Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bristol Rovers 0-2 Gillingham (League Two)

John Ward tasted defeat for the first time in his second stint as Rovers boss yesterday as Gillingham battled to a 2-0 victory at the Mem. The scoreline may sound pretty resounding but a 2 goal difference was harsh on a Rovers side who were very much the better side in the first half. Chris Whelpdale and Deon Burton scored fine goals with near enough the Gills only two real attempts on target to seal 3 points for the league leaders.

Captain Kenneth was back in the heart of the defence
Ward restored Garry Kenneth to the starting line-up in place of Cian Bolger, whilst Mark McChrystal partnered him at the back on his debut. Seanan Clucas came in for Ollie Norburn and was joined in midfield by Tom Parkes who took the spot of former loanee Matt Lund. Finally, Eliot Richards was given his first start of the new year in the place of Tom Hitchcock who dropped to the bench after a difficult debut against Plymouth on New Year's Day. It was something of a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation in a bid to outnumber Gillingham in midfield, even though they like to bypass the middle of the park with long balls from the back.

There was nothing massively wrong with the start the side made although they were soon behind to a great strike. Whelpdale got the ball on the right hand side of the box, cut inside and unleashed a powerful effort in to the top right hand corner beyond Steve Mildenhall. There was just 3 minutes on the clock so it was a hammer blow to the team to concede so early on. Fortunately though there was time on our side and we just needed to play ourselves in to the game as quickly as possible. To the credit of the players they did just that and soon began to apply pressure on a tall Gills backline. Their new signing Leon Legge was dominating every aerial ball but found it difficult to control where his headers were going and Rovers managed to force a number of corners. Fabian Broghammer's deliveries weren't poor by any stretch but the huge frame of Legge was just immovable. Joe Anyinsah was strong up front and did cause them problems but couldn't quite muster any real attempts on Stuart Nelson's goal, although John-Joe O'Toole did so with a decent strike. He connected well and the ball struck the post, rolled along the line and away to safety. It was desperately unlucky and it feels as if that's the sort of thing that goes against you when you're down the bottom.

That was illuminated further by the way Gillingham scored a second with near enough their only foray forward after their opener. It goes your way when you're at the top, doesn't it?

Experienced forward Deon Burton controlled a long ball expertly, lifting it back over Kenneth who got caught in the turf, and firing low past Mildenhall. It wasn't that well placed but it was the pace that saw it find the back of the net. 2-0 and it came at the worst time just a few minutes before half-time. Kenneth sustained a nasty looking injury in the build-up and was forced off and replaced by Norburn, with Parkes dropping back to centre half. The goal sucked all the life out of Rovers' attacks as Gillingham had a more comfortable lead and even less of a reason to commit men forward. This was only made really evident after the break when the Gills changed formation and set up very defensively.

In truth, despite being allowed to attack them, Rovers failed to create anything like the opportunities they had done in the first period and there was a real inevitability about the result. It wasn't through a lack of trying though. It just proved that the experience Martin Allen's men have was too much for our young team to overcome. They've spent a lot of money but done so wisely and after watching them yesterday I have absolutely no doubt that they will win promotion, if not the league, by the end of April. A low, whipped free-kick from Broghammer was just inches from finding the back of the net halfway through the second half but other than that nothing really threatened Nelson's clean sheet. If it had gone in then it may have been a different game as we'd have been in the ascendancy and completely on top but it wasn't to be. Richards' pile-driver in stoppage time almost found the top corner from 22 yards but it clearly it wasn't going to be Rovers' day.

The full-time whistle sounded to rapturous applause from the travelling Gillingham fans but there was also great support from Gasheads who recognised their team had given it everything. It was worrying that we'd slipped to the bottom of League Two, as somehow Barnet and AFC Wimbledon had won, but hearing Goodnight Irene sung loudly was great. The fanbase is united again and that's half the battle won, now it's down to Ward to strengthen the squad and rally his troops ahead of Fleetwood next Saturday. It was interesting to hear Martin Allen say in his post-match interview that he 'begged' Nick Higgs for our manager's job after Paul Buckle had been sacked but failed to receive a reply. Hardly surprising. He says our support is wonderful and that there is something 'special' about the football club, which is great to hear from any opposition manager, even if they are utterly hatable.

Keep the faith Gasheads.

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