Wycombe Wanderers 3 Bristol Rovers 6

10 11 2010

In a week where it’d be fair to say Rovers fans could do with a bit of cheering up and some renewed hope for some glory this season, the team went out and delivered both in some style against a below strength Wycombe Wanderers side at Adams Park. For now, ignore the ‘below strength’ part of that and bask in the glow of a comfortable stroll through to the last four of the southern section of the Football League Trophy with a confidence boosting half dozen goals on top. Tuesday was a good night to be a Gashead.

Adams Park was a cold and fairly empty place to be on the night, the biggest stand down one side being entirely closed and the 1,571 fans on the remaining three sides not exactly generating a buzzing atmosphere. Given that children were being admitted free it seemed a disappointing return, especially given the 4,000 or so we pulled in with a similar deal against Aldershot in the previous round. A good turn out in the away end saw a good 2-300 Gasheads in attendance and the mood was surprisingly upbeat even before the start as though the fans were just as keen as the players to put last Saturday’s events behind them and move the hell on. Which of course we did.

As predicted, Stuart Campbell and Mikkel Andersen returned to the starting line up, though it was Charlie Reece who made way for Campbell after apparently injuring himself in the warm up and giving Wayne Brown a chance to convince instead. The game started with a couple of positive openings for Rovers in the first few minutes which we could have done better with before Wycombe had a spell of pressure in which they won a couple of corners, got several crosses into the box and Kevin Betsy in particular menaced the Gas defence. Things were looking shaky but shortly afterwards, midway through the half, Rovers took the lead when Gary Sawyer’s inch perfect cross from the left found Jo Kuffour’s head and he could hardly miss from a few yards out. That was the signal for a spell of pressure which could have seen Rovers go into the half time break well clear of the home team with Wayne Brown hitting the post and having another shot saved and Jeff Hughes heading wide. Brown and John Akinde were having vastly improved games from Saturday with Akinde’s movement and crossing a particular revelation. Just as it was looking like we could be having another one of those days where we live to regret chances not taken, we went 2-0 up five minutes before half time when Campbell’s corner was headed back into the goalmouth by Chris Lines and Kuffour turned to volley the ball into the net from a few yards out. It was a great finish from a man who’d finally found some form and the half time whistle saw a standing ovation from the travelling supporters as we took a well deserved lead into the break.

The second half began brightly as well, Akinde almost being sent through by Brown as the big man continued to look a far more imposing threat than he had shown thus far in his Rovers career. However, it was Wycombe who pulled a goal back near the hour mark when a break down the left saw an inch perfect cross find the head of Scott Rendell in acres of space to finish comfortably. That could have been the signal for those familiar nerves to set in amongst the Rovers team and who knows, they may have done if it hadn’t been for us making it 3-1 within a minute of the restart. It was Akinde who made the goal, picking the ball up on the left hand touchline, pushing the ball past his man and beating him for pace before pushing the ball inside to Kuffour who completed his hat trick by racing towards goal from the left hand side of the area and finding the opposite corner of the net with a cool finish. It was a lovely goal but arguably Lines topped it a couple of minutes later with a great solo run from 35 yards or so, beating three men before finishing into the same corner as Kuffour had with the same lack of fuss. Linesy jumped into the crowd to celebrate and, to all intents and purposes, the game was pretty much won there.

We weren’t finished there though and Akinde sent Kuffour racing into the penalty area again and a goal looked likely before he was brought down by Alan Bennett. Jeff Hughes coolly finished into the bottom right hand corner after a long delay for treatment to Akinde and we were cruising. Akinde left the pitch to a standing ovation a few minutes later after a performance which had seen him do more to endear himself to Gasheads than the previous couple of months combined. He took to his enforced role as first choice striker with gusto, running at his man, developing a promising understanding with Kuffour, going close on a couple of occasions and at one point delivering a perfect sliding tackle to roars of appreciation from the away end. By the time he came off his name was being sung in a way that could signal a turning point in his relationship with the fans if he keeps this up. Well done John.

