What a day!

What a fantastic place to be the Memorial Stadium was today. I arrived very early and the gates weren’t even open but the thing that immediately hit me was that everyone had a smile on their face and the sun was out and it was a beautiful Spring day. There was just something about the place today that I haven’t felt in many a year and especially when it is a sell out game. It’s almost like having to pinch yourself, as if you are in a dream and then you wake up and hey presto it is not a dream..it is reality!! We are no longer a shambles that appears to be just awaiting the wheels coming off, it is not like a new chapter but more like a completely new book. We now have a great Manager but importantly he now seems to have the backing of a professional team from the Owner to the Chairman we are no longer ragbag Rovers and it does feel good. There is almost an air of confidence throughout the club that the Manager is trying so hard to hold back and keep everybody focused on the next project with their feet truly on the ground. To DC’s credit it is his Management that has brought us to where we are and it was with great anticipation that I awaited sight of a team sheet today to see how we would set up and whether we would see the return of any of our injured players. I am not sure if Mansell was due to return as the first team sheet seemed to include him with Leadbitter being the other change and Ollie Clarke reverting to the bench but when the teams took to the pitch Leadbitter for Lockyer was the only change following last weeks impressive win and performance. It was good to see that DC was sticking to as much of last weeks team as possible and also the same formation. Suddenly DC is going more to an attacking formation and I think maybe I have been wrong and that he would loved to have played 4-4-2 more often but didn’t feel the wingers were on good enough form or maybe even good enough. 

With five wins on the trot Rovers are now on the sort of run that every opponent wants to be the one to bring it to an end and usually there is anxiety throughout the crowd especially if it is a large one. Today I didn’t feel this anxiety and the crowd were almost on Cloud 9 and the noise was deafening as the game kicked off and it actually sounded like a 10,000 plus crowd. A lot of the talk in the bar seemed to be the Harry Rednapp article in Thursdays paper and how suddenly Bristol Rovers are becoming a worldwide name- my own thoughts were how different it could have been without the take over and I wonder just how far we were from Administration. The weather is coming out of winter and into Spring and so is the football club we love. Many are saying “We have our Rovers back” but that is not true because what we have is something far better than we have had in the last 20 years probably more- a Rovers that looks Professional both on the pitch and off it. 

Would we extend this winning run? In the early exchanges Cambridge looked a good side and it was an end to end game where both sides looked dangerous on the attack so how did the game develop from the individual players point of view. 

Mildenhall 8 Another clean sheet,retained with possibly three great reflex saves (how did he keep that close range header out with his hand?) and that wicked deflection in the first half would surely have gone in with a lesser keeper. He showed great handling throughout and I thought his kicking was superb. If he keeps this form up surely his reward will be another year as number 1 and who would have even considered saying that earlier in the season. At the moment he is up there with the top keepers in this division and is not going to be easy to find one better. 

Leadbitter 7.5 What a great return to the team. I have doubted his overall defensive ability and been able to see why DC has gone for the tougher player in James Clarke but yesterday I thought defensively he was brilliant. We all know he has that bit of pace that we generally lack at the back but for me he showed a lot more and his overall performance reminded me so much of Michael Smith and I have a feeling that maybe he could become better than Smith. Certainly DC will have a headache next weekend when Lockyer returns if Danny can keep this level up on Monday. The cross for Bodin’s second was first class and overall I felt he got the defending/attacking to perfection. I am sure it is a headache that DC is delighted to have. 

J Clarke 7 Like McCrystal started the game looking very shakey and could easily have given a goal away when he fell over but after the first 20 minutes I felt he went on to produce a sound steady performance and shut out the Cambridge attacking threat. By the end of the game I had totally forgotten that we were playing without our best defender and really DC must be praised for the way he has built a squad that can pretty well cover every possibility except possibly a few more injuries in certain areas. 

McCrystal 7 I have changed this mark from my original 6.5 because I thought that after a very shakey start and a game where I felt he won less than his usual amount of headers he settled down well and did in fact lead the team very well and considering it was a changed defence and the loss of Lockyer worried me at the end of the day we kept a clean sheet and certainly deserved the win against a reasonable side who had dangerous attackers. Certainly no player really deserved less than 7 other than the substitutes with the only reason being their lack of time on the pitch! I think Marks distribution was the main reason for me thinking 6.5 but there again that is never going to change and is there anything wrong with a no nonsense approach that gets the ball out of our defence with no risk of error. 

