Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rotherham 1-3 Bristol Rovers (League Two)

Ellis Harrison scored his first professional goal
Bristol Rovers are on fire - I'm not used to it! We travelled north in search of another positive result to maintain our good form under John Ward and came back with another 3 goals and all 3 points. As the title of my last blog post stated, it really was the fairytale of New York for Gasheads!

There were a few changes to the team that started against Fleetwood Town a fortnight ago with Joe Anyinsah, Ryan Brunt (on debut) and Oliver Norburn coming in and Tom Hitchcock, Ellis Harrison and Danny Woodards dropping to the bench. It was a 4-5-1 formation begun the match although it was designed to become 4-3-3 when we were on the attack with Eliot Richards and Anyinsah offering Brunt support from the flanks. It was an intelligent decision from Ward as Rotherham have some very good offensive players that would attempt to take the game to us from the off.

They tried to do exactly that but the Rovers back-line were not going to be breached with both captain Tom Parkes and partner Mark McChrystal defending like absolute lions. Nothing was getting past either of them and even their more influential players like Ben Pringle and Michael O'Connor were struggling to make much of an impact. It wasn't a case of Rovers just sitting back and absorbing pressure as we put our hosts under the cosh with our own forward play. We forced 4 corners in a short space of time but were unable to trouble vastly experienced goalkeeper Andy Warrington from any of them. There was a bit of a midfield battle but the impressive John-Joe O'Toole, who was playing the last game of his initial one month loan spell, and Seanan Clucas got stuck in and began to come out on top. I think we'd have been more than happy to go in goalless at half-time but that wasn't to be the case, as 2 minutes before the break the deadlock was broken.

A free-kick was awarded to Rovers 25 yards out on the right hand side of the penalty box and O'Toole delivered a right footed cross to the back post. Brunt was running in but pushed by Rotherham debutant Claude Davis and the referee awarded Rovers a penalty. Brunt wanted the chance to take it and make it a debut to remember but Lee Brown was given the responsibility and he duly sent Warrington the wrong way to make it 1-0. It was the perfect time to score and it ensured the home side went in to the changing rooms feeling a little dejected. It was, however, to get worse for them just seconds later. Richards broke free down the left before cleverly taking it past Davis before being fouled. The referee had no choice but to give the central defender a second yellow card and give him his marching orders. So Rovers were a goal to the good and had a man advantage - perfect.

Having said that the Rovers fans weren't fooled in to thinking we'd be in for an easy ride against the promotion chasers in the second period. It's always dangerous when playing against 10 men away from home. The home side did come out and push in the opening minutes and sent a few crosses in to the box that Steve Mildenhall coped with expertly, but other than that Rovers weren't really troubled. Our task could have been made a little more difficult though had the referee been a little more stringent when Richards hacked down his man on the wing. It warranted a second booking but he didn't punish young Eliot further and wisely Ward substituted him immediately and brought on Harrison. It may have been forced upon him but it was an absolute masterstroke!

The speedy forward got the ball in his own half before embarking on a run down the left flank that saw him ease past 3 or 4 Millers defenders. There were a couple of lucky bounces but eventually the ball broke for him in the box and he dispatched it with aplomb by driving it past Warrington from 10 yards. 2-0 and what a moment for our Centre of Excellence graduate. He was mobbed by his team-mates and the Rovers fans were in wonderland. It killed the home side's spirits and Rovers grew in confidence, playing some neat football and looking lively going forward. Michael Smith and Anyinsah exchanged passes down the right wing before the latter found himself in space charging in to the penalty area. He composed himself before rocketing a low strike across Warrington and in to the bottom corner. Cue manic scenes behind the goal where Anyinsah and the rest of the lads celebrated. The fairytale was alive and kicking. 3-0 Gas.

There was a moment for the home supporters to cheer with 20 minutes left when ex-City midfielder David Noble smashed a powerful effort beyond Mildenhall and in to the back of the net. The locals worked tirelessly in the hours leading up to the game to clear the pitch and surrounding areas of snow to get the game on but I bet they wish they hadn't bothered. Rovers were cruising and Steve Evans, who was on the receiving end of plenty of Rovers chants, had no luck with the substitutes he threw on in desperation. The referee finally sounded his whistle to mark our first back-to-back wins in over a year and to ensure we are unbeaten away from home under Ward. The Rovers fans gave their players a standing ovation in appreciation for yet another committed and successful display, whilst the home supporters jeered their team from the pitch. As an away fan there is no better feeling. We haven't had many days like this over the years but it was a wonderful moment and one that we thoroughly deserved. The last player who came over was O'Toole and his name was chanted in full voice in a desperate plea from Gasheads to get him to stay with us. He's loved here and is part of a winning team, hopefully that's enough to get him to extend his stay with the club.

We certainly do have our Rovers back and that is thanks to John Ward, his coaching staff and the brilliant response from the players. We're off the bottom of League Two and have the chance to move up 4 places should we beat relegation rivals Barnet next Friday evening at the Mem. Let's do our bit again and pack the ground and make it a good evening under the lights.

Enjoy this Gasheads!

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