By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers opened their 2019/20 campaign with a trip to the seaside, Blackpool. This weekend the teams clash again, this time in Bristol. Since that first match both teams have changed their Manager. Simon Grayson was sacked after seven months in charge following a run of only one win in 12 games in all competitions. The 50-year-old returned to Bloomfield Road in July 2019, having previously led the Tangerines to promotion into the Championship in 2007.
Following a 1-1 draw with Sunderland on 14 December, the Seasiders had 33 points, with eight wins and just three defeats in the league. However, the accruing of just four points from a possible 27 since then and a lack of goals from other players to complement Armand Gnanduillet, who has 18, have contributed to their decline.
At the beginning of the season there was a real sense of rebirth for the Fylde Coast team’s fans after the spectre of the Oysten family finally departed. The damage done to this proud club cannot be overemphasised but the unity of the fans has finally seen the club back in ‘safe hands’ after 32 years of mismanagement.
Grayson’s final match in charge was a mid-week home loss to Gillingham. Blackpool took the early initiative as ex-Gas keeper Jack Bonham stopped Gary Madine firing the Seasiders ahead, top-scorer Gnanduillet did just that moments later, in the 7th minute, with a clinical finish into the bottom corner.
Chances for Connor Ronan and Madine went begging for the Tangerines before John Akinde drifted in behind and slotted home a 73rd minute equaliser, despite Chris Maxwell's best efforts in the home goal. The hosts were stunned when three minutes later Regan Charles-Cook blasted home to put the Gills 2-1 up.
Gillingham nearly grabbed a third as Jack Tucker's header struck the woodwork, but at the other end Nathan Delfouneso nodded home the equaliser in the first minute of added time. The late drama was not over, though, as Brandon Hanlan's close-range header four minutes later secured a 3-2 victory and all three points for Gillingham.
Speaking immediately after the game Grayson said, “You look at the performance in the first half, I thought we were good and we were comfortable. They never really threatened too much other than set pieces. We got the goal, but we could have had at least another couple to make it comfortable at half time.
“We missed some good opportunities and when you play a Steve Evans side you know exactly what you’re going to come up against. Second half I said we needed to keep the ball slightly better but make sure we competed. But individual mistakes have cost us.
“It gave them a lift and they get back into the game and before you know it, you’re 2-1 down and you’re chasing the game when really it should have been over. It becomes a difficult night.”
“You equalise late on and you say ‘we’ll take the point now’ and make sure you don’t lose the game. But there are individual mistakes for all three goals and they have cost us a point at the very least, whereas up to the first goal we were quite comfortable in the game.”
“You have to defend everything Gillingham throw at you. In the first half we did that, we were compact and we dealt with second balls. But we went to sleep and allowed John Akinde to run through when someone should have stayed with him.”
“Then for their second the lad chests it down in the box when he’s got three or four yards of space. You didn’t see us getting that sort of opportunity when we were attacking. Then you just do whatever is required to get the draw. After the run we’ve been on, you’ll take four points out of six after scoring an equaliser so late on and you move onto the next game.
“To concede the late goal as we did, with a free header in the six-yard box, in the 94th minute is criminal defending from individuals.”
There has been a total of 37 meetings between the clubs over the years and the record is exactly even with 14 wins to each team and 9 draws. The first game took place at Eastville on 28 September 1974, in the old Division 2, and the newly relegated away team came away with both points (just two for a win in those days). Paul Hart, Micky Walsh and substitute Stuart Parker scoring for Blackpool and Bruce Bannister scoring a penalty for Rovers. The return match at Bloomfield Road on 15 March 1975 saw a battling 0-0 draw.
It took Rovers 4 attempts before they recorded a home win over Blackpool, a 2-0 victory on 21 January 1978 with goals by Bobby Gould and Paul Randall.
Last season’s 4-0 victory was the biggest score Rovers had recorded against the Tangerines. The Gas took a sixth-minute lead when Liam Sercombe's low cross from the right corner of the box took a deflection into the path of Jonson Clarke-Harris, who fired home from close range.
It was 2-0 on 37 minutes as Ollie Clarke's pass put Clarke-Harris in on the left and the striker thumped an unstoppable shot across goalkeeper Mark Howard into the far corner. The big striker completed his treble on 68 minutes, lashing in the rebound after Clarke's volley had brought a brilliant save from Howard.
Liam Sercombe completed an emphatic win in stoppage time, shooting low past the Blackpool keeper from substitute Alex Jakubiak's cross-field pass.
David Dunn has taken over temporary charge of the first team following Grayson’s departure, asked if he would want the job beyond his caretaker spell, he replied “No. The owner and (chief executive) Ben Mansford have just told me to take the reins and just to be positive and get as many points as I can and that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve no intention to become the manager.”
“I’m enjoying my time back in football, it’s six weeks now being back on the grass and I want to coach. But in terms of being a manager, no I don’t want that.”
Asked if he’s being given a certain number of games, Dunn replied: “No, not really. I’ve just got to do my best, try and prepare the players the best we can on the pitch and let’s see where that takes us.”
“But hopefully there will be a new manager coming in shortly and then we can see what that brings. I just want to give my best, prepare the team as best as I can and hopefully pick a team that can put a good performance in, that’s all I can do.”