Brown 7 Like the rest of the defence (Leadbitter aside) Lee seemed to give his opponent far too much room in the first half hour and was relying far too much on Montano. He also seemed to hold on to the ball too long and therefore didn’t bring others into the game quick enough but I think this was probably down to the two central defenders getting used to each others game and Lee was trying to cover them as well. By the half hour mark he was back to his norm and the new found understanding with Montano was working a treat and he started getting down the line and produced a couple of decent crosses as well as pretty well extinguishing the threat down his side. 

Bodin 8.5 MOM His first goal was aided by poor goalkeeping but the fact is that if you don’t buy a ticket you won’t win the lottery and you know with Billy that he always has something up his sleeve and has the skill that most don’t have and a good shot on him. His second goal was a real strikers header making a superb run and sending a powerful header just inside the near post high in the net. The goals aside they obviously boosted his confidence and he was unlucky not to get a hattrick and throughout showed his clever touches and moments of class. He has a football brain and although he can be a luxury he is a luxury worth having because he does have goals in his locker and can be a match winner as he was yesterday. 

Lines 7.5 it is no coincidence that our excellent run recently has coincided with a rejuvenated Chris Lines. For me this is a better Chris Lines in that he is now producing a good all round performance and working his socks off for the team and has improved his defensive qualities considerably. His running with the ball has few equals in this division and he is now producing these runs and probing passes regularly during the game. Surely he will soon get a goal that his general play deserves. He is certainly a great player to watch at this level when playing like he has in the last few games. 

O Clarke 7 Another sound performance from Ollie which is fantastic because we at the moment have two midfielders (Mansell and Sinclair) injured and Lawrence just returning from injury. My problem with Ollie has always been one of consistency and for me going missing for large parts of the game. Yesterday , like at Newport last week he fought for every ball and although early on he gave a few slack passes he knuckled down and him and Lines covered every blade of grass and IMO it was the workrate of the side that was the main difference between the sides because it provided the base to show our superior class in what was an exciting performance that created a lot of chances and certainly deserved a few more goals. 

Montano 8 Great all round performance.Has certainly been a revelation recently and for me at last we have a proper winger who has skill to beat players and a good shot on him. Yesterday he just didn’t stop running and would have been my Man of the Match but for Billy scoring two goals as Cambridge just couldn’t handle him at all. That said he could easily have had two goals himself with a run and powerful shot that brought a good save from the keeper and a volley that went a foot too high, both in the first half. Add to that some delightful skills and the ability to rarely give the ball away he certainly deserved the applause when he was substituted. He could be a vital player in the coming weeks and suddenly we look a good side who can create chances and have a number of players who can score goals. Christian is one of those and I will be surprised if he hasn’t added a few more goals before the season ends and earnt himself a new contract. For me his recent form makes him the most exciting player since Carayol. 

Taylor 7.5 What a goal-sheer quality finishing and 22 for the season is a brilliant achievement. Not everything came off for him yesterday but he kept running and could have had a couple more goals. Some of his movement is superb and with Bodin, Montano and Gaffney around and on form we are a team that suddenly has goals about them. I would certainly not bet against Matty getting 30 by the season end but even if he didn’t score another goal this season it has been an incredible first season in League 2. If we go up can he do similar in league 1-why not? 

Gaffney 7 Ran and ran and for a big man he has good feet and he certainly had a point to prove. Thought he was going to score a wonder goal in the first half but that pass to Taylor second half was sublime. I am sure Cambridge must have wished he had stayed with them but he obviously knew they were sh**!! He led the attack with flair and created space for others with a lot of unselfish running and there were times when he led the Cambridge defence a merry dance. He could do with a goal at the moment but I am sure it will come soon and if it doesn’t then his presence will ensure that others score. Great signing by DC and to get McBurnie as well is really giving us a balanced squad. 

Subs 
Lawrence 6.5 I was impressed by him in his last game before injury against Hartlepool and I was again impressed by this short appearance where he showed clever touches and a confidence on the ball. He has a certain touch of class about him and if he can show this then he could be a big asset in the run in. 

Easter 6.5 Showed lots of good control and the ability to shield the ball when he came on and certainly a very good option to have on the bench. Still have the feeling that he will contribute in the remaining games. 

Parkes Not long enough 

Ref 6 Not too bad. Bit lenient at times but far better than most of the refs we had in the first half of the season. 

Crowd 9 Great turnout and I reckon it could have been more if a bit of invention was shown as regards the seating in the South Stand. The best thing was the noise as it definitely sounded like a big crowd which is not always the case. Big test now is can we take 750 to Carlisle on Monday and can we get over 10,000 in all the remaining home games. This Manager and team deserve it. 

Cambridge 6 Not a bad footballing side with a certain nastiness about them and probably lucky to end up with 11 players on the field. By the end they were a well beaten side who we could have scored at least two or three more goals against with a bit of luck. That would however have been harsh on Cambridge who played their part in an excellent match in which I must say we were very good once the changed defence got used to each other. Cambridge play Oxford on Monday and it is really a case now that they need to win this game to have any real chance of the play offs so that could be good for us. 

DC What can I say other than take my hat off to DC’s ability to put out a side with 5 players missing from the squad and give a performance like that both from a Team performance to Individual performances. I was pretty worried when Bodin went down injured but thankfully he was able to continue and I hope upon hope that we can avoid many injuries in the run in because DC proved today that he has put together a squad of players that are capable of continuing this run because EVERY player knows his job and is on form at the right time. DC again has got the Team selection right and without doubt every player is playing for the Manager and the club. Long may it continue and if it does then I will be eating a lot of humble pie over my criticism of DC’s failure to add to the squad this week. I must admit I don’t envy his job because even though we have not added to the squad it is still very difficult to leave any player out after a performance like today and yet he will have to make these sort of decisions Saturday week. 

So its a magnificent 28 points from the last 10 home games and an even more magnificent 18 points from the last six games that sees us hold onto to the third automatic place. Who could have seen either of these statistics coming back in November when we struggled to buy a home win or in fact 7 games ago when we lost at Wycombe? Great credit for this must go to the Manager and his team who seem to be able to keep getting performances out of all of the players and what is most admirable for me is that players who would have good reason to feel harshly treated as regards selection come in and provide a top class performance. This team spirit is down entirely to the Manager and looking at it now I can see that my criticism of not making a signing on Thursday may be totally unjust as if we get over Mondays game intact we will have three players back and the Manager probably thinks selection then will be a headache and any further additions would have made those decisions even harder. At the end of the day it is easy for me as a supporter to be critical as I’m not the one making the decisions. I may be critical of DC at times but that is really down to the way I like to see football played and my preference for wingers with emphasis on attacking football rather than on the wingback set up. This is a results business and to be in third place at this time with the statistics I have stated above are down to exceptional Management of our club and long may it continue.

So we move on to Monday and with just 8 games to go it is worth looking at how we stand and what is coming up on Monday for teams in contention. I would firstly say that I will be very surprised if the battle for automatics is not between 5 clubs accepting that Northampton are up as Wycombe on 60 points is surely too far behind to catch up and as regards Play offs I would say that 3 further wins and our place in the Play Offs will be secure. After Mondays results things will be a lot clearer from our point of view and if we do manage to hold on to third spot then we will be in a great position because I would say that we have the toughest test against a very physical and direct Carlisle team whose last six games show 5 draws and I defeat. You would expect Accrington and Plymouth to win their games with Newport and York respectively so to hold on to third then really we need to win. The only thing I see stopping Oxford at Cambridge is the fact that defeat for Cambridge will probably end their hopes of making the Play Offs. Portsmouth are away at Wimbledon which is never easy but they will know that defeat could well see them 8 points behind an automatic place and with onloy 7 games remaining that would be a very difficult gap to catch up. Anyway that’s my round up so its a long journey for me and all fellow gasheads on Monday and here’s hoping that we can all come back with a smile on our faces. UTG.

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