By Gerry Prewett.
Meetings between two of the oldest clubs in the League have been rare, 26 in total, United have 8 wins, Rovers 10 and there have been 8 draws. Interestingly in the last 8 meetings United have won 5 and there have been 3 draws. In Bristol and Bath, Rovers have lost just once with 7 wins and 6 draws.
United features highly in Bristol Rovers’ club history. That is because on a memorable summer day in 1972, Bristol Rovers won their only national Cup competition, when the beat the Blades 7-6 on penalties in the Watney Cup Final at Eastville.
The teams did not meet in a competitive fixture until 6 October 1956, in the old Second Division with Rovers winning 3-1 at Eastville, with goals by Geoff Bradford (2) and Alfie Biggs for Rovers and Jack Wilkinson for the Blades. The return fixture ended up in a goal-less draw at Bramwell Lane.
However, it was that Watney Cup Final at Eastville on 5 August 1972 that most GasHeads hold dear. The pre-season competition was played by the top 2 scoring teams from each division who had not earned a place in Europe or promotion, so goals were guaranteed.
In the Final the full-time score was 0-0! All the first 5 penalties for each team were scored and it went to sudden death. With the score at 7-6 in Rovers favour, Dick Sheppard plunged to his left to keep out Ted Hemsley’s effort and secure the Cup for Rovers.
On 14 January 1989 Rovers held United to a 1-1 draw at Twerton Park, Ian Holloway scoring for the Gas from the spot and Tony Agana netting for the away team. United had run rampant in Sheffield earlier in the season with a 4-1 victory, Agana, Ian Bryson (2) and Alan Roberts scoring for United and Holloway again for Rovers.
The last time the teams met was on Valentine’s Day 2017 as the teams fought out a 0-0 draw at the Mem. The best chance of an even first half fell to United's Jay O'Shea on nine minutes. Unmarked moving onto a Caolan Lavery cross, his first time shot was just wide of the left hand post.
Billy Bodin offered the biggest first-half threat for Rovers and twice went close with efforts from outside the box. Ollie Clarke fired just over for the Gas but the only save of note came from Joe Lumley, when he dived to parry a 44th-minute header from Lavery.
On 57 minutes United midfielder John Fleck was denied by the woodwork as he drove a low shot against a post from the edge of the box after a poor clearance by Lumley had put Rovers in trouble.
Both keepers distinguished themselves in the second half, Lumley stretching to keep out a Lavery shot and United's Simon Moore diving to divert a Cristian Montano effort around a post. Rovers thought they had won it when Rory Gaffney headed home on 84 minutes, but the striker was ruled offside.