I wonder how the French say déjà vu?

mansewp

By Martin Bull

Note – this is an enlarged version just for those lads at gas-cast  

(um… yeah … basically i remembered those awful cup defeats so stuck them in as well)

 

The day before the start of this season I pondered what Gasheads could expect from a season back in League Two?

“I anticipate more of the same, with a tight-knit team improving as the season goes on, and staggered signings and loanees coming and going to fill gaps. My heart says we could well continue our upward momentum, as many teams have done in the past, but my head reminds me that in nine previous seasons in ‘the easiest League in the world to get out of’ we had August optimism every season but reached the play-offs just once, and only finished in the top half of the table two other years, and they were both a statistic scrapping 12th”.

My expectation was near enough what we have got, and happily the emotive ‘heart’ has won out over the worried ‘head’.

The similarities between our two seasons with Darrell Clarke at the helm are startling.

 

Whilst rage still simmered over sleep walking to relegation in May 2014, a poor start in non-league got many Gasheads very twitchy indeed. Most remember the first eight days, with only a solitary point gained from a trio of matches, and then press fast forward to the loss at Braintree Town (where some fans were also disgraced), but have forgotten that sandwiched in between were crucial wins in both home games (including mugging the then leaders FC Halifax Town) and a dominant draw at Forest Green Rovers. Those seven points probably kept DC in a job.

Our lowest ebb may well have been an uninspiring 16th (call me old-school but in my childhood tables weren’t even given for the first three games of the season), but after the humbling defeat at the Irons we lost only two more Conference matches in 42 encounters.

Rovers enjoyed an encouraging opening quartet of games this season, but then hit a sticky September with just a single point from five games, whilst reaching our nadir for the season (17th). However, we weren’t completely to know at the time that all of those five clubs will most probably finish in the top eight of the League, and that our later rise would be so fast and so high that with seven games still left, we can’t even mathematically finish any lower than that same number, 17th, and in reality a play-off berth already looks solid. Surely not even Ian Holloway could throw this position away?

 

By mid-December 2014 an eight match unbeaten run had squeezed us into second spot for the first time, but were still nine points and 24 goals behind runaway leaders Barnet. Although I had certainly not given up on the prospect of automatic promotion I did genuinely believe that we could win the FA Trophy as a fall-back for maybe not toppling Barnet. One school of thought suggested that the Trophy can be a real distraction, but the previous season Cambridge United won it, via eight unbeaten games. Later in the season they also had three play-off games, and with a decent FA Cup run to boot, they played 60 games in a season. They did it successfully though, proving that winning is a habit, and a very nice one at that.

I was one of just 3,101 Rovers fans to witness the shock 2-0 home defeat to ex-landlords Bath City in the First Round of the said winnable trophy. Whilst the world and his Internet dog seemed to melt down all around me I frankly didn’t care that much, and thought it was the jab of humility we needed to remind us that we were not going to crush all these non-leaguers in our glorious path; in fact we had been scrapping through games, had become the draw specialists of the league, and the quality of our squad and loanees was about as shallow as Dorian Gray.

So, we knuckled down, won the next three league games, including coming back from behind twice against Gateshead, and went unbeaten until March.

This season’s obligatory cup shock shouldn’t therefore have been such a surprise, nor treated as such an unwelcome event. Although losing to Chesham United was in a way even worse (75 places below us in the pyramid), it did see the home hoodoo almost laid to rest, as the next game saw us manage only our second home win of the season (in our eighth game), and since the Tuesday night failure against Stevenage, the Mem has been the strongest fortress in the entire Football League, with 10 wins and a single draw.
Our second sticky streak this season occurred around the time of the reverse League fixtures, with just seven points in the seven games played from just after New Year’s Day until the end of February.

We had a similar blip in non-league, but it occurred later, with only five points from the four March fixtures, which included a couple of insipid performances, the eventual dropping of Steve Mildenhall, and most importantly, relinquishing the top spot we temporarily held, but had never fully earned as Barnet always had a game in hand on us. We even slipped to third for a short time.

This season’s March saw us finally stride forward with a confident swagger in our step, scoring 19 goals and looking like a real TEAM. Five of the six wins were by two goals or more, whereas in the previous 32 League games we achieved that level of dominance only six times. After 39 games we have 68 points, just six less than the same point last season.

Likewise last season the 1-0 grinds and the late winners were replaced in the Spring by dominant wins against Aldershot Town (3-1), Chester City (5-1), Kidderminster Harriers (3-0 away), Southport (2-0) and finally the 7-0 mauling of poor Alfreton Town. That all stood us in good stead to complete a hugely comfortable 3-0 aggregate play-off win against our so-called bogey side Forest Green Rovers, one of only two teams to win at the Mem in the regular season.

 

Oh, how far the Rovers had travelled in those nine months. And how the march has continued in the same style this time, despite minor stumbles along the path.

This is a really important aspect of how DC works. He moulds a team throughout the season, adding and subtracting, drilling the understanding home, consistently riding mini-slumps, and comes on strong towards the finish. It is little surprise that he has a perfect record in play-offs, having been in charge for a trio of post-season campaigns and emerged the winner of all three.

 

We’ve seen all this before, although in this League three teams get to go up automatically.

Could we?

Really?

 

Martin Bull became a Gashead in 1989 and immediately fell in love with Twerton Park, standing near G pillar. Three of his seven books have been about Bristol Rovers. ‘Away The Gas’ is packed full of over 50 years of ‘I was there’ away game moments, all written by fans, ‘Print That Season! – One man’s weekly meanderings throughout Bristol Rovers’ promotion campaign of 2014-15’ is the antidote to obedient season reviews, with none of the hindsight that most writers rely on, and ‘Double Darrell’ is similar, but chronicles the 2015-16 promotion, and is even better.

Full details of all are available at www.awaythegas.org.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: