Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bristol Rovers 2-1 Rochdale (League Two)

Rovers won at home to Rochdale this afternoon by the odd goal in three, courtesy of young winger Ellis Harrison. The tricky wide man scored a wonderful opening goal before popping up with the winner after Dale had equalised with their own blockbuster goal from Michael Rose. The win lifts Rovers up to 14th in the table, their highest position all season.

Ellis Harrison was the Rovers hero with his first Memorial Stadium goals
There were doubts the game would even go ahead throughout the morning and in to lunchtime as the overnight rain had saturated the pitch. Following a period of sunshine mid-morning, the groundstaff were able to clear the pitch sufficiently for the referee to allow the waterlogged playing surface an extra half an hour to be made playable. He then wished to inspect the pitch again at 1.30pm to see if the weather deteriorated and fortunately it didn't, so the game was given the go-ahead. I wouldn't have wanted to be a Rochdale supporter if I'd made it to Bristol before finding out it was postponed!

The first half, in all fairness, saw Rochdale come out and create the better openings and no matter what we tried we just didn't seem able to get ourselves in to the game. Striker George Donnelly tried his luck a few times, one effort he smashed over the crossbar when well positioned inside the penalty area and another was a tame header that Steve Mildenhall caught with ease. Jim Paterson, playing in midfield yet again for Rovers, saw a low drive saved by Josh Lillis at the other end but aside from that Rovers didn't put any pressure on the Dale goal. Bobby Grant was lively for the visitors, who looked dangerous on the counter attack, but he was unable to work his way through to goal having taken on most of our defence in one impressive run towards the end of the half. Donnelly had another header which drifted no more than a few millimetres wide of the goal and the striker rightly looked disappointed that he hadn't done better. John Ward will have been a happy man to hear the sound of the half-time whistle with the score at 0-0 because his team weren't in it at all at this point.

With the rain having restarted during half-time, many wondered how much more the already scruffy-looking pitch could take. However, focus returned to the football very shortly and much to Gasheads' delight, we looked a lot better - still not as good as normal, but we were at least putting their defence under a lot more pressure. Both Eliot Richards and Harrison were getting on the bar a lot more and that resulted Keith Hill's men to drop deeper than they would have liked. The rain then turned to hailstones and any Rovers fan who travelled to THAT game back in August will have feared the worst. That feeling of impending doom was worsened on the hour mark when Rovers took the lead with a tremendous goal from youngster Harrison. Picking up the ball on the half-way line, the winger dropped past his man, before cutting inside a couple of Dale defenders and firing an unstoppable drive beyond Lillis and in to the top corner from 20 yards. It was his first home goal and boy did he celebrate! The noise levels at the Mem lifted no-end and it lit up what was a grey afternoon.

Unfortunately with the way Rochdale were playing you couldn't assume that it was game over and they continued to look sharp on the break. They got the goal that disappointingly looked inevitable when substitute Rose smashed home a swerving effort from 25 yards to send the few soaked Rochdale fans absolutely wild. They were, to their credit, singing in the rain but there is a quality about this Rovers side nowadays that means you should never write them off, even when they're not at their fluid best. Michael Smith sent in a dangerous cross after good play down the right but saw it cleared away from the oncoming Ryan Brunt but the goal we were desperately craving came just 8 minutes from time. A good counter attack saw Richards slipped in down the right hand side of the penalty area and he delivered a low cross which Brunt looked for all the world that he was going to poke home. The minimal contact he made meant Lillis could keep it out but as it ricocheted away Harrison was on hand to slot the ball in the corner and send the Mem in to delirium. The news was filtering through that Wolves had gone ahead against Bristol City and the stadium was rocking, if things stayed the same it truly was the perfect weekend.

Joyfully they did and after 4 long minutes of stoppage time the referee blew the final whistle. It may not have been a comprehensive or totally deserving victory but it was a win all the same and we'll take it. For the first time in almost 4 years we had won four home games on the trot and that's testament to the wonderful work Ward and his boys have done over the past couple of months. We now have a week off before travelling up north to Bradford and hopefully that will mean we have a larger squad to choose from as players return from injury.

I've never felt more like singing the blues, when Rovers win and City lose!

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