The fact that Paul Trollope felt able to throw on Eliot Richards and James Tunnicliffe with ten minutes to go signalled a feeling of security at the final result and perhaps this was taken a bit too literally by the team as Wycombe scored twice in a couple of minutes to give themselves the tiniest glimmer of hope. Rendell scored from the spot after he had been fouled by Lines, Kuffour ended another burst into the home penalty area with a shot against the crossbar before Rendell completed his own hat trick with a header from a free kick taken from way out on the right hand side. We’d got a little sloppy with the game won but ended the game on a massive high when Ben Swallow scored his first senior goal for the club and probably the best of the night as he cut in from the right hand side and smashed a shot from outside the area past Nikki Bull, the youngster making sure he celebrated in style in front of the travelling supporters.

6-3 then, a pretty remarkable scoreline from a game that saw plenty of open football from both sides. What it shows is that we are at our most comfortable when opponents want to play the game and give us plenty of space to play in rather than close us down or simply sit behind the ball and hit us on the break. We look a pretty good side when this happens and Wayne Brown, Jo Kuffour, Chris Lines and John Akinde were all able to show off their abilities tonight with Stuart Campbell anchoring the lot in his inimitable fashion which was so missed at Darlington. We don’t see enough of this side of the team and that will remain an ongoing problem I suspect but on nights like Tuesday it’s an absolute joy to see. Well done lads.


Jamie Forrester on his first season at Rovers

9 11 2010

Just a quick heads up: Jamie Forrester has put up the second instalment of his memories of his time at the Gas – go here to have a look

Wycombe Wanderers v Bristol Rovers 9/11/10

8 11 2010

The area quarter final of the Football League Trophy is the ‘almost but not quite taking it seriously’ stage of the competition, where going out isn’t a complete disaster but going through definitely sees Wembley hove into view on the horizon. The trip to Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night has a touch more significance for the Rovers however, as following Saturday’s painful Cup exit to Darlington it’s our last stab at a distraction from a league campaign which hasn’t managed to hit any sort of momentum.

In fact, you could argue that this is the most important knock out competition we enter given that it’s the only one that offers any realistic hope of actually winning the thing, even if crowds in the early stages are pretty dismal. Memories of 2007’s two legged victory over They Who Shall Not Be Named and the early setbacks, heroic fightback and extra time disappointment of the final in Cardiff are fading but still golden tinged and another stab at claiming the silverware for the first time in the club’s history would be welcome.

Looking back to the 2006/7 Trophy run, Rovers travelled to Adams Park at the second round stage on Hallowe’en night and won 2-0 in front of 1,314 with goals from Jamal Easter (getting one over on his brother Jermaine who was in the Chairboys’ side that night) and Sammy Igoe. Wins against Peterborough and Shrewsbury followed before that momentous two legged Area Final took us to the Millennium Stadium, a run which kick started our league form in the miraculous spring of 2007. I’m not saying that a run this year would have the same effect necessarily but it surely couldn’t hurt given that we currently appear to be going nowhere.

Wanderers reached this stage of the competition after, like us, receiving a first round bye and then scoring an impressive win at their old rivals Colchester United in the second round. The Chairboys’ record on the road this season has been consistently impressive, remaining unbeaten so far in all competitions, and they fared better than us at Conference opponents in the FA Cup on Saturday by scoring a winner in the fifth minute of injury time at Hayes & Yeading. Their home record has been a bit patchier with only two wins from eight league and cup matches in Buckinghamshire and hopefully we can take advantage of any uncertainty on their home turf, especially as reports suggest they’ll be resting one or two players including club captain Gareth Ainsworth.

Assuming Stuart Campbell – whose absence in the closing stages at Plymouth and for the game at Darlington proved very significant – passes a fitness test, he’ll be one of four participants in the 2007 final on show – Chris Lines came off the bench in extra time that day while Byron Anthony was an unused substitute. The other will be Andy Sandell, another extra time substitute in Cardiff who joined Wycombe from Aldershot in the summer. Andy was considered unlucky not to get more than a single season at the Mem after joining us from Bath City in 2006 and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s inspired to turn it on against us. Another Rovers connection is manager Gary Waddock, who spent two seasons at Twerton Park between 1992 and 1994, while pantomime villains from across town are Kevin Betsy and assistant manager Martin Kuhl.

