Festive Form Part Two

January 4, 2006

With four matches in eight days over the festive period, it offered possibilities of making or breaking Rover’s season yet again this year.

While the rest of us could concern ourselves with trivialities like how we would be able to force down those extra mince pies or the like, it was a period that would test the fitness, character and belief of our ‘under pressure’ squad.

We got off to a good start with a home win on Boxing Day, then on a below freezing evening at Mansfield, managed to scrape appoint right at the death of added time. To be honest, these were two games I had predicted we should win, having predicted we should gather 8 or 9 points over the festive season.

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New year’s eve proved to be a different challenge though as we faced top of the table Wycombe.
With no Ryan Williams on the team sheet, (or even on the bench) a rumour quickly spread that the fan’s favourite had left the club to join Crawley. It later transpired that he had indeed left, only for Aldershot, a team he had a loan with instead.

Wycombe came out blazing in the first half and quickly won a penalty from a very dubious decision by referee Phil Joslin, who adjudged Craig Hinton to have handled despite the ball coming at him from very close range. Mooney made no mistake from the spot and we found ourselves a goal down after just three minutes.

Wycombe played some attractive football and left those in the Memorial Stadium in no doubt as to why they are League 2 leaders. Old-stager Rob Lee looked assured in the midfield and made good use of both wide men, which caused Rovers all sorts of problems. Senda and Betsy were linking up very well on the right and turning Carruthers inside out until Trollope recognised this and made changes. Rovers also fielded an obviously unfit Agogo who was replaced after half time by Lewis Haldane. He offered pace and Rovers started to look a better side for it, finally having an outlet.

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Sadly as soon as they did, the home side conceded a second, with a cross tipped away by ‘keeper Shearer falling nicely onto the head of Mooney for his second of the game.

Rovers had it all to do now, but went about their business quite well and started to string some nice passing football together. This paid off after 61 minutes when a Walker overhead kick resulted in a spectacular goal for the home side. It offered hope to the Rovers faithful that a point could yet be salvaged, but despite a good deal of possession and attacking from the home side, it wasn’t to be and Wycombe held on for the win and on balance probably just about deserved it.

The disappointment on the faces of the Rovers fans leaving the stadium was obvious, though once the reality set in it had been a lot to expect a point or better from a top team on top of their game as Wycombe currently are.

[image3]This made the trip to Northants and Rushden and Diamonds Nene Park stadium a must win game.
With Rushden struggling at the bottom of League 2, a scenario we are all too familiar with in recent years, we made the trip feeling confident of bringing back all the points. Nobody could have predicted how the match would unfold though. With 5 yellow cards and 2 straight red cards and 5 goals, it was a thriller all right.

The home side started brightly making their intentions known early on. The match day programme said ”We’ve reached a point where draws at home are not an option”, and there busy play cemented that message for all to see. Sadly for them, what the offered in industry on the pitch just wasn’t matched with a good final ball or shot and in the main gave Rovers no problems. When they did get into a goal scoring position, their forwards wasted the chances, though Rovers did have one or two let offs and two excellent instinctive saves from Shearer preserved the status quo in the early part of the game.

[image4] The game really came alive in the 37th minute when James Hunt caught Armstrong late just after it looked as if Lewis Haldane had been fouled. Armstrong reacted very badly pushing Hunt to the ground with both hands. Armstrong had to go for his reaction, and indeed the referee saw fit to show him a red card after also deciding to award Hunt his marching orders.

With both teams down to 10 men and having to re-group, Rovers took the lead on 41 minutes through a free kick from Stuart Campbell. He put a low ball into the box, which somehow evaded everyone to hit the back of the net. Sadly, Rovers didn’t keep the lead long, with the home side equalising within three minutes after a clearance fell at the edge of the box for striker Broughton to put his side level and take the teams in honours even at half time.

The second half started as the first ended and within 4 minutes of the restart a loose ball fell to Elliott who crashed the ball home to put Rovers back in front to the delight of the travelling near 600 Gasheads. He was clearly delighted too as he celebrated with the Rovers fans.

[image5] Rushden made changes and despite long spells of play in the Rovers half, forcing Rovers to play much deeper, it seemed as if it was not to be their day, despite going close with a number of efforts. Then with 6 minutes to go, Broughton popped up again to equalise with a fine shot after a cross from Rushden youngster Tomlin. The relief among the home fans was obvious as they felt they were to get the point they deserved, but Rovers weren’t finished yet.

An industrious Richard Walker continued to try to get through on goal, but a linesman who never seemed to keep up with the play flagged him offside time and time again, much to his frustration. Rovers went close deep into the game with a Jamie Forrester effort going over the bar when it seemed easier to score. Many thought that would be the last chance, but once again the Rovers late, late show provided a quality header and a winner from Forrester in the 90th minute after a lay off from Walker that looked suspiciously like a handball for a Rovers penalty.

Naturally the travelling fans went wild and as the final whistle went the players came to show their appreciation for the fantastic support they had received throughout not only the game but also the whole of the last 8 days, a tough schedule by anybodies standards.

[image6] This result and others that went our way leaves us in nose bleed territory, 8th place and level on points with 7th place and a real tilt at getting into the play offs. Ok, we’ve played more games than some around us, but it’s points on the board and provided we can keep our concentration our destiny is in our own hands like no other time in recent years.

The team are also developing a healthy habit of scoring late goals, which shows character and sends a warning through the league that we do not give up right until the final whistle. They are looking together and coach Trollope paid tribute to their fitness, particularly over the last 8 days.

Our next game at Cheltenham will prove a tough one though, with both Hunt and Elliott suspended, though what the transfer window may bring we have yet to find out.

With just a few hundred tickets left, our match at Cheltenham looks likely to be a sell out. As this is an all ticket match, to avoid disappointment, please get your tickets at the earliest opportunity and if wishing to use the coaches, please also book early. 

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