Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fleetwood Town 0-3 Bristol Rovers (League Two)

Yes, it took me two or three looks at that scoreline before I started to believe what I'd typed!

Returned to the team and scored Rovers' opener
What a performance and what a result by the boys today, outplaying a team who expect to finish in the play-offs having spent a lot of money since promotion from the Blue Square Premier last summer. We didn't have enough players to fill the 7 man substitutes bench and again our team had a very youthful look to it. Young forward Ellis Harrison received his first ever Gas start on the left wing, almost 2 years after he made his debut away at Southampton, much to the delight of Gasheads who want to see talented youngsters make the transition from youth team to first team. For the first time since he joined, Tom Hitchcock partnered Eliot Richards up front, whilst Danny Woodards returned from injury to take up a right wing role. It looked a little makeshift and inexperienced but John Ward felt the balanace was right within the team to trouble Fleetwood.

He was spot on. Rovers took the bull by the horns and attacked from the off and forced home goalkeeper Scott Davies in to a save after just a few minutes when Seanan Clucas hit a good strike towards the top corner of the goal. It was a sign of things to come though as the Gas' early pressure told and resulted in a goal. The exuberant Harrison beat his man before sending in a good cross to the back post where returning full-back Woodards was on hand to volley home from 6 yards. It was the perfect start although you did wonder how Rovers would react to going in front so early. Thankfully they continued to take the game to their beleaguered hosts and continued to put them under pressure. Richards was looking lively up top and along with Hitchcock caused the Cod Army a lot of problems. He saw a powerful shot blocked from the edge of the area whilst midfield warrior John-Joe O'Toole saw a fierce effort hit Shaun Beeley before it could trouble the keeper.

It just didn't sound like the Rovers we'd seen for the majority of the season so far. They looked threatening going forward and completely in control in defence. A tame looping header from home midfielder Anhony Barry, who was returning from a long-term injury, was safely gathered by Steve Mildenhall and that was the best they could throw at a confident Rovers team. On 27 minutes though a second goal was forthcoming and it deservedly went to Ward's young battlers. Richards was fed by his strike partner Hitchcock in the penalty area before firing past Davies in to the corner of the net. The 450 strong army of Gasheads were thoroughly enjoying what they were watching and Goodnight Irene reverberated around Highbury from then until half-time. Lee Brown hit a powerful effort straight down the throat of Davies before the home side began to exert a small amount of pressure. Gareth Evans' low effort was saved by Mildenhall, who also kept out home debutant Jamille Matt's header relatively comfortably. 2-0 was a great scoreline to go in to half-time with but in truth it should have been 3-0. A cross from O'Toole was met superbly by Hitchcock, who deserved a goal for his energetic performance, but his header struck the underside of the crossbar before being cleared to safety.

The brief from Ward during the interval must have been to weather the home storm before taking the game to them again as they grew increasingly frustrated. It didn't take long for that to happen.

Any hopes of a fightback were near enough extinguished just 5 minutes in to the second period when O'Toole's excellent drive from outside the box flew past Davies and in to the roof of the net. The goal was right in front the Rovers fans and they were treated to a special celebration from the goalscorer as he sprinted towards the half-way line before arcing his run and ending up in front of Gasheads going absolutely wild. It was a dream performance up to this point and it continued right through until the final whistle. The most important thing at this point, for confidence purposes, was to ensure we kept a clean sheet to reward the hard work of captain Tom Parkes and his central defensive partner Mark McChrystal, as well as Michael Smith, Brown and Mildenhall. They coped well with everything thrown at them - which was basically a number of high balls forward towards 6 ft 3 Matt. Richards and Hitchcock then went close with efforts and that was about it in terms of troublesome shots, although Richards was inches away from finding the goal from close range as the game drew to a close. The closest the home side came was when Alan Goodall's header drifted harmlessly wide of goal when he'd have expected to work Mildenhall.

The home support were not happy at the full-time whistle but the Rovers fans, players and coaching staff were absolutely delighted! The 3 points are huge, especially as the teams around us also won, but the positivity garnered from such an assured performance could prove pivotal. We didn't just look comfortable against a good team, we absolutely outclassed them all over the park. We wanted it more and showed real quality in all areas of the pitch, particularly up front, which we haven't been renowned for this year! It's our result of the season and sends us in to a difficult home game with Exeter City next week in perfect fashion. John Ward has said he will continue to work as hard as he can to bring in new players and will try to do so before our battle with the Grecians.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend Gasheads, I know I will. Our result, combined with City's humiliation at home to Leicester, make it a top Saturday afternoon of football. Match of the Day and Football League Show will be essential viewing tonight!

Up the Gas!

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