Eleven seconds is all it took for this Rovers side, a team always capable of springing a surprise and constantly exceeding expectations, to prove your correspondent wrong yet again.
After a brief and delightful blip at Oxford, our away form, the scourge of an otherwise great season, had gone back to business as usual.
I’m not alone in being a bit of a critic of the rugby-style kick-off, where teams starting or re-starting the game aim to lump the ball immediately forward in order to gain some ground. It’s the easiest way to lose possession and we’ve seen Rovers do it umpteen hundred times to no avail.
At Wimbledon, the once in a lifetime moment occurred and it worked. A long, high ball up to the returning Ellis Harrison, not seen in weeks, nodded down into the path of this year’s Marmite player, Byron Moore, who did the honours and scored the fastest Football League goal in our nigh on 100 years of participation.
After that, it seemed an even affair, with a few chances made by both sides. Joe Lumley, watched from the stands by the top brass of Queen’s Park Rangers, his parent club, pulled off a highlight-worthy stop.
The other winter loan signing, Ryan Sweeney, who rose through the ranks of the visiting side, returned home and performed excellently again. Sadly, the performances of these two may either put them out of our price range for a summer move to BS7, or ensure that their owners want to keep them. This is a shame; one wonders how many extra points we’d have in the board had they joined in July rather than January.
A season-defining Bank Holiday weekend awaits; the long, arduous (for supporters anyway) trip to Gillingham on Good Friday is swiftly followed by Easter Mondays home game with mid table dwelling Oldham.
It’s a privilege to still have something to play for, and for the right reasons, come this crunch time of the campaign. Many sides, like Monday’s visitors, already have an eye on the beach. Four points separate us and final-day opponents Millwall for that final play-off spot, plus a gargantuan goal difference. Southend can also put a spanner in the works, sitting, as they do, between us and the South Londoners.
Friday afternoon’s trip to Kent provides a challenge; not least because it’s an away game. That said, the Gills’ home form since new manager Adrian Pennock took over is about as convincing as our away form in the same time period. Worse sides than Rovers have gone there and got something. Additionally, Bradley Dack, by far their best player and a name sure to be heard at Championship level next season, is suspended.
The main task will be coming away unscathed. I’m not saying the hosts are a dirty side but in twenty-odd years watching the Gas I’ve yet to see a Gillingham teak that aren’t, let’s say, “combative”. As the manager outlined to the press in the week, the injury list is already growing, at the worst time possible.
Oldham at home looks like a routine home win. The Latics’ form on the road is uninspiring, their season is over to all intents and purposes, with fears of relegation long gone and a 21st straight season in the third tier all-but secured. How incredible is that? They haven’t been promoted or relegated for TWO DECADES.
We’ve fitted in a play-off semi-final defeat in 1998, a Devon Loch style blowing of promotion in 2000, three relegations, three promotions, a brush with bankruptcy, a cup final, at least two long drawn-out stadium sagas, two visits to Wembley, and a partridge in a pear tree in the same period of time. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following BRFC doesn’t keep you on your toes!
Away from the run-in, there was a cracking piece of news this week.
Club President Wael Al Qadi confirmed in a tweet to me (In Bristol 24/7’s first Rovers WORLD EXCLUSIVE) that the club will continue to vote against Premier League reserve sides in the Football League Trophy. This is a sensible decision, given that most Gasheads, and indeed most lower league fans overall, see this as devaluing ‘our’ cup competition.
Also, it’s a gateway to diluting England’s league structure, the envy of the world, with B teams made up of cheap foreign imports and young players doomed never to see the light of day in the top flight having been stolen away from our clubs for a pittance under the League’s last great idea, the Elite Player Performance Plan.
So, well done and thanks, Mr President. As a mate of mine said to me the other day, Mr Al Qadi really gets what being a supporter means. If fortune favours us, he might soon know what owning a Championship football club means as well.