By Keith Brookman
Rovers will face Ipswich Town in the Carabao Cup for only the second time in their history and, just as was the case when the clubs first met in the competition back in 2012, the game will also be played before the start of the League campaign.
Back in 2012 it was known as the Capital One Cup when Rovers travelled to Portman Road.
TUESDAY 14th AUGUST 2012
IPSWICH TOWN 3 BRISTOL ROVERS 1
Scotland (40), Smith (56), Cresswell (84) / Smith (27)
Attendance: 8,645 Referee: F Graham
Mark McGhee was in charge of the Gas, while Paul Jewell was the manager at Ipswich, the club where Rovers’ then assistant manager Marcus Stewart was held in high regard.
Rovers were struggling with a bit of a goalkeeping crisis at the time and the day before the tie as first choice shot stopper Scott Bevan was injured and Iain Turner had decided against joining the club. Still, McGhee was confident of signing former Nottingham Forest keeper Paul Smith as cover.
Overnight, though, Rovers failed to agree terms with Smith and after a number of phone calls McGhee finally managed to agree to the signing of Chelsea keeper Sam Walker. The team set off on the morning of the match to their hotel, while I travelled with McGhee, in his car, to collect Walker on the way.
Talk about shady dealings; we collected the goalkeeper from outside a pub/club/hotel somewhere off the M25 – Brentwood, I think it was, and drove on to meet the squad at the hotel.
Introductions were made and Walker, along with every other member of the travelling party, jumped on the coach for the journey to Portman Road where Rovers made a spirited exit from the competition, losing 3-1 after Michael Smith’s first goal for the club had given them a 27th minute lead.
Walker had an excellent debut, though, counting a penalty save amongst many that he made that evening.
Jason Scotland, Tommy Smith and Aaron Cresswell scored for the Championship side and although they did most of the early running it was Rovers who took the lead when Rovers defender Smith cut in from the right touchline and unleashed a looping left foot shot from 25 yards that beat Scott Loach in the Ipswich goal.
The goal knocked confidence in the Ipswich ranks for a while, but when they did hit back Walker made two smart saves from Chopra. They eventually made the breakthrough five minutes before the interval when Scotland bore down on goal and slid the ball wide of Walker’s outstretched arms.
Ipswich were awarded a penalty on 54 minutes when Luke Hyam went down under an Adam Virgo challenge in the area. Walker, though, palmed Chopra’s spot kick behind for a corner but from that set play Jimmy Smith powered a header past the Rovers’ keeper.
As Ipswich went in search of further goals Emmanuel Thomas fired over the bar and Chopra hit a couple of efforts wide of the mark and it was left to Cresswell to clinch victory for the Tractor Boys when he headed home, six minutes from time, after Walker had palmed away another Emmanuel-Thomas effort.
Michael Smith said afterwards; ‘I’m really looking forward to this season. When I first came, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I feel that I have made massive improvements in certain areas of my game.
‘I didn’t play much under Paul Buckle; he wasn’t having me, but the new gaffer has given me a new lease of life. He likes the way I play and that has given me a lot of confidence.’
As for his goal, he said; ‘It was definitely a shot and it was certainly the best goal I’ve ever scored. I really enjoyed the moment, but I don’t really know where it came from. Some of the boys have been giving me stick, because they reckon I meant it as a cross.’
As well as Walker, David Clarkson also made his senior Rovers debut in this game but Fabian Broghammer, who travelled with the squad, was unable to play because the club hadn’t received the necessary international clearance.
Walker was playing against Ipswich in the competition for the second year running, having been in the Northampton side that beat them the previous season.
Matt Gill, who started in Rovers midfield that evening, is now assistant manager at Portman Road. Former Rovers striker Nathan Ellington was on the Ipswich bench.
This is how the two sides lined up.
Bristol Rovers: Walker, Smith, Virgo, Paterson, Brown (L), Brown (W), Gill (Lund, 60), Norburn (Clucas, 63), Anyinsah (Clarke, 80), Clarkson, Harrold.
Substitutes: Harding, Gough, Staley
Ipswich Town: Loach, Cresswell, Chambers, Edwards, Emmanuel-Thomas, Chopra, Martin (Burke, 89), Scotland (Stevenson, 89), Luongo, Hyam, Smith. Substitutes: Lee-Barrett, Ellington, Ainsley, Wright, Lawrence