A few to go, you never know…

 

By Martin Bull

Note – It was written before Stevenage… I’m still a bit deflated after that performance / result but now it’s three to go, you still never know…

 

Four to go, you never know

Any Gashead user of twitter will know that this title comes from a phrase Lee Mansell started using last season, as the games ran down in our chase of Barnet and automatic promotion.

It was resurrected this season with 12 games to go, after Rovers had broke back into the top seven and spirits were high (Manse explained that he had, “crumbled to peer pressure“). The reappearance was probably a surprise as not many Rovers fans expected it would need to be dusted down and out on display again so early this season.

Given that this time of the campaign throws up fascinating games, mis-matches, relegation rucks, promotion pushes, injury crises, mental stresses, contract concerns, performance related bonuses and the occasional accusation of weakened teams or players already in their flip-flops, you really do never know what is going to happen.

The one thing I think most supporters can agree on is that the top three, nor the top seven, will be fully decided until the last day of the season, and that it always seemed likely that no club was going to win all of their final five or six games, so there is no need to give up the chase after a poor result.

The season has been so tight that goal difference regularly comes into play. Our GD is uncommonly admirable this season (currently +25), and maybe, just maybe, this could be a rare season where GD could help us rather than hinder us?

Goal difference has rarely been our friend. Although everyone remembers our relegation to non-league as if it was yesterday, very few seem to mention that it was ‘only’ due to goal difference, and not even a particularly awful GD at that (-11, compared to Wycombe‘s -8). Similarly I sometimes wonder how the heck we managed to snatch relegation from the jaws of victory in 2000/01 when we had been top of the table the season previous, and went down with 51 points and a GD of only -4. Notts County also had a -4 GD and they finished eighth. In fact only a brace of teams between eight place and 24th had a better GD than us.

Returning to this season, the down side of goal difference is that there seems to be little chance of catching Oxford United’s proclivity (+36) and Portsmouth are also five better than us. Last week I was uncomfortable that Pompey were dangerously just three points behind us, with a game in hand and the aforementioned superior GD. They are however a very flakey team and their late defeat on Saturday, coupled with Accrington Stanley only drawing, has handed us a situation where we are pretty much masters of our own destiny; if we keep on winning we are unlikely to be caught.

Although in August I had a lot of enthusiasm for the opportunities this season might throw up, I am still pinching myself at just how close we have got to an automatic slot and how we have bounced back at every setback.

Looking back to March our relatively straight forward wins against Hartlepool United, Cambridge United, AFC Wimbledon and Mansfield Town now look particularly impressive. Cambridge have since held Accrington Stanley and their University rivals Oxford United, the Dons have beaten both the Janners and the Chairboys away, Mansfield have held the Cobblers and Pompey, and Hartlepool have earned 23 points in the 11 games since we humbled them 4-1. The monkey hangers are on an amazing turnaround, and could be the kingmakers for the top three as their final four games are against Stanley (H), Oxford (A), Pompey (H), and Argyle (A).

We are riding freely with three factors which are crucial at this time of the season: a lack of injuries and suspensions; a regular ability to find the net (at least two goals in nine of the last 10 matches); and a mental and physical strength that never gives up, even when behind.

A few to go, you really don’t know…

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

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