By Keith Brookman
February sees us travel back a decade to see what was happening in BS7 in 2010. Hopefully much of the following information will remind you of what it was like supporting Rovers during the last full season under Paul Trollope.
The January transfer window closed after Rovers failed to bolster their strikeforce, though one striker made an exit from the Memorial Stadium as Darryl Duffy joined Carlisle United in a three month loan deal.
Director of Football Lennie Lawrence said that the club would look to add to their striking options when the emergency loan market reopened the following week; ‘We were gazumped at the last minute by another club for a Championship striker,’ said Lennie, who added; ‘We have another striker lined up but his club would not let him go until they have got a replacement in and we are hoping that will happen next week.’
Midfielder Wayne Brown did move to Rovers, though, in a one month loan deal. He had made his senior debut for Fulham at the Memorial Stadium, back in January 2008 when Rovers beat the London side on penalties in an FA Cup replay.
In other business, goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen extended his loan deal until the end of the season while youngsters Alex Kite and Joe White also extended their deals at Chippenham Town and Paulton Rovers respectively. David Pipe, who had been on loan at Cheltenham Town, returned to the club as the Robins were experiencing cash flow problems.
The first game of February saw Rovers make the trip to play Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road, where they were beaten 5-0 in front of a crowd of just 2,931.
Trailing by a single goal at half time, Rovers conceded four more after the break against an Orient side managed by former Rovers midfielder Geraint Williams. Future Rovers player Scott McGleish was in the Orient side.
First Team Coach Paul Trollope said; ‘Apart from a couple of breakaways near the end we didn’t look like scoring and there was some alarming defending.’
Chairman Nick Higgs described the performance as the biggest embarrassment he had suffered during his time in charge and said; ‘It surprised us to see the team capitulate as the game went on. There were signs, on Saturday, that things weren’t going very well, but that result on Tuesday was a surprise to say the least.
‘I think it was the most embarrassing performance since my reign as Chairman at the club. Two weeks ago, at Huddersfield, we put on a superb team performance, but this was chalk and cheese.’
Rovers next games were both against Walsall, away on 6th February and at home three days later. Striker Jo Kuffour said that he and his colleagues had to put the Orient result behind them as they headed into the first of those games; ‘We have to do that in these two games because, with no disrespect, to them, they are both winnable if we apply ourselves in the right way.’
Paul Trollope admitted that, instead of having the day off after the Tuesday game against Orient, the players had been called in for a clear the air meeting; ‘We got the players in for a training session and a meeting, not as a punishment but to just try and move forward quickly, brush ourselves down and get to the bottom of a few things.
‘A few home truths were said, a few issues came out into the open and it was a positive day after a very, very poor Tuesday night.’
Ahead of the trip to Walsall, Lennie Lawrence revealed that the striker Rovers had missed out on was Sheffield Wednesday’s Akpo Sodje who opted to join Charlton Athletic instead.
The game at the Banks’s Stadium saw Rovers and Walsall play out a goalless draw, thus emphasising the need for The Gas to sign a striker, in spite of what Trollope saw as an improved performance from his side; ‘We defended well when we needed to and produced some very good football. On another day, on a slightly better pitch, we might have taken a few of the chances we created and gone on to win the game.’
The return fixture took place at the Mem the following Tuesday and Trollope made a signing ahead of that match, bringing in 28 year old Doncaster Rovers striker Paul Heffernan for a month’s loan with a view to extending the deal for the rest of the season if things went well.
The striker said, on his arrival; ‘I had a year down here with Bristol City some five or six seasons ago, but I hope the fans won’t hold it against me if I can stick one in against Walsall.’
He made his Rovers debut against the Saddlers but ended up on the losing side as they went away from the Memorial Stadium with all three points after a 1-0 win. Rovers might have snatched a late equaliser as they were awarded a penalty 10 minutes from time. However, goalkeeper Clayton Ince saved from Jeff Hughes and from Heffernan’s attempt from the rebound.
It meant that Rovers had won just once in eight games, but Paul Trollope refused to concede that chances of making the play offs had all but disappeared following this defeat; ‘Our games in hand have gone now but we are still looking upwards. But we know we need to address our home form, especially, and look at the reasons why we aren’t winning games. Sometimes we are trying to be a bit too clever and making the wrong decisions.’
It was revealed that Rovers were interested in signing 18 year old West Bromwich Albion striker Chris Wood to bolster their attack and it was hoped that he would be signed in time to face Charlton Athletic for the Monday evening clash at The Mem, which was to be screened live on Sky.
Speaking ahead of that game Paul Heffernan revealed that spirits remained high in the camp; ‘The results in the last five or six games have not been great, but you wouldn’t think that by the way the lads are training. And there still seems to be a lot of spirit around the place.’
Of his debut he said; ‘It wasn’t an ideal way to start my time here. Walsall got an early goal and that made things tough for us. As strikers we didn’t get a lot of chances and that was the biggest disappointment.’
Midfielder Chris Lines, meanwhile, was looking forward to the Charlton game; ‘Hopefully we can win and not only show people in Bristol that we are playing well again, but show the rest of the country that we are a decent team and deserve to be challenging for the play offs.’
The signing of Chris Wood didn’t materialise before the Charlton game; in fact, it never did! However, Trollope did bring in one new face before that match in defender Daniel Jones, who arrived on a one month loan deal, from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Speaking of his new defender Trollope said; ‘He’s a player we have been tracking for a long time. He’s a young player who brings the attributes that we look for in that he’s quite tall, has good pace and a very good left foot. He can pass it and get forward as well as undertaking his defensive duties.’