This game isn’t quite a must win season changer – though you never know – but as things stand it’s our last chance of a little glory this year unless things change drastically in the league. Win and we’re three games from Wembley, a defeat and we’re staring at a long hard winter’s slog with no respite. With few options for sweeping changes in the team, I’d imagine we’ll only see the return of Campbell and Mikkel Andersen with John Akinde starting up front for what must surely be a run of games where he has the chance to turn some people’s opinions of him around.

Wrap up warm then. Up the Gas.

Darlington 2 Bristol Rovers 1

7 11 2010

Well, it wasn’t as bad as Hitchin. If you’re looking for crumbs of comfort and straws to clutch at following Rovers’ first Cup defeat to non-league opposition since 1995, those of us who were at Top Field to see John Ward’s team dip to Isthmian League opposition at least had that. It’s been worse, just not for a long while – half a lifetime in my case – but three first round exits in a row since that quarter final appearance in 2008 are hard to take.

The Darlington ArenaThe Darlington experience is bizarre, bordering on the surreal to be honest. The story of how a small club, solid citizens of the bottom division with a small but respectable core support ended up vacating their cosy Feethams home in favour of the vast Darlington Arena is one that’s fairly well known, at least amongst lower league fans, but when you see the results up close it’s almost tragic. An identikit new stadium, the little brother of the bigger Riverside and Stadium of Light up the road, the only sections open are the South Stand along one side and the smallest slivers of the East and West Stands behind the goals. The remaining three quarters of each end and the entire North Stand are left empty, the preserve of some very lonely ball boys and nobody else. Even the sections in use were very sparsely populated yesterday, the crowd of 1,602 working out as a shade over 6% of the entire capacity of the ground. The effect was that the 150 away fans were very lonely and isolated at one end and the Darlington singers behind the other goal seemed similarly cut off from everyone else. It’s easy to sympathise with the plight of home fans who yearn for their former home, long demolished and due to become a housing estate, though I’m not sure donating them their first ever FA Cup win at their new home and first victory over Third Division opposition in over 20 years was the way to go about it.

Rovers were forced into changes from the team that had competed well for the first three quarters of Tuesday night’s game in Plymouth, Stuart Campbell failing to recover from the injury that saw him taken off at Home Park and Mikkel Andersen being refused permission to play by Reading. The presence of John Akinde on the bench is a sign that his parent club are obviously committed to letting him go in January, though it’s a point of contention as to whether he’ll make his move across town permanent – to say he’s not done quite enough to convince so far would be something of a gross understatement. Wayne Brown and Mike Green took their places in central midfield and goal respectively.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance GasheadThe game started quietly with few chances on offer in the opening fifteen minutes or so. Rovers dominated possession and what few shooting opportunities there were without looking completely in command and as the game wore on it was to become apparent that Darlington’s tactics were effectively to contain us and attempt to hit us on the break. Fifteen minutes in, one of those breaks produced the first goal, Green failing to deal with a cross from the Darlington right only pushing it out towards the man lurking beyond the far post. The ball was played back to the edge of the penalty area and Michael Brough drilled a low shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net. It was a well hit shot but you have to raise an eyebrow in the direction of Green who didn’t seem to get down very well to it and of course it was his failure to deal with the initial cross which led to the chance in the first place. It’s perhaps unfair to compare Greener to his first choice counterpart but experience tells us that Mikkel Andersen would have more than likely comfortably caught the ball or at least tipped it out for a corner.

Already the game had the look of an upset, Rovers’ failure to make very much of their possession being wearyingly familiar to those of us used to the ups and downs of life under Paul Trollope. Thankfully – as we thought at the time anyway – we were soon back level after Will Hoskins was brought down by Liam Hatch a couple of minutes later. It was a controversial decision in that even from the other end of the ground it looked comfortably inside the penalty area yet referee Jock Waugh, several yards behind play, awarded only a free kick on the edge of the box. Any sense of injustice was eliminated when Hoskins drove a powerful free kick through the wall, Sam Russell in the Darlo goal getting something on the ball but not nearly enough to prevent it from going into the bottom corner. Back on terms and hoping to make sure the scare was only temporary, Rovers continued their domination of the possession and further unconvincing chances were made before Hoskins went close with another free kick which was to be his last significant contribution to the game.

