By Gerry Prewett.
After breaking to goalless run on Tuesday evening with Jonson Clarke Harris’ tap in, Bristol Rovers return to the Mem to face a Coventry City team for the third time this month. The draw at Bolton on Tuesday would have given Ben Garner some confidence that his team are taking on board his methods and are looking more comfortable in possession.
Opponents Coventry are on a six game unbeaten run, having won four of those games. Their away form is also very impressive having won 3 and drawn one of their last 4 away games. That draw was at a very windy Highbury on Tuesday as both teams drew a blank in a 0-0 draw. The hosts created the majority of the chances.
Sky Blues striker Matt Godden fired a shot against the post early on, though he was then adjudged offside. Chances were few and far between in blustery conditions, with Town's Ched Evans seeing a shot blocked after the hosts pounced on Jordan Shipley's error.
Shipley almost atoned immediately when his effort was well saved by Alex Cairns. Evans then missed the best chance of the first period when he headed straight at keeper Marko Marosi from six yards.
City midfielder Liam Walsh saw a powerful strike saved by Cairns early in the second period before Town replied with Paddy Madden blazing over from close to the penalty spot. Coventry sub Max Biamou went close in the 76th minute when his 20-yard drive fizzed narrowly wide.
Interviewed after the match Sky Blues Boss Mark Robins said, “It was a long day and I’ll take a point all-day long and move on as fast we possibly can do as there’s another away game on Saturday to come.”
“We were unlucky not to get a penalty, it was nailed on. The defender has challenged him in the back and shifted him five yards into the penalty area, if that’s not a penalty then I don’t know what is. I feel aggrieved at that, we should have had a chance to win the game right at the death, but I don’t think either team deserved it because there was no real quality at all.”
It’s an indication of the respective recent histories of the two clubs that there had been a hiatus of 52 years in competitive games, between 1964 and 2016 and if statistics that old mean anything at all, the teams are well matched, in 46 games, there have been 17 Rovers wins, 18 to Coventry and 11 draws.
The very first game took pace at Eastville on 10 October 1908 and Coventry went away with a 3-1 Southern League win, the return game on 13 February 1909 ended up 2-2. Most of the Southern League fixtures were close results with the exception of a 4-0 home win for the Midlanders on 4 March 1911.
The first League meeting took place on 18 December 1926 as Rovers went down 2-1 at Eastville, Bill Culley scoring for Rovers and a Jimmy Heathcote double for the away team. The return fixture ended up 2-2, Fred Herbert hitting the net twice for the home team and Tom Williams and Ernie Whatmore scoring for Rovers.
On Boxing Day 2016, Rovers equalled their best ever result against the Midlanders. Peter Hartley set the tone for the hosts with a 18th minute opener, a header from a Billy Bodin free-kick. The lead was doubled in the 54th minute as Bodin cut in from the right and dummied twice as he ran along the 18-yard line before unleashing a cracking left-foot shot that left Lee Burge helpless
Sky Blues captain Jordan Willis struck back quickly, setting up a grandstand finish and giving the away side hope, but Bodin quickly made sure his side maintained their two-goal advantage when he netted his second of the match.
Bodin added insult to injury when he was brought down to earn a penalty and duly slotted home a fourth to complete his hat-trick
When the teams clashed at the Mem on 22nd September 2018, Jack Bonham pulled off two fine saves early on to keep the scores goalless before the Gas scored with their first chance of the game as Gavin Reilly latched onto a long ball, outmuscled his marker and fired past Lee Burge.
The score was doubled in the 19th minute when Chris Lines floated in a brilliant free-kick to the back post where Tom Lockyer was unmarked and headed home.
It looked like the Gas would run riot when Ollie Clarke netted a thunderbolt into the top corner three minutes later, yet Coventry began to see more of the ball after that and pulled a goal back just before the break when Dom Hyam nodded a free-kick past Bonham. With no goals in the second half the score remained 3-1.
In the FA Cup tie at the Mem earlier this month Jonson Clarke-Harris fired home his 12th goal of the season to give the Gas the perfect start. Coventry's Kyle McFadzean was booked after bringing down Cameron Hargreaves in the area following a poor pass out by goalkeeper Marko Marosi and JCH ensured the mistake was punished from the penalty spot.
Jordi van Stappershoef produced a fine reaction save with his right boot to ensure Rovers remained in front, deflecting what looked like a certain equaliser from Jordan Shipley in the 20th minute. He could do nothing to stop Liam Walsh's long-range strike, but Rovers hit back almost immediately as Tony Craig rose highest to head home Liam Sercombe's free-kick from the right.
The Gas endured a rollercoaster start to the second half, Ed Upson seeing his volley come crashing back off the Coventry upright before Craig stuck out a boot to turn in Walsh's pull-back to ensure the game finished 2-2.
Prior to the 2016 game the last time the club’s clashed was back in the 1963-64 season as the Sky Blues embarked on their run under Jimmy Hill to the First Division. That season Hill’s team did the League double over Rovers but in the only the Cup tie between the teams that season Rovers ran out 2-1 winners at Highfield Road.
As the January transfer window draws to a close the Sky Blues are bracing themselves for an improved bid for Sam McCallum. A Premier League club, understood to be a lower end side, are leading the race for his signature and are expected to come back in with a second offer for the 19-year-old defender who is the Sky Blues biggest saleable asset.
City received a seven figure bid for the left-back/wing-back earlier this week which was turned down, Mark Robins insisting it was “nowhere near” the value he puts on the player. The manager has previously said it would take a “monumental” bid for the club to sell the teenager who has had a meteoric rise to prominence after being plucked from non-league Herne Bay via the Jamie Vardy Academy trials.
A second bid may well test City’s resolve and Robins admits it’s a “big test” for the club to see if they can keep hold of him, the manager firmly believing his value will increase if he stays with Coventry for a bit longer. Whether he goes or not may also be influenced by the player and his advisors.
Certainly, if McCallum wants to leave, City may be forced to try to get the biggest price they can before Friday's 11pm transfer window deadline rather than keep an unhappy player.
Scouts have turned out in their numbers to watch McCallum on a regular basis after breaking into the first team where he is now Robins’ first choice player at left wing-back, making 27 appearances so far this season after pushing himself ahead of rival Brandon Mason.