By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers travel to Greater Manchester on Tuesday evening to take on Bolton Wanderers.
The Trotters last game saw them go down to a 1-0 home loss to an in-from Portsmouth team. Christian Burgess scored his first goal of the season having previously found the net in April last year, fired home after 42 minutes to inflict a fourth successive defeat on Keith Hill's team who remain bottom of the table. But Wanderers, still without a victory in 2020, will consider themselves unlucky not to have earned a share of the spoils.
The visitors came under regular pressure in the second period with Joe Dodoo and then Chris O'Grady both failing to apply a close-range finishing touch to Ronan Darcy's teasing right-wing cross. Substitute O'Grady headed wide another inviting cross while goalkeeper Alex Bass twice thwarted drives from the edge of the penalty area by Dennis Politic.
However, Portsmouth held on for a fourth successive win in all competitions. The game's only goal came after Sean Raggett's header was parried by Remi Matthews into the path of Burgess, who was lurking at the far post to tuck home.
Speaking after the game Bolton Boss Keith Hill refused to be downbeat as he commented, ‘It was a good performance, there was plenty of courage and it gives me plenty of optimism. The lads recovered (from a heavy defeat at Lincoln) well and showed bravery to play in front of their home supporters against one of the best teams in the league.
‘They are on an upward curve, Portsmouth. They are on a rebuild. And I think we have got to use them as an example. When you look at the players they have out there on the pitch, the squad they have got, and I think it shows what you can do when you are in a similar position to the one, we are in.’
‘When they go out and spend a lot of money on John Marquis, Ellis Harrison, Marcus Harness, it shows you there is life after administration.’
Hill also pointed out that in his view Pompey should have been down to 10 men as Sean Raggett should’ve walked in a key decision which cost his team dear.
Raggett was cautioned for a first-half foul on Joe Dodoo as he broke clear, with replays suggesting it was unlikely last defender James Bolton would get across to the striker.
That meant a red card should’ve been produced for a professional foul, but referee Tom Neild opted to produce a yellow. The home side’s sense of frustration was compounded when Raggett played a part in Christian Burgess scoring the only goal of the game.
When asked if Pompey should’ve finished the game with 11 men, Hill added: ‘Probably not. I just think it was a strange refereeing performance. Not every contact is a foul, and it seemed that way in the first half. I will have to have a look at it back, a few of the staff have already seen it, but potentially there should have been a sending off.’
‘We have had three sending offs since I have been at the club and, I don’t know. It certainly could have been, couldn’t it?’
So, what of is the history of Rovers games against Bolton? The very first time the teams crossed paths was on 4 February 1905 in a First Round FA Cup tie. Rovers travelled to play Second Division Bolton on their home soil and the game finished 1-1, Hugh Dunn scoring for Rovers and Sam Marsh for the Trotters. Bert Shepherd, David Stokes and an own goal by Dick Purdan gave the away team a 3-0 victory at Eastville.
The next time the teams met, I was there! From a personal perspective, my one visit to Burnden Park was truly memorable. A young Rovers team managed by Fred Ford did not set Division Three alight but a stirring FA Cup run did. A 3-1 home win over Peterborough was followed by a scoreless draw at Bournemouth’s Dean Park. Rovers won the replay 1-0 and then faced Southern League Kettering in the 3rd Round, not the glamour tie they would have wanted but an easy match to get into the next round.
The 12,230 crowd heaved a collective sigh of relief as Ray Graydon scored Rovers equaliser in a 1-1 draw. In the replay Rovers once again went behind, Laurie Taylor saved a penalty, Stuart Taylor equalised and Kettering Boss Steve Gammon put through his own net to give Rovers a 2-1 away win.
So it was that on 25 January 1969, 16 year-old Gerry Prewett joined the masses on a specially chartered Rovers Fan Club train to Bolton. The atmosphere in the Lancashire ground was electric and Gareth Williams gave the home team the lead. When Lindsay Parsons went off injured there was massive apprehension amongst the travelling fans as speedy winger Bobby Jones dropped into the right back spot and young Welshman Wayne Jones came on to replace him in the forward line.
Jones the Sub made his mark and scored the two goals to take the Gas into the next round and the glamour tie they sought with a game at Goodison Park. As we made our way back to Bolton station, the evening sports paper, The Pink Un was headlined, “Super Sub scores doubles in Rovers Wyn”. Unfortunately for the headline writer Rovers Jones was named Wayne not Wyn. Bolton had sold their star striker Wyn “The Leap” Davies to Newcastle.
Games between the teams are almost generally tight. Rovers have never scored more than two goals against the Lancashire team. Wanderers have twice scored 3 times and on 18 January 1975, gained revenge for an earlier 1-0 defeat at Eastville when they ran out 5-1 winners, Stuart Lee (2), John Byrom (2) and Hugh Curren scoring for the home team and Bruce Bannister notching Rovers consolation. The overall record between the clubs runs to 10 Rovers wins, 9 draws and 13 to Bolton.
Rovers last visit to Bolton saw them come back with a share of the points. Substitute Byron Moore scored his first goal for the Gas as they came from behind to hold the League One promotion chasers to a 1-1 draw.
Apart from 15 minutes at the start when midfielder Josh Vela fired Wanderers in front with his eighth goal of the season, Rovers bossed their high-flying hosts.
Ellis Harrison missed an open goal after a blunder by goalkeeper Mark Howard. And Rovers had two penalty appeals for handball rejected in the opening period by referee Jeremy Simpson.
Bolton, who lost skipper Jay Spearing to a suspected injury at half-time, could not break out of their own half in the second period. Howard saved from Cristian Montano and David Wheater booted substitute Luke James' effort off the line.
Eventually Moore, a 72nd -minute replacement for Montano, netted a deserved equaliser three minutes later from Billy Bodin's pass. Ryan Sweeney then hit a post with Howard stranded and Wanderers' night to forget ended with Chris Long's 90th -minute red card for a second bookable offence.
Looking at the rest of the season there is still some hope that the Trotters can escape the drop to the bottom Division. There are plenty of things working against them, the terms of the transfer embargo restrict them to 23 professional contracts and prevent them from paying for players in the transfer window.
They have three games in hand on some of their relegation rivals, but the fixtures postponed earlier in the season have been sandwiched into an already-busy New Year run, and avoiding injuries is an absolute must if they are to stand any chance of keeping in touch. History has thrown up some memorable great escapes and this might just be the greatest of them all.