Promotion Five

Jun 14, 2022 | News

By the time promotion number five came around, Rovers had already been relegated; not once, but twice!

Paul Trollope had been sacked in November 2010 and his successors Darren Patterson (caretaker), Dave Penney and Stuart Campbell & Craig Hinton (interim) couldn’t save them from relegation to the league’s basement division.

Paul Buckle, Mark McGhee and John Ward (back for a second spell as boss) failed to gain promotion and, with eight games of the 2013/14 campaign to go, Ward handed over the managerial reins to his assistant Darrell Clarke, allegedly to move upstairs as Director of Football.

Clarke’s hands were tied; the transfer window had closed and so he had to attempt to ensure League Two survival with the players he had inherited. On the final day of the season, his side were beaten 1-0 by Mansfield Town at the Memorial Stadium and, for the first time since entering the Football League in 1920, were relegated to the fifth tier of English football. One point would have been enough to continue their unbroken 94 year sequence of league football.

All at the club were devastated by relegation, no more so than Clarke who saw it as his fault. It wasn’t, of course, but he vowed to lead Rovers back into the league at the first attempt, saying; ‘The disappointment of relegation from the Football League at the end of the season is an experience I never want to repeat and I know how devastated our supporters are as they face the prospect of watching non league football.’

With only one automatic promotion place up for grabs competition was fierce but in the end it became a two horse race, between Clarke’s side and Barnet who were ultimately crowned champions by virtue of gaining one more point than Rovers.

Grimsby Town, Forest Green Rovers and Eastleigh also occupied play off places and they would probably dispute the two horse race claim, especially as none of them were beaten by Rovers at the Mem in the regular season Indeed, both Forest Green and Eastleigh had beaten Rovers on their own patch.

Whatever they felt, it meant promotion needed to be achieved via the play offs. Forest Green Rovers were duly despatched, 3-0 on aggregate, in the semi final to set up a Wembley date with Grimsby Town, who had played out a goalless draw at the Memorial Stadium in the first league game of the Conference campaign.

And so, on May 17th 2015 in front of a Wembley crowd of 47,029 (30,000 of them Gasheads!) these two former league clubs did battle to determine which one of them would make a return.

Rovers emerged as winners after a tense afternoon, winning a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw and extra time, and became the first side to bounce back into the league at the first attempt for ten years.

Chris Lines, on the bench for the 2007 Wembley play off final, started in this one and came up against one of the stars of that 2007 side, Craig Disley.

Rovers made a poor start and found themselves a goal down after only two minutes when Lennell John-Lewis took advantage of some nervous Rovers defending to ease his side ahead. Goalkeeper Will Puddy was fortunate to only receive a yellow card after appearing to handle outside the area as a nervous looking Rovers were fortunate to be only a goal down. However, they conjured up a 29th minute equaliser thanks to Ellis Harrison who lashed the ball high into the net following Jake Gosling’s corner from the right.

And that was the end of the scoring! The second half was a somewhat tense affair and extra time was almost a non event as both sides were determined not to lose.

With a penalty shootout looming Clarke took Puddy off and replaced him with Steve Mildenhall, presumably because he felt that ‘Mildy’ had a better chance of saving a Grimsby spot kick when the penalty shootout came around.

Come around it did, though Mildenhall didn’t need to make a save as Jon-Paul Pittman ballooned his spot kick over the bar. He was the only one to miss as Rovers scored all five of their penalties, taken by Chris Lines, Matty Taylor, Lee Brown, Angelo Balanta and Lee Mansell.

Football League status had been achieved with the last kick in the final game of the 2014/15 Vanarama Conference season and Lee Mansell has dined out on his winning spot kick on many an occasion since!

Clarke, who had been in tears on the Memorial Stadium pitch 12 months before, showed his delight at winning promotion by making a 100 yard dash to embrace his players and salute the club’s supporters as the final penalty went in. It was truly a sprint worthy of an Olympic Gold medal!

‘Our success,’ he said, ‘was built on teamwork, both on and off the pitch, and that needs to continue as we strive for another successful season in League Two.’

In all 28 players appeared in league games for the club and 19 of those players made their Rovers debut. Not all, though, would go on to appear in the League, namely; Dave Martin, Andy Monkhouse, Neal Trotman, Jamie White, Adam Cunnington, Lyle Della-Verde, Bradley Goldberg, Angelo Balanta, Alex Wall, Fabian Speiss and Adam Dawson.

Rovers took 91 points from their 46 league games, winning 25 of those games, drawing 16 and losing just five, scoring 73 goals and conceding 34 in the process.

No need to search for a lucky seven in this season, as Clarke’s side were 7-0 winners against Alfreton Town in their final Conference League fixture!

(all photos courtesy of Neil Brookman)

Keith Brookman