By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers first home league fixture of 2020 sees them take on Doncaster Rovers this weekend. The Yorkshire team are two points (with a game in hand) behind the Gas and have won three of their last four games including a 3-0 win over Peterborough and a win over Oxford.
On Tuesday evening Darren Moore’s team took on a Shrewsbury Town team that went into the match with a very impressive away record registering six clean sheets in their previous eight away league games. However, within four minutes that record was challenged as the home team took the lead.
Kieran Sadlier drilled a cross to the near post where Shrewsbury defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell's header looped over his own goalkeeper and allowed Niall Ennis to nod into an empty net.
The hosts were much the stronger throughout, passing well and looking to break forward at pace. But it took a last-ditch tackle from Joe Wright to deny Daniel Udoh while the Rovers centre-back also spared the blushes of goalkeeper Seny Dieng with a goal-line clearance after a miscued punch saw the ball ricochet off Josh Laurent. Rovers should have added to their score when James Coppinger saw a shot deflected wide.
But they did find a second with 15 minutes left when Tom Anderson powered in a header from a Jon Taylor corner.
Speaking to the media after the game Boss Moore said, “It was a difficult game so credit to the players for sticking with it and getting each other through the game. It was a plucky, determined performance. We stuck to the game plan and ground out the result. They make things difficult for the opposition and we knew we’d really have to earn the points.”
“We scored early and the boys didn’t let Shrewsbury back into the game, we stayed with it and got our just rewards. We had to be alert, head it, track runners, tackle, and stay disciplined.”
“I was pleased for both players who got the goals,” added Moore, “We speak about Tom Anderson and his consistency, it was good to see him get one from a set play. Obviously, with Niall, he puts in a lot of work, I’m pleased for him but strikers want to score goal and he did that on Tuesday.”
“Niall gave us a target man to hit. His work rate off the ball for the team was excellent. They say you defend from the front and he certainly did that for us. He put in a lot of hard work and he got his just rewards with the goal. I was pleased for him and pleased overall with the three points.”
There has been a total of 42 games between the two teams with Bristol Rovers winning 17 and Doncaster 19. There has only ever once been a 0-0 draw in these matches and that was at Eastville on 9 January 1960 in an FA Cup tie, the Gas won the replay 3 days later in Yorkshire.
The highest score between the teams was on 22 December 1956 when the home team won 6-1 at Eastville. Barrie Meyer (2), Dai Ward (3) and Geoff Bradford scoring for the home team and Geoff Walker for the visitors.
The 2007 JP Trophy Final, won 3-2 by Donny, has been described as probably the most exciting of the Finals ever played. There can be little doubt that the pain of that defeat spurred the Gas to their heroic finish to that season culminating in the last-minute Sammy Igoe goal that secured the 3-1 victory over Shrewsbury at Wembley and promotion.
Last season the South Yorkshire team dominated both games in the fixture winning 4-0 at the Mem and 4-1 at the Keepmoat.
In the game in Bristol, the visitors went ahead on ten minutes when John Marquis received the ball in space 30 yards out on the left and picked his spot with a sweetly-struck right-footed shot into the opposite top corner that gave Jack Bonham no chance.
Two minutes before the break, centre-forward Marquis turned creator as his header came back off the crossbar and Wilks pounced to force home the rebound from six yards.
The result was sealed on 54 minutes when centre-back Tom Anderson was given the freedom of the hosts' penalty area to rise unmarked and net with a downward header. Five minutes later Wilks outpaced the home defence on the right to complete a slick Doncaster break by shooting low past Bonham.
The Gas hit the post twice through shots from Ollie Clarke in the first half and Kyle Bennett in the second.
Amazingly Rovers last home victory over Donny was a 4-0 result also but it took place on 24 October 1987 at Twerton Park. The goals were scored by Phil Purnell (2), Devon White and Vaughan Jones. Since then the away team has won 5 times.
With the Gas already being very active in the January transfer window Darren Moore was keen to stress that he is examining all options for additions to his team. "It's all positions where we're looking and I mean all positions," he said.
"If we can strengthen any positions we will strengthen in them. That goes from the front right across the board. If a player becomes available that can strengthen Doncaster Rovers Football Club then I'm all for it. My job here is to keep this club moving in the right direction and part of that is bringing in the right players to help and benefit the team. For me, it's all areas of the team where I'm looking in terms of now and the future of the football club."
Meanwhile the only senior striker on the club’s books Niall Ennis, incidentally a Wolves loanee, would be happy to see further strikers added to the squad. "It's about competition and if you didn't have it, your standards might not be as high as you want," he said. "It's always good to have a good squad.
"You look at Manchester City, they have so many good players in each position and it brings the level higher. That is what you want. You don't want an easy ride because you might not be hitting your full potential. I'm happy to have competition."
"There's always pressure in football and there's always competition, I shouldn't come in and let the situation get to my head. No matter what level you're at there's always someone behind you.
"It's just about being confident in my ability and focusing on scoring, playing well and helping the team. That is what I'm planning to do."