By Keith Brookman
This month we go back just five years to see what was happening in BS7 in October 2015.
The first day of the month fell on a Thursday and, following a 3-0 win at Hartlepool two days earlier, Rovers were preparing for another long trip, to the Globe Arena, home of Morecambe.
The win in the north east had ended a five match winless run and manager Darrell Clarke was looking for another three points at Morecambe and said this before leaving for the Fylde coast; ‘We won a game at Hartlepool on Tuesday night playing in a certain way with certain players, but that game is gone now and we might need to do something different to win at Morecambe.
‘I’m not trying to be clever of over analysing things, but that is the way I manage. That’s the way I have always done it and it has been successful for me.’
One player not making the trip was Jamie Lucas, as he rejoined Boreham Wood on loan having scored twice in four games in an earlier loan spell there before picking up a hamstring injury.
Of the young striker Clarke said; ‘There is no doubt in my mind that he will get his chance here in the future but, for now, it is a good time for him to go back to Boreham Wood for a month because there are probably three strikers ahead of him in the pecking order.’
Another loan deal concluded before the trip up north was that of goalkeeper Kieran Preston, who joined Southern League Mangotsfield United for a month.
Skipper Mark McChrystal, who had made his first start of the season at Hartlepool said; ‘That was a good win for us, but we haven’t spent the last few days patting each other on the back.
‘We’ve moved on and we are already looking towards Saturday because our aim is to get another three points and try to get on a little run.’
The side did collect three more points, just edging out the home side in a seven goal thriller to make it a good week all round for the Gas.
Lee Mansell’s goal, his first of the season, gave Rovers the lead on 28 minutes when he got on the end of a Jake Gosling cross and rifled a shot past goalkeeper Barry Roche.
Rovers’ custodian Lee Nicholls gifted Morecambe an equaliser a minute before half time when he dashed off his line in a vain attempt to reach Shaun Miller who had broken free on the right. The Morecambe man calmly lifted the ball over the keeper and into an empty net.
Billy Bodin made it 2-1 to the Gas two minutes into the second half. Roche beat away a Jermaine Easter shot but Bodin snapped up the rebound and fired a shot past the shot stopper.
On 59 minutes Matty Taylor steered home a low cross from Lee Brown to give Rovers a two goal cushion but, almost immediately, Tom Barkhuizen ran on to a long ball over the top and comfortably beat Nicholls.
Ellis Harrison converted an 80th minute penalty, awarded after Shaun Beeley handled in the area and Morecambe scored their third goal from the penalty spot with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Ollie Clarke was ruled to have fouled Miller and Paul Mullin sent Nicholls the wrong way with his spot kick.
Afterwards manager Clarke said; ‘We deserved to win a thoroughly entertaining game, though I have to say it wasn’t great for the heart!
‘Two long away trips this week have yielded six points, which means I’m a happy man.’
Lee Mansell thought that the win proved the side’s top seven credentials, saying; ‘We are a good side. We weren’t getting too concerned when we lost a couple of games because it’s early in the season and there is still a long way to go.
‘Our main goal is to be in the top seven at the end of the season and we feel as though we are good enough to do that.’
Just a few days later defender Tom Lockyer was called into the Welsh U-21 squad for the first time and he and Ellis Harrison were preparing to travel to Denmark for a U-21 European Championship qualifier.
His club manager said; ‘He got the call on the bus when we were on our way home from Morecambe and the rest of the lads were delighted for him. I have been thinking for some time that there must be some really good defenders in that Wales U-21 side if Tom couldn’t get a look in.’
With Jake Gosling also going away on international duty, with Gibraltar, that took the number of absentees to three and so the Saturday home league game against Wycombe Wanderers was called off.
However, Wycombe did provide the opposition for Rovers’ next game, as they visited the Memorial Stadium on Tuesday 6th October for a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match.
Without their three internationals, Rovers still won the tie 2-0. A crowd of 3,243 saw Matty Taylor open the scoring after only four minutes when he curled a shot high into the net after taking a pass from Chris Lines.
Jermaine Easter added a second goal on 12 minutes when he met a pass from Billy Bodin and fired a shot past goalkeeper Matt Ingram.
Those two early goals sealed a passage through to the quarter finals of the competition and Easter said this after the game; ‘We have scored nine goals in our last three games and that has really lifted the confidence around the place.
‘It will stand us in good stead for the games we have coming up and we can go into them knowing that we have nothing to fear from any other team in this league.’
Danny Leadbitter, who made only his second start of the season against Wycombe after returning from injury, said; ‘I have only had three games in six weeks so it’s disappointing that there’s no game this weekend because I’d like to get going again sooner, rather than later.’
Striker Matty Taylor said he felt that Rovers were in some of their best form since he signed for the club; ‘We have been able to get the ball down and dominate long periods of the games and we’ve probably played some of the best football since I’ve been here.
‘We had to show a bit of character to go on and win after getting pegged back at Morecambe, so it has been good to show that we also have that side to our game. Our most recent aim was to beat one of the top sides and I think you can say we did that by seeing off Wycombe last Tuesday night.
‘I don’t think we fear anyone now and are going into every game confident in our ability to outscore teams.’
Manager Clarke wasn’t getting carried away, though, and said; ‘I haven’t got the biggest squad to work with, so what is important is that everyone here knows they will have a contribution to make at some point.
‘Some players are not at the levels they would like to be, or playing as well as I know they are capable of, but that happens, and form will return for them as it will dip for others as we go through the season.’
Meanwhile Tom Lockyer and Ellis Harrison featured for Wales U-21’s in their game against Denmark which ended in a goalless draw. The defender said; ‘It was a proud moment to pull the Wales shirt on before the game and when we were singing the national anthem, I had goosebumps.’
Back home, it was a big week for another central defender, Alfie Kilgour, who put pen to paper on his first pro contract with his manager saying; ‘Alfie deserves it for all the hard work he has put in on the training ground and in the games he has played at all levels. He has impressed me and the rest of my staff since he has been training with us and is someone we think has a bright future in the game.’
Next game up, on 17th October, was a trip to face Mansfield, Clarke’s home town and his former club and the club that unceremoniously dumped Rovers out of the Football league on the final day of the 2013/14 season.
His side went some way towards avenging that defeat with a 2-1 win which made it four consecutive league wins.
It was a bad tempered game, though, because in addition to the three goals there were also three red cards.
Jermaine Easter gave Rovers a 15th minute lead when Dan Leadbitter chested the ball down to him and he blasted the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out.
On the stroke of half time, though, the goalscorer was red carded. He appeared to be brought down in the area by Krystian Pearce though referee Mark Haywood felt that he had dived and was about to show him a yellow card.
Then Jamie Maguire intervened and grabbed Easter’s shirt, prompting a reaction from the striker that Mr Heywood viewed as a statement of intent of a head butt and sent him off even though he made no contact with the Mansfield player.
Just after the hour Mark Pearce received his marching orders after fouling Tom Lockyer as they jostled for position whilst waiting for a corner to be taken.
The home side were then reduced to nine men as Nicky Hunt picked up a second yellow card on 77 minutes. Amazingly, though, Mansfield drew level on 81 minutes when Ryan Tafazolli beat goalkeeper Lee Nicholls from 20 yards.
That wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as eight minutes into stoppage time Matty Taylor headed home from a James Clarke cross to give Rovers all three points.
‘We were sloppy at times, but I have to give my players credit. I don’t want to appear too harsh, but it was the scruffy three points that I’m really pleased with!’ said Darrell Clarke, before adding; ‘It’s not always possible to come away from home and play free flowing football and today we simply kept going. When Mansfield did equalise there was a response from my players, which was key.’
Rovers appealed the red card shown to Easter, hoping that he would be available to face Notts County at the Memorial Stadium on the Tuesday following the game at Field Mill. The referee’s report had said that the striker head butted the Mansfield player, though manager Clarke disputed that after viewing video evidence.
Thankfully, the appeal was successful, and Easter took his place on the Rovers bench for the visit of Notts County and was sent on at the start of the second half.
It was a frustrating night all round, though, as the visitors defended stubbornly and took a point from a goalless draw.
Darrell said this afterwards; ‘County did what I think they wanted to achieve. They defended well and played the diamond well. They sat in and worked hard, and I think their manager will be quite chuffed with the response he got from his players.
‘For me that shows they gave our team a hell of a lot of respect and it shows how far we’ve come as a team in the last year or so.’
With his side sitting in 12th place in the league standings, the manager wasn’t ruling out making additions to his squad; ‘We are always looking to strengthen, but we have to strengthen in the right areas and that’s the key.
‘Although we might dip into the loan market, I don’t think that’s the answer. It’s more about experience and a bit of know how that we are after.’
The league’s bottom side, Newport County, were next up for Clarke’s side and one player was expecting a few jeers from County fans when the side took to the Memorial Stadium pitch for this one. Billy Bodin didn’t play for County, but his father Paul enjoyed two spells with the Welsh side.
Bodin junior said; ‘I got a few boos when I played at Newport, for Torquay, a few years ago. I don’t mind it, though, as it’s part of football.’
It was a day to forget, though, as Newport ran out 4-1 winners in front of a crowd of 7,442.
A Tom Parkes own goal after 13 minutes gave the visitors the lead, but Billy Bodin fired in an equaliser just two minutes later.
With 52 minutes on the clock goalkeeper Lee Nicholls inexplicably dropped the ball at the feet of Zak Ansah who was left with a simple tap in to give his side the lead.
Five minutes later the same player took the ball past Parkes and beat Nicholls with a shot into the roof of the net and with 15 minutes remaining Tommy O’Sullivan beat the keeper with a right foot drive from the edge of the area.
‘There are some ears burning in the dressing room because that was not good enough. I apologise to our fans on behalf of myself and the players.’ Those were the words of an angry Rovers manager after the match.
Lee Mansell said; ‘Embarrassed is just one of the words that come to mind. I captained the team and I know we let down the manager and the fans. Things were very raw in the dressing room after the game. The gaffer was clearly not pleased, and neither were the players.
‘He reminded us that we have not won a league game at home since August and it is probably becoming a mental thing. Today we capitulated in the second half and conceded three bad goals.’
There was a quick chance to make amends for the defeat as Rovers were scheduled to head off to Cambridge United on the following Friday night and were determined to put the Newport defeat behind them.
Before that game the draw for the First Round of the FA Cup had given Rovers a home game against Southern League side Chesham United, whose striker was none other than former Rovers player Barry Hayles.
Ahead of the trip to Cambridge, midfielder Jake Gosling had this to say; ‘The goals we gave away against Newport were sloppy and the performance as a whole was not good enough on our part. The changing room wasn’t a nice place to be afterwards and there were a few harsh words exchanged.
‘Our away form has been good this season, so we can travel to Cambridge with nothing to fear.’
Meanwhile Rovers were being linked with 24 year old Dundalk striker Richie Towell and were planning to send Steve Yates over to run the rule over him.
At Cambridge Rovers came from behind to win 2-1 and in doing so equalled a 25 year old club record of winning four consecutive league away wins in the league.
Barry Corr opened the scoring after 33 minutes when he planted a firm header, from Harrison Dunk’s cross, beyond the reach of goalkeeper Lee Nicholls.
Home goalkeeper Chris Dunne parried a Matty Taylor shot into the path of Ellis Harrison on 66 minutes and the Rovers’ striker blasted the ball high into the roof of the net.
Taylor won the game for Rovers seven minutes from time when he intercepted Greg Taylor’s underhit back pass and ran on before rounding Dunne and rolling the ball into an empty net.
Final words of the month go to manager Darrell Clarke, whose post match press conference was far more upbeat than his previous one!
‘I can’t tell you how proud I am of my players. They responded in exactly the right manner after last week’s home defeat. I think victory was testament to the work rate, effort and mental strength of my players who came in a goal down at half time.
‘They turned the game around and thoroughly deserved to win. The goal we conceded came from the one cross into our box we didn’t deal with, but that one aside, the players were magnificent.’