|Tom Eaves scored Rovers' first and third goals this afternoon|
Mark McGhee made no changes to the team that drew with Burton 7 days ago as Derek Riordan wasn't fit to return and Michael Smith was suffering from a niggling groin injury. We began the game with a high tempo and played some excellent football all over the park. Both sides were trying to find their ay in to it at first but it was Rovers who clicked in to gear first and there was no looking back when that happened. Ex-Gas loanee Michael Poke, the Gulls' goalkeeper, handled outside the box and only received a booking as we exerted pressure on our opponents, before David Clarkson struck straight at him moments later. You could sense we were getting closer and it wasn't long before we broke the deadlock. Matt Lund headed a loose ball forwards and it landed in the path of Eaves, who exquisitely lobbed the ball beyond Poke and in to the back of the net. It was the perfect start and the players knew it - they continued to play with confidence and it was refreshing to watch. Before too long it became even better, we went 2 up courtesy of Matt Lund's curling free-kick which drifted beyond Poke. The atmosphere was great and the world seemed a wonderful place.
However, Joe Oastler did his best to dampen spirits with an elbowed assault on influential winger Fabian Broghammer. The German sustained a facial injury and, after lengthy treatment, returned to the pitch but it wasn't to last long and he was withdrawn minutes later. Oastler only picked up a caution when the challenge warranted more but his reprieve lasted only a short while. Referee Grant Mathieson perhaps realised he made a mistake with the decision and awarded a second yellow for a trivial foul on Lee Brown. 2-0 up and with a 1-man advantage - what could go wrong?
Well we are Bristol Rovers, so quite a lot really! Immediately after the break Torquay set their stall out and attempted to put some pressure on our defence. They looked a lot livelier and the man they rely on to score goals, Mr. Howe, got plenty more of the ball in the final third. He pulled a goal back with a great strike beyond Neil Etheridge to equal Torquay's record of scoring in 7 consecutive games. Fair play to him, he looks a different player to the one we saw a couple of years ago. What we needed to do at this point was to get our noses back in front quickly like we did against Northampton but we didn't. We gave away a silly foul and Kevin Nicholson whipped in a cross which former Pirate Aaron Downes headed home. 2-2 and the most unlikely of comebacks had been completed. Torquay supporters opened their throats for the first time, for a minute or two, and they felt they could go on and score a winner. Rovers responded immaculately and controlled the game for the remainder of the 90 minutes, with Oliver Norburn and Clarkson pulling the strings in central midfield. We threatened continuously and unlike in the early stages of the season we are now creating goalscoring opportunities. Both Eaves and Eliot Richards had efforts blocked whilst Clarkson shot from 20 yards but the ball bounced in to the midriff of Poke. We got our rewards though in the 76th minute after more good possession football. It culminated in Richards striking a ferocious shot towards goal from 25 yards which Poke parried away. Wayne Brown responded quickest and sent the ball across goal where Eaves was waiting to slot home for his second of the match. The relief and joy among supporters was clear for all to see and there were several hearty renditions of Goodnight Irene afterwards.
We continued to dominate from then on and were not troubled by United in the final minutes. It was a comfortable end to a dramatic and entertaining game for Rovers - not that I'm complaining. We thoroughly deserved to win the game and outplayed a team who will no doubt appear in the higher echelons of League Two come April. It's back-to-back home wins heading in to AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday evening which, on the face of it, appears a winnable game. We're performing well and confidence resides in every player wearing the quarters - it's a delight to see. I think we're starting to see the signs of a top team at this level and I'm excited to see how much better we get over the coming weeks.
Up the Gas!