to his left.
Moses Makasi - on loan from West Ham - won the spot-kick, tripped by Tom Lockyer as he sped into the Rovers penalty area.
On 85 minutes Yann Songo'o was fouled by Lockyer and Graham Carey converted to take all 3 points for Argyle.
Last season’s game at Home Park was a real thriller. The first half was goalless as Matt Macey made a superb save in added time to deny Tom Nichols as he met Ollie Clarke's cross from the right with a goal-bound strike.
Plymouth's Ruben Lameiras broke the deadlock in the 51st minute. He jinked into the area down the right, exchanged passes with David Fox and then curled the ball past goalkeeper Jack Bonham.
Rovers' reply was out of the blue on 72 minutes, with Jonson Clarke-Harris shrugging off numerous strong challenges with a thumping angled strike into the top corner from 20 yards which gave Macey no chance.
Tony Craig scored an unfortunate own goal just three minutes later, heading in off the crossbar as Lameiras' corner from the right bounced up at the far post to make it 2-1 to the home side.
Then in added time substitute Gavin Reilly scored a stoppage-time leveller as his headed flick on James Clarke's curling cross took the ball out of the reach of keeper Macey.
News from Home Park reveals that defender Will Aimson is set to make his debut, Aimson is expected to be part of a three-man central defence which also includes Josh Grant. Grant impressed when he started the 4-2 Carabao Cup second round defeat by Reading at Home Park last Tuesday. He then replaced Gary Sawyer at half-time on Saturday and this will give him the chance to stake a claim for a regular first-team place.
Midfielder Jose Baxter is also set to start as he continues to build his way up to full match fitness. He scored his first goal for the Pilgrims in the Carabao Cup tie with Reading before being an unused substitute at Northampton. Baxter could be joined in midfield by Antoni Sarcevic.
Lowe commented, “We will analyse the boys and see where they are at. Maybe one or two are looking a bit tired. There will be changes in terms of what I want to change, whether that’s tactical or freshening things up, whatever it is, I will make sure I do that.”