A Long Way From AnywhereThat was because the pivotal moment of the match occurred around the half hour when Hoskins was stretchered off with what is feared to be an ankle ligament injury after a meaty challenge. Darlington had been turning in what you could euphemistically describe as a ‘gritty’ performance and more accurately say comprised a lot more fouls than was reasonable and which the referee could have done more to clamp down on. That failure to do so culminated in losing our most potent attacking threat and, as it turned out, our best chance of staying in the FA Cup. The remainder of the half saw Darlo come into the game a bit more – well they had a shot – and assistant manager, former Rovers player Richard Dryden, sent to the stands for booting the ball away when we were awarded a free kick. The home management team had certainly been putting on something of a performance on the touchline and it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the referee take action eventually.

The second half opened with more of the same – Rovers attacking without a great deal of conviction once we reached the penalty area, Charlie Reece winning a corner with one shot – before the Quakers went in front again with a goal that once again owed something to some messy defending. A well executed break reached the penalty area with a nice little one-two, Brown managing to knock the ball onto the post as he raced back to try and clear up. The ball bounced straight back into the danger area for the onrushing Gary Smith to score and leave us with the same sinking feeling as on Tuesday night – coming back from one down to equalise is one thing but when being asked to do it again you wonder whether it’s within our ability to do so.

The Message Is Clear, Even If There's Few People To See It2-1 up with half an hour left, Darlington threw themselves into their tackles and blocks with even more vigour as Rovers, desperately missing the commitment and leadership provided by Stuart Campbell, again went forward in search of the goal that would save our embarrassment. Akinde followed up a good run from the left hand side of the area with a great shot that was turned away by Russell and Chris Lines hit a drive past the far post but much of the time our decision making was poor – one run across the face of the area by Lines stands out as, with Akinde begging him for a simple ball to play him in for a one on one, he chose to hit a wayward shot into the away fans. Jo Kuffour was virtually anonymous all afternoon and with Akinde turning in a typically enigmatic performance – the odd moment of inspiration dwarfed by the number of times he failed to challenge for a ball or was simply muscled out of contention by a more robust home defender – it made for something of a powder puff forward line when what we needed was a touch more urgency and muscle.

As the home fans – a handful of whom had chanted all afternoon, their drum echoing round the cavernous empty bowl – really started to pick up the noise in the final ten minutes, we simply had no response either on or off the pitch and the grandstand finish you hope for when you’re a goal down to opponents two levels below you just never materialised. Darlington had thrown themselves into tackles and blocked so many passes and shots all afternoon, made the most of their breaks and effectively played the perfect game against us. Whether they’d done their homework and realised we have no response to such tactics or whether they’d simply deployed the standard Cup minnows’ strategy I’m not sure but it was utterly effective as we showed just how much we depend on the balls, commitment and craggy determination of our captain, Stuart Campbell. With him missing on Saturday it looked like we simply had nobody out there to pull us up by the bootstraps, especially in the absence of the team’s other big characters, Andersen and, after half an hour, Hoskins. The defeat at Home Park in the week also came when the vital goals were scored after the departure of the skipper and it’s to be hoped that he’s fit for the trip to Wycombe on Tuesday.

Is There Anybody Out There?Once events had turned against us, you look to the bench for a change but Akinde and Ben Swallow, who replaced Reece for the final half hour and performed well, were pretty much the only realistic options available for Trollope to turn to. Harry Pell, Lamar Powell and Darren Jefferies are kids, nothing wrong with that but not who you want to see on the bench for this sort of game situation. Our resources are painfully thin and just got a whole lot thinner with Hoskins’ injury. Welcome to the long, hard winter everyone.