The game against Charlton proved to be a good one, for Rovers, Jones (who made his debut) and for Heffernan as he scored his first goal for the club to help the club to a 2-1 win and a first victory in five.
Steve Elliott had opened the scoring for the Gas before Heffernan doubled the lead with Therry Racon scoring a late Charlton consolation.
Paul Trollope said afterwards; ‘Now we need to show that sort of motivation and commitment when the cameras aren’t here. Sometimes these games are a godsend because it brings a natural motivation for the players. But we know we can play well when we have people available and that is the sort of desire and performance we need to turn in for every game.’
Heffernan said; ‘I’d scuffed one chance a little bit earlier and they managed to clear it off the line, but when I had another chance I was confident enough to stick it away.’
Next up was a game against Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium and central defender Danny Coles suggested that he and his fellow defenders needed to be aware of the threat posed by Gills’ striker Chris Dickson who had spent three months on loan at Rovers earlier in the season and was now on loan to Gillingham.
‘Dicko showed in his first game for us what he’s capable of,’ said Coles, adding ‘He the runs channels well and he can be a serious threat. I don’t think we saw the best of him while he was down here, although he’s someone with a lot of potential. But I think things here maybe didn’t work out how he would have planned.’
Meanwhile, Daniel Jones told how well he felt he had settled in at the club; ‘It’s the style of play. Rovers like to get the ball down and play football, so I felt really comfortable slotting in with that in my first game for the club. Before I came here, I had a chat with Mick McCarthy after he’d spoken to Paul Trollope and he told me the way Rovers liked to try and get the ball down and pass it.’
Rovers almost gained a point from the Gillingham game but were denied a share of the points when substitute Simeon Jackson scored the only goal of the game in the last minute. Trollope felt that his side contributed to their own downfall; ‘The experienced players in the dressing room will know that there are times in a season when you play away from home and you find yourselves under the cosh.
‘At times like that you have to dig in, ride your luck and try to grind out at least a draw. There were some heroic performances. We defended well when we were forced back for long spells, especially in the second half. It looked as though we had done enough, put out bodies on the line to secure a point, but poor defending right at the death cost us.’
It was a cruel blow for goalkeeper Rhys Evans who was making only his second league appearance of the season and he said; ‘To come so close to keeping a clean sheet in difficult circumstances was devastating. We nearly saw it through. We defended well for 99% of the game but that will be forgotten about now because of the result.’
The following Tuesday Rovers were due to travel down to Devon to take on Exeter City at St James’ Park but heavy rain meant that the game was called off at 6.00pm; ‘We feel for the fans who made the journey down to Exeter,’ said Trollope, ‘but given the rain we saw in the afternoon it wasn’t really a surprise when the referee called the game off. It was torrential and the pitch wasn’t in great shape anyway after the weekend.’
And so, the next game for Trollope’s side was against Colchester United at the Mem seven days after the defeat at Gillingham. Midfielder Chris Lines was struggling with a badly gashed knee and was racing against time to be fit enough to face the U’s and said; ‘I’m not really sure yet whether I’ll be ready for Saturday. A lot will depend on how things go over the next couple of days.
‘I’m doing some work, icing it and running in straight lines. But as well as a gash that needed stitches, there is quite a lot of bruising which is coming out as well now. I’m not sure yet whether it would allow me the power I’d need to get through a game.’
Paul Trollope admitted that he was looking for an improved performance against Colchester and said; ‘We are up against another team who are looking for one of the automatic promotion slots and have done well to stay up there as the season has gone on.
‘We have a game in hand on the teams directly above us now and our aim is to close the gap. We appreciate the task that lies ahead of us but it’s a challenge we are looking forward to.’
On the day of the Colchester game it was revealed that the club was almost £4m in debt and in his statement to shareholders Chairman Nick Higgs said; ‘Our financial performance for the season reflects both our investment in the playing squad and our lack of success in the cup competitions.
‘Consequently, our football revenues have dropped to £2,249,008 and I have to report a loss of £1,727,368. This trading loss is unsustainable in the long term and relies on the support of the directors, both in terms of loans and equity.
‘It also underlines the need to progress the stadium regeneration plan, which we are still putting a huge amount of effort into, and I hope to be able to make a positive announcement in this respect in the near future.’
The club were carrying debts of £3.8m, more than £3m of which was due to be repaid in the next five years.
Spirits were lifted later that day when Rovers recorded a 3-2 win against Colchester thanks to goals from Dominic Blizzard, Jo Kuffour and Chris Lines (who did recover in time!). Former Rovers player Aidy Boothroyd was in charge of Colchester at that time and said; ‘They deserved what they got, we didn’t take our chances or defend properly. Two away goals should be enough to win you a game but if you concede three you can expect to lose it. Good luck to Rovers, I hope they go on to do well this season.’
Lines dedicated his goal to his grandmother Teresa, who had passed away a few days before the match; ‘It was good that I could play and I said that if I scored, I would dedicate the goal to my gran. She was 81 and it would have been her birthday on Sunday, so my goal was a nice present for her.’
That was the final game of the month for Trollope’s side and he was proud of the victory; ‘The fact that we scored three goals against one of the tightest defences in the division and coped well defensively for large parts of the game were major boosts for us. We showed a mental and physical strength which was very good.’