Football / Bristol Rovers

‘Two draws that could easily have been wins’

By james hodges, Thursday Mar 2, 2017

No-one dreams about draws. Kids don’t kick about in the park, or on their games consoles, playing out their favourite draws. Draws don’t make the headline news, unless it’s the final day of the season, and a sole point is enough to go up, stay up, or lift a trophy.

But I’m pretty pleased with six stalemates in a row: officially a club record. Of course, we’d have had as many points with three wins and three defeats, but the fact is that we’ve taken on the great and the good from this division in the last month (along with Rochdale and Port Vale!) and none of them looked like beating us.

I’ve had a few days of live football-free time, so I’m going from eyewitness accounts and highlights here, but Bolton – with a budget sure to dwarf ours, and top level experience in the side – were hanging on for a home point. Given the chances our midfield created, it’s fair to say that if we had a good League 1 striker, we’d have added to Byron Moore’s equaliser last night. (And what an equaliser; not so much Moore’s simple finish but Billy Bodin’s delicious slide-rule pass.)

It sounded like we could have put Scunthorpe away, too. Having taken the lead from that rarest of things, a goal from a corner (last seen at the Mem via the head of Andy Rammell, according to some), the Lincolnshire side didn’t have an answer to our revamped and solid back line.

Unfortunately for us, Ellis Harrison did, with what I can only describe as the strangest and worst back-pass I’ve ever seen. This, paired with his glaring miss at Bolton on Tuesday, has lead to disquiet on the terraces and social media about his role.

If this week’s two hard fought draws were wins, and they easily could have been, we’d be knocking on the door of the top six. Currently we’re just about in the same postcode.

I’m not one to barrack players, certainly not during the game, but the dissatisfaction is understandable in some respects. Harrison deserves credit for coming on leaps and bounds from the transfer-listed kid, destined for the exit door after relegation, to the capable deep-lying attacker he is now. For a lot of people’s money, he’s the most gifted all-round forward in the squad, excluding the exiled Jermaine Easter.

But it seems like we’ve been talking about potential, and waiting for him to kick on and become the player he could be, for years now.

Players make mistakes, especially as you go down the pyramid, but I feel we’ve been waiting for the ‘big bang’ with Harrison for a bit now. While playing Northampton at home, his four goals seemed like he’d finally come of age – but the goals have dried up again. As discussed last week, we can’t just loan someone in any more, so these last 11 games of the season represent a golden opportunity for the Newport boy to cement his place. If the manager continues to believe he can progress, he will continue to get his chance.

Look at Stuart Sinclair for example: heavily disliked by some when we were in the conference for just being a runner, he is now dominating games at League One level. But, if those 11 games go by without Ellis making much of an impact (and by impact I mean goals), what happens then?

The short trip to Oxford on Saturday is an intriguing one.

Hopefully they’ll have one eye on Wembley, having booked their place in the Football League Trophy final earlier this week.

Rovers had the better of them at the Mem way back in the Autumn, and Michael Appleton’s team looked to lack a cutting edge. They appear to have fixed that with the loan of highly-rated Everton youngster Conor McAleny, who bagged a hat-trick away at Chesterfield last week to go with his winner against Charlton the week before.

Their home form is about as good as our away form is bad, sadly. But they’re not invincible – Southend went to the Kassam and won a few weeks back. So, for those reasons, put your money on yet another draw. 


Read more: ‘The door to the play-offs is still ajar’

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