Finally, a generous and whole hearted hats off to Darlington FC and their supporters. Criticisms of their tackling aside it was a great performance and they thoroughly deserved to go through. It’s fair to say that Darlo have earned some good times after the last few years and you just couldn’t begrudge them their joy at the final whistle. It’s a very friendly place to visit, smiling stewards and no cockiness outside before or after the game. Good luck Quakers for the rest of your Cup run and in the league this season.

So, the season rests on the Wycombe game now…

Darlington v Bristol Rovers 6/11/10

4 11 2010

When we came back from the long haul trip to Hartlepool a fortnight ago, the delight at the late salvage of a point from a pretty dreadful performance was augmented with relief that we wouldn’t have to make another trek to the north east again this season. So naturally enough, the following day we were paired with Darlington in the first round of the FA Cup. Still could have been worse – could have been Bournemouth I suppose.

The Quakers have had a terrible couple of years, administration in 2009 leading on to last season’s nightmare season of relegation to the Conference with a squad cobbled together from any player they could persuade to turn out for them. During our seasons in the basement Darlo were perennial there or thereabouters, finishing in the top half of the table four consecutive times and losing in the play offs to Rochdale in 2008 but it was during this period that the seeds of their financial woes were being sowed, the move into the 25,000 capacity Darlington Arena famously being one of the most inappropriate new developments in British football.

Darlo spent 120 years playing at Feethams, one of the more idiosyncratic venues for lower league football in that in order to reach the football ground you had to troop round the edge of the cricket field first. Feethams was a lovely venue, perfectly suited for Darlo’s needs with a brand new seated stand on one side, a small covered terrace behind one goal and an open terrace behind the other. True, the West Stand was showing its age a bit and only the terrace in front was in use when we visited early in the 2001/2 season but it was a cracking little venue all the same. Sadly for lovers of proper football grounds, Darlington owner George Reynolds decided the club – with average gates of 3-4,000 – needed a much grander home and built the finest white elephant in the whole of England, a 25,000 capacity ground which is limited to 10,000 by local planning regulations and which may never come close to being filled anyway. In truth it would seem that the new stadium was the product of one man’s ego with the football club literally paying the price as the club entered administration for the first time six months after moving in. Reynolds subsequently was found guilty of tax evasion, the club changed hands frequently afterwards and the prohibitive costs of running the stadium have been a millstone around the Quakers’ necks ever since.

This season Darlo have struggled for consistency under Mark Cooper, though they managed an impressive looking 2-0 win at AFC Wimbledon last weekend. There is ex-Gas interest at the club in the shape of Kevin Austin – whose shorts provided a weekly tale of triumph against the odds in their battle to contain the biggest arse ever seen at the club – Jefferson Louis (good grief) and assistant manager Richard Dryden. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson is currently on loan there from Carlisle and presumably won’t play, much to the relief of anyone who remembers his strike for Port Vale at the Mem in April 2001 bringing Rovers to the brink of relegation.

As for us, well the next couple of games offer an opportunity to add some colour to a season which, while seeing us in touch with the top end of the division, seems doomed to maddening inconsistency and a mid table finish even at this relatively early stage. Progress in the Cup and the JPT on Tuesday will keep alive the possibility of some very big games and would be a welcome change from the early exits we’ve seen over the past two seasons and the fact is that despite the lack of novelty in the opposition it’s still the FA Cup, a competition which retains its capacity to excite even the most jaded of fans. Stuff the attitude of many big clubs and their fans, this is the real deal and the memories of the spring of 2008 are still able to bring a broad grin to my face – did we really see our club amongst the last eight of the competition? We sure did and we can do it again some day – perhaps soon.

Come On You Blues!

Plymouth Argyle 3 Bristol Rovers 1

3 11 2010

Rovers tamely surrendered to Plymouth Argyle in the last quarter of an hour of a game which we’d looked to have every chance of winning for most of, ending a night when we’d looked to be in good touch and reasonably threatening by losing all cohesion and allowing the home side to take all three points. The feeling of anti-climax after what was no doubt described as ‘a pulsating encounter’ by someone or other was immense. Bugger.

If you wanted proof that football is struggling to cope with the current economic climate then Home Park was the place to be last night, the first competitive meeting between Argyle and Rovers in over eight years pulling in fewer than 7,500 fans. The Tuesday night fixture didn’t exactly help the crowd but even so, you might have expected a few more there. Home Park is an odd sight these days, the three new stands thrown up almost a decade ago contrasting with the towering old main stand and it’s vast, empty enclosure, the terraces now minus their crash barriers and adorned with advertising hordings instead. It’s a bit of a sad sight to be honest, bad enough that so many grounds have lost their standing areas without them being closed and then left empty to mock those who’d rather not be sitting down. Plymouth await the World Cup decision next month with more interest than most given that you can’t see anything else inspiring the work that would make their ground look a bit more coherent and a lot less interesting.

700-odd Gasheads made the trip down to Devon, the fact that it’s a couple of miles further away than Brentford and a good 30 miles more than Walsall making any pretensions to the game being a ‘local’ derby look rather silly, though I guess shared West Country identity gives this fixture a bit more needle than those other two. Plenty of noise came out of our corner of the ground from the off, though we were almost silenced in the first minute when Bradley Wright-Phillips’ cross found Craig Noone in yards of space beyond the far post, the Argyle captain’s poor attempt only finding the side netting and setting the tone for a first half that produced some crazy moments but no goals. Wright-Phillips himself was the next home player to spurn a glorious opportunity, Karl Duguid’s cross presenting him with a chance that couldn’t have been simpler if it had been born in Knowle and had a season ticket in the Dolman, but somehow he managed to poke the ball against the post from only a yard or two out when it actually was easier to score. Rovers were actually more than holding their own at this stage but it was Argyle who kept fashioning the clear cut opportunities – and then missing them in spectacular fashion. The next close shave came when Noone’s powerful shot was tipped onto the upper post by Mikkel Andersen, the Dane having another night when for a long time it seemed as though nothing was going to beat him.

Chris Lines broke away around the 20 minute mark, his surging run towards the left hand side of the home penalty area only being broken when he was clattered by a desperate Curtis Nelson who was lucky not to be given a straight red for bringing him down on the very edge of the area. The resulting free kick took a huge deflection up in the air, home keeper David Button made a complete hash of dealing with it and Byron Anthony poked the ball home. 1-0. Except it wasn’t, Rob Shoebridge being a referee who clearly subscribes to the school of thought that if a goalie makes an arse of himself at a set piece, the safest thing to do is award him a free kick. No idea how else to explain it to be honest. No time to worry about that however as Argyle decided that hitting the frame of the goal twice in 20 minutes wasn’t enough and went for the hat trick, Wright-Phillips streaking away from the defence and lobbing the advancing Andersen, his shot curving away and striking the post as Duguid, watching with the air of a man trying to remember the last couple of items on his shopping list, seemed surprised the ball bounced straight to him a yard or so out and made a complete tit of himself, failing to put the ball anywhere near the net. He was offside anyway but it was still funny.

Will Hoskins, who was regaining some of the menace he’d lost a bit of over the previous couple of games, ran at the home defence and drove narrowly wide before a corner from Conor Clifford swung in so far that it had some of us behind the goal wondering whether it had actually crossed the line before Andersen scrambled to beat it out. It was the sort of half in which you couldn’t quite believe the time whenever you checked it, so many incidents having been packed into the opening forty five minutes. Clifford had another go with a shot from outside the D, Andersen having to dive to his right off the wrong foot and pulling off a fantastic save, before Charlie Reece hit the bar at the other end with a long distance shot from the right hand side of the area. When the half time whistle blew with the game still scoreless, it was hard to know what on earth a fair scoreline may have been from the half – had we gone in 2-0 up or 3-1 down it would probably have been equally justified in many ways. Cracking stuff.

The second half didn’t quite live up to the breathless first, yet was still plenty entertaining enough. Hoskins, well warmed up now and loving his opportunities to run at the home defence, bull dozed his way into the penalty area on the right before being brought down by a trailing foot. The incident was a clear enough penalty from where we were, right on top of it, but not, apparently, where Mr Shoebridge was. The two sides traded long range attempts, Andersen saved from Wright-Phillips, Lines stabbed the ball just wide and Rovers were just starting to look the likeliest scorers when Plymouth won a free kick on the left hand side of our penalty area., Noone sent his shot into the wall and Dean Perrett scored the goal of his life, volleying the ball at light speed into the far corner of the goal before Andersen, or anyone else, could move. Never mind, we’ll get ourselves back in this easy enough – Stuart Campbell’s corner a couple of minutes later was crashed home from close range by Hoskins and we were all square.

Chances followed to get in front and in all honesty, you never really felt that we were going to lose the game at any stage – even when 1-0 down – until Argyle went ahead with less than 15 minutes to play. Rovers allowed Plymouth far too much time and space to cross from the left and Wright-Phillips had all the time in the world to avoid any more comedy misses and put the home side 2-1 up. With that goal, something started deflating both on the pitch and in the stands and our play got steadily more ragged, passes went astray, runs were missed and Plymouth’s third goal near the end was pretty much a similar story to the second. What a disappointing end to a brilliant game.

I don’t think either side necessarily deserved to lose last night but the fact that we ran out of steam towards the end and they didn’t left them with all the points, and it’s hard to argue against the outcome when on balance I think Plymouth defended marginally the better of the two sides and had a handful more ideas up front at times as well. Our substitutions proved ineffective, Wayne Brown proving pretty anonymous and Ben Swallow replacing an obviously knackered Reece far too late in the day to be able to make much impact. Rovers remain 12th, not much change from before the game but having shown that while we’re capable of some scintillating attacking play when the shackles are taken off, the trade off for that is perhaps a little less solidity at the back. It’s a tricky balance to pull off and one that we’ve struggled to do consistently under Paul Trollope’s leadership.

Two cup matches coming up and it’s hard to avoid the thought that our best hope of something memorable from this season lies in winning at Darlington and Wycombe in the next week.

Plymouth Argyle v Bristol Rovers 2/11/10

1 11 2010

Ah, Plymouth. How do we feel about them? They’re not really local rivals – being neither local, nor rivals – but don’t some of us feel, I dunno, some sort of low level disdain for them? It’s been a while since we met them – they were escaping their basement division hell around the same time we were starting ours – and these things have a way of being forgotten about while the sides are apart before we come back together again and find out how we feel about each other after all these years.

There was a time when we shared the distinction of being the only two teams never to have played in either the top or bottom divisions, before they finally succombed to the clutches of the basement in 1995 and then again in 1998. We followed suit in 2001 of course to find an Argyle side, who had spent three dreadful seasons failing to get out of the fourth tier and almost going bust into the bargain, rejuvenated and cantering to the title as Home Park was rebuilt around them. Three fixtures against them that season stand out – the FA Cup second round tie at a single sided Home Park when Mark Walters secured a replay; the replay itself when a 3-2 win saw us on our way to that memorable victory over Derby County in front of 7,000 travelling Gasheads and the trip to the impressive new four sided Home Park in April to be the ritual lambs to the slaughter as Argyle fans celebrated promotion on the pitch in front of us and we worried about our place in the Football League.

Lots of water under the bridge since then – Argyle were promoted again two years later, ex-Gas midfielders Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway came and went as managers, Paul Sturrock returned and moved upstairs, Paul Mariner came in and the club was relegated at the end of last season with Peter Reid taking over in the summer. This season’s been a bit of a struggle on the face of it, currently sitting fourth bottom yet only four points behind us and having managed to lose at Walsall as well as beating Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon – yep, they seem to be another one of about 20 wildly inconsistent sides in the division this year. Saturday saw them lose at Oldham after being reduced to nine men so defenders Bondz N’Gala and Kari Arnason miss Tuesday’s game through suspension. The interesting names for Argyle are up front where New Zealand World Cup striker Rory Fallon plays alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips with Rory Patterson lurking in reserve. Wright-Phillips has scored eight times already this season while Patterson has just the one – but he’s capable of some remarkable stuff as this goal for FC United of Manchester shows…

Anyway, this is a game we’re well capable of winning but who knows really, I’m bored of saying it but this division’s a bit odd and anything could happen. Expect loudness – these fixtures are usually quite lively.

Up the Gas!