Football / Bristol Rovers

‘Now we know the size of the task ahead if we want to make the play-offs’

By james hodges, Thursday Apr 6, 2017

Some things in life are written in stone. You can take them entirely for granted. Death. Taxes. People arguing with strangers on the internet. And, at present, Rovers’ form seems like one of life’s certainties.

After a commanding, professional display earning three points at home against Southend, came an away defeat. Then, after that, a great game of football at home against Chesterfield and another home win, followed by another away defeat at Coventry.

So, to absolutely no-one’s surprise, Saturday brought a professional, competent home performance and victory over struggling Shrewsbury. For season ticket holders, it’s the best value-for-money you can get. For those going away perhaps less so, but the moral of the story is that you should never let the football ruin a day out at the football.

Back to Shrewsbury, then – I don’t think even the most one-eyed Shropshire native would say Rovers didn’t deserve to leave the pitch victorious. We controlled the game and reduced the away side to a few chances here and there. As usual, with no strikers in any sort of goalscoring form, we struggled to put chances away. Also, as usual, Billy Bodin popped up and caused the usual mayhem in the opposition defence that eventually was the difference between the two teams, firstly by drawing a foul in the box and slotting home the resulting penalty, and, well, his second goal was pure magic.

His marker probably had to be treated for that great mythical football injury known as ‘twisted blood’ after Bodin turned him exquisitely with one touch before side-footing a shot home. The defender was so well done that many discerning steak eaters would have sent him back. Should I carry on? No, best not.

The only two negatives of the day were Shrewsbury’s manager, and, even more unprofessional, their social media accounts, criticising the referee for three simple decisions, namely the two bookings for their player Ryan Yates, and the penalty call. Obviously I’m not an independent observer, but Bodin was fouled for the penalty: that’s as clear as day. As for the two yellows, the first was for a tackle from behind and the second was for leaving a foot in when challenging the goalkeeper. They were so obviously correct that I wouldn’t be surprised if the referee’s association uses the highlights video on their training courses in future.

Secondly, there were reports of individual players being sought out for abuse from the terraces, and in one particular case one player saw fit to respond to it. I don’t know the full facts and I’d not dream of criticising any individual, player or fan, without them. But do any of this team deserve singling out? We’re having a good, solid season at a level we could only dream of in the recent past, and most of this team have been here for the two promotions. We’re on course to achieve our best league finish for 17 years. By all means have an opinion, and boo them off when we lose if you really want to, but I’ve never got the idea that screaming at one player might help at all.

Moving forward, all of the sides around us have played their games in hand now, so we know the size of the task ahead if we want to extend the season by way of the play-offs. Six points, plus a chasm in goal difference, separates The Gas and the final spot in the end-of-season promotion mix. Win them all and we are in with a shout; continue to leak points on the road and it’s over.

AFC Wimbledon are our hosts this weekend. A month or so back, it looked like they were making a run for the top six that would’ve been even more improbable that ours, given their (presumably) smaller wage bill, and of course their recent past, which is well documented. After beating their arch nemeses, Milton Keynes, at home in a predictably tempestuous occasion, their season as petered out somewhat, with patchy form at home and on their travels.

This being an away game, given how things are going lately, we’ll lose, and that’ll be the season over once and for all. But that will bring no complaints, certainly not on this page. We’ve grazed on a diet of promotion caviar for two years and now it’s time to take a break before the next course.

Read more: ‘We all know why our season is over now’

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