Well, we’ve had a bit of a week haven’t we?
Off the back of a diabolical home performance against Peterborough, Darrell Clarke calling some players “mentally weak”, and the usual supporter unrest that goes with any home defeat at Rovers or pretty much other club (you know, the usual “it’s gonna be a long hard season” groans), the boys have gone and put smiles back on the faces of all but the most grizzly Gashead this week.
To say that the scoreline, 3-2, doesn’t tell the whole story of the away win at Bury would be an understatement. Rovers, after a tough first half, were absolutely electric going forward after the break. 26 shots, half of them on target, and a good few of those bringing top-drawer saves from Bury’s extremely busy goalkeeper, exposes a tale of a game so one-sided that even the opposition manager, Lee Clark, was saying after the final whistle that it could’ve been an absolute rout.
While Billy Bodin’s second goal, Rovers’ third, was a common sight, the usual twists, turns and tricks followed by a simple finish, I can’t recall many like his first goal – he doesn’t often score with his head. Quick shout out to Joe Partington who provided a delightful cross for it, too – he’s got a real chance, now he’s back to fitness, to make the right-back berth his own. And Tom Lockyer, making his 200th appearance in the quarters aged just 22, doesn’t score often at all – his thumping header was impressive for a player who apparently misses open goals in training.
Bury’s two goals papered over the cracks in all honesty; Rovers outplayed their hosts in every possible department and had those predicting a long winter either eating humble pie or pretending they never made any such predictions in the first place.
Fulham, on Tuesday, was always going to be a stern test for us. Okay, it wasn’t Chelsea, like this time last year, but the Cottagers still fielded a few full internationals – and some hotly-tipped youngsters, including Ryan Sessegnon and Sheyi Ojo – in a lineup vastly-changed from their previous Championship fixture. Not to mention the wonderfully-named Neeskens Kebano in midfield – someone’s dad obviously likes Total Football.
As any armchair pundit would’ve predicted, Fulham had the lion’s share of possession, and had rather a few shots, but they couldn’t find an end product against a Rovers defence who put in a shift unrecognisable from the horror show of ten days previously against Peterborough.
Ellis Harrison, the man who splits the fanbase’s opinions like no other, scored a neat finish after taking the ball round the Fulham keeper once he’d latched onto a delicious through ball from Liam Sercombe early on. That goal decided it; Fulham’s lack of an end product cost them dearly.
From the final whistle on Tuesday night right up until the draw on Thursday morning, the dreams of Old Trafford, Anfield et al were being dreamt. Possibly literally, as the draw was held at 4:15 am, in Beijing, in a bizarre attempt by the League to appeal to a Chinese audience. Shame they didn’t, er, televise the event in China, and publicised it on social media – most of which is banned in that country. Well done, EFL.
In the end, Wolves were matched with us, and a trip to the Black Country awaits. It’s basically the worst draw we could’ve got. No glamour or extra money from a big gate or TV revenue, away at a side with all the tools to beat us. But then I said the same about Fulham….
Fleetwood Town visit BS7 at the weekend. Not my favourite fellow League One side, after Uwe Rosler, their manager, displayed some behaviour not befitting of a bald, almost 50-year-old former international footballer when the sides met last year. Darrell was less than impressed with the childish Rosler, and for that reason among others I hope we can break their 1005 League record this season. In accruing three wins from their first trio of games, they’ve yet to concede a goal, and they look a bit more robust than last season, where they lost in the play-off semi-finals to Bradford.
Conor McAleny, signed from Everton in the summer, was once thought of as the successor to Wayne Rooney – as pretty much any striker in the youth ranks at Goodison Park has been – but a mixture of injuries and the pure impossibility for most young prospects to get first team football in the top division, led him to Fleetwood. I’m sure he’s on money much more than a club averaging just over 3000 fans through the gates (the lowest in the division) could afford if they didn’t have a local tycoon bankrolling them beyond their natural level in the game.
Modern football-related gripes aside, I don’t think Saturday will be as plain sailing for Fleetwood as it might have been, had the two sides met earlier in the month. Rovers’ tails are up after two mightily impressive victories, the squad has come through those two tests unscathed injury-wise, and let’s face it, the manager needs no motivation to get a result.
My predictions are getting worse with each passing week, so I’ll make it easy for myself – Rovers won’t lose.