Firstly, a confession. I wasn’t at the Mem for Saturday’s routine win over MK Dons. Instead, I was at a second birthday party. But, had Rovers not managed to beat the neutrals’ least favourite club, BS7 would have born witness to more tantrums per head than any room full of toddlers. The talk by some on the terraces (okay, Twitter) about the manager could’ve intensified, too.
Judging on the extended highlights alone, sides like Milton Keynes show to me why we’re not in any trouble of going down this season. The visitors didn’t offer much going forward, and looked like taking a point away from an out-of form Rovers side who hadn’t scored in three games would be cause for celebration.
As for Rovers, we appear to have made plenty of chances. But a mixture of our own inability to get on the end of shots into the box, some dodgy finishing and some good stops had us going in even at the break. Lee Nicholls, MK’s keeper, had a short loan spell with us two years back; anyone who saw his error-strewn, confidence-sparse time in north Bristol would agree that he looks a changed player.
Speaking of Nicholls’, the second half finally saw Tom (Nichols with one L) at long last open his account at the Gas. If he’d missed that one, in fairness, he’d have had to retire. Dons’ build-up to it was the dictionary definition of Keystone Cops defending.
Tom has certainly not played as badly as no goals in nearly 20 games would suggest, especially given that everyone else was, up until the last few weeks, scoring a hatful. It’s a cliché almost as old as the game itself but hopefully he’ll kick on from here, monkey firmly knocked off his back. (Add your own tired old banalitys in the space below, dear reader).
In fairness, he also scored on Tuesday night, but the Checkatrade Trophy, with its Premier League reserve sides, shouldn’t count as a first-team competition. We’ve all read and written rants on it before, but everything said is true. Look at West Ham’s goalscorers against us on Tuesday. A full Norweigan international and a striker only eligible to play for Spain. Once again, the competition is a mockery, and what’s worse is that everyone knows it.
Anyhow, back to Saturday. A delightful bit of forward play from Rory Gaffney, using both his strength and his left foot, settled the game. But in all fairness, the visitors appeared to have no fight in them. As said previously, games like this make me think that we’ll be alright this season. At no point have we lacked fight. And teams that lack fight are more likely to get themselves in trouble than teams that don’t.
Moving on, last week’s FA Cup draw provided a whacking great disappointment. Notts County away is not only a tough game, where we’ve nothing to gain against a side from the league below but flying high, but it’s a long-ish trip. Add in the game being moved to Friday, as Nottingham Forest, County’s next-door neighbours, are at home on the Saturday, and now you’ve got a rubbish cup draw.
I was personally hoping for the wonderfully-named Shaw Lane Association FC. That’s not only because they were the lowest placed side left from all the non-league rounds, but because they used to be called Shaw Lane Aquaforce, a name fit only for a children’s TV show.
Anyway, a trek to Meadow Lane beckons on Friday, and if luck isn’t with us, Rovers’ foray into the oldest competition in the world could be over before most sides kick off their first round ties. County are unbeaten at home so far this term (except for a game in the meaningless EFL competition mentioned previously), and our away record sort of speaks for itself.
A squad boasting Alan Smith, Jon Stead, Shola Ameobi, Nicky Hunt and Kevin Nolan may seem like something only to be seen on archive footage of mediocre top-level sides from some year back. But they’re not all old men; Jorge Grant, on loan from over the Trent, is on fire for them this season. Also, in fairness, Nolan is their manager and only registered to play in case of emergencies.
We’re due a decent run in the cup under Darrell Clarke, but at least if we go out at the first fence this week, we’ve not lost at home to a non-league side yet again. That’s optimism for you!