MATCH REPORT: Some dreams do come true

For those who for whatever reason were unable to go yesterday let me paint the scene. It’s not even 1 o clock and usually you would arrive at the Mem and it would be very easy to get a drink and there might be a few milling around but yesterday with the sun shining down it was a warm spring day (and we haven’t had too many of those here) and outside of the Blackthorn end it was packed with people mostly clad in something blue and white sat, stood in groups or on their own drinking,eating, chatting and mainly smiling. It was a happy scene with the majority visibly able to hide the nerves that must have been there for this very special game. There was John Kayes selling the small badges of which he had a variety and obviously very busy giving advice on the trip to Sabadell and giving out match tickets ,coach tickets and flight tickets to those that were booked on the trip. There were face painters, painting up the youngsters and possibly the not so young- there was not a paint colour other than a shade of blue and white in sight. The bars behind the Blackthorn End; like the pubs passed on the way in; were packed, there was a queue to the doors for drinks and it was like time had gone forward two hours. I can’t remember in my 50 years of watching the gas such a marvellous feeling, this team is very special , this club is very special and we certainly have our Rovers back.

It is amazing that yesterdays game actually sold out weeks ago at a time when the only near certainty would be that we were in the Play Offs (Even that was not mathematically certain when the 10,000 plus tickets were completely gone!) so it could easily have turned out a nothing game other than a celebration of us reaching the Play Offs- a feat that alone would have been magnificent – who would have thought when we lost at home to Stevenage in November that we would drop only 1 point at home from then to going into the last game of the season. DC had told us way back that we would be in the top 7 at the end of the season but how many really thought it was a possibility at that time with only our away record anything to be proud of?

As kick off got nearer so the bars became more packed and when 3 o clock came around the ground was packed to the rafters and the atmosphere was the most electric I have been in, the sound was immense as the teams entered the arena and I think it was better than Wembley where the atmosphere has a kind of false feeling about it and the songs become lost with the extra thousands who are not even sure of the words! This was a ground full of gasheads barring the small minority of Dagenham fans, a ground full of supporters all dreaming of not only the right result at the Mem but also on one of the two games at Oxford and Accrington going for us. the discussion prior to the match had been what would be the best way of approaching the game and I feel the general concensus would have been on attacking from the start and getting an early goal both to calm the nerves but probably more importantly to send a message to Oxford and Accrington fans that would increase the pressure on their teams. It is;without doubt; the pressure which makes these games so special and so unpredictable. There are always twists and turns on the last game of the season and this was a day where we had to pray thnat there would be more twists and turns.

Well as is always true with Rovers we never do things the easy way and like many of our big occasion matches the ground came to a stunned silence when, after we had created a few chances early on Dagenham took the lead with pretty well their first shot at goal. It was like that final fateful day against Mansfield ,a feeling of deja vu as the goal was almost an imitation of the goal that day- it was at the same end,it was in the same corner of the goal and again Mildy was the keeper who had no chance whatsoever, I could picture the scenes at Accrington and Oxford as this goal got through to them, the very feeling we all hoped would be us hearing that either Wycombe or Stevenage had scored. To our credit we ,as supporters,didn’t allow it to get us down and got behind the lads, the atmosphere was fantastic and the cheer that greeted Billy Bodin’s brilliant equaliser was deafening.

Pretty well from that moment on it would be relentless pressure, I had heard that Plymouth had 35 shots at the Dagenham goal in their recent home defeat and that number was hard to believe but after yesterday I can well believe it as Dagenham provided stubborn opposition and an excellent goalkeeper who stopped everything thrown at him. Chances just kept coming and going, poor finishing, great goalkeeping and sheer bad luck tested our nerves to the fore. one thing that is certain was that yesterday we WERE the 12th man. We stayed 100% behind the boys as they threw the kitchen sink at Daggers in what became more and more desperate attacks on the opposition goal.

Then came the first bit of news that we didn’t want to hear – Oxford had taken the lead against Wycombe and with Wycombe’s recent form and lack of goalscoring I knew that was pretty well second place out of reach so we now had to rely on Stevenage but more importantly we had to win ourselves. Chances continued to be created but it seemed that the gods were against us . We had played our last cards as Easter, Gosling and Harrison were thrown on to try to break down the Dagenham resistance but it seemed to no avail as time and time again we cheered what we thought was a goal but it would end up the wrong side of the post or blocked by brilliant goalkeeping. I thought when Matty Taylor put his shot wide of the keeper and wide of the far post from point blank range not long from the 90 minute mark that our moment had gone. News came through that