As I approached Whaddon Road yesterday afternoon, I wasn't filled with the usual dread of anticipating watching Rovers lose, again. There was a renewed optimism among fans that this was the start of a new era - we're a long way off from that point, but at least we weren't thinking negatively. Mark McGhee brought our Rovers team to high-flying Cheltenham Town looking to maintain the mini revival caretaker boss Shaun North oversaw against Hereford and Crawley and boy did he deliver.
1500 Gasheads (that we know of) packed out the away stand behind one goal and immediately made it clear that it was going to be a vociferous afternoon. Well, from Gasheads at least. McGhee received a very warm welcome when he approached the supporters during the team's warm-up and it is fair to say excitement was building. Choruses of 'Goodnight Irene' began to reverberate around the 7000 capacity stadium as the teams made their way on to the pitch. The boys in blue and white had the Gasheads behind them and now was the best time to show we can be the 12th man.
In truth, the first half was a drab affair. We more than matched Cheltenham who occupied a spot in the top 3, we prevented them from getting the ball down and breaking through the middle - the 3-5-2 was working well. Danny Woodards was playing magnificently at right wing-back and ensured potential dangerman Kaid Mohammed offered little threat, whilst Gary Sawyer and Cian Bolger held firm, marshalled by the very impressive Aaron Downes. It was similar to the performance against fellow table-toppers Crawley the previous week, although in this game we offered more of a threat offensively. The closest we came in the opening period was a late Chris Zebroski header that grazed the outside of the post and wide, it was ammunition enough to suggest that we would come out in the second half looking for the win.
The second half started much brighter than the first, with both sides attempting to attack from the off. Unfortunately for Rovers Joe Anyinsah picked up an injury (again) and was substituted for wily veteran Scott McGleish around six minutes in, but at least an out and out striker was entering the fray. It didn't take long for the substitution to pay dividends, even if it did come at Anyinsah's expense. The ball was held up on the half-way by McGleish, Dorman played a superb chipped ball behind the 'Nam back-line which the ever-improving Zebroski ran on to, before firing a stunning strike beyond goalie Scott Brown and in to the far-corner, in front of the away end. The Rovers fans erupted in sheer delight and roared their side on encouragement, with a few fans being a bit too excited and ended up getting taken out the ground by police. Ah well, we scored away from home against one of the best sides, why not celebrate?!
As the celebrations were beginning to die down, euphoria struck once more as the Gas scored again. Man of the moment Zebroski unleashed a ferocious 25-yard effort that Brown managed to keep out and fortunately for him (or is that us?!), captain Alan Bennett was close by. He'd mop up the trouble, wouldn't he? Well, little did the experienced centre half know, but Eliot Richards was not far behind him and he was certainly alert to the potential of a goal-scoring opportunity. Bennett chaotically attempted to chest it back to Brown, but Richards was quick enough to nip in and poke the ball in to the goal. Cue more wild celebrations.
In jumping around for the first goal I managed to keep my balance and remained by my seat, but for the second I was gone. As we all went mad I jumped the first set of seats in order to keep on my feet, but by the time I landed I took a split-second to decide that I was near enough at the front and that it would be a waste not to join the mass-hugging at the bottom. I leapt over the final 3 rows of seating before making my way to the very front to celebrate with the players. Overjoyed scenes and something to savour - how often do Rovers fans get that?
The final half hour was controlled by Rovers and it was refreshing to see we were dictating play against a top side. It's not uncommon to see a grand total of 50 visiting fans make their way to The Mem and end the day leaving having beaten us comfortably. Well, it was Cheltenham's turn to see the opposition fans celebrate, although they had to witness 1500 uncontrollable Gasheads do so, as opposed to 47 Dagenham fans.
Mark McGhee, Shaun North and the players had won the game and got us 3 points, the perfect start to the Scotsman's tenure. I saw a Rovers side with passion, determination, spirit and more importantly... goals. It was nice to see that back and to be able to enjoy it, here's hoping for many more occasions like that from here on in.
Congratulations to all involved yesterday. The Gas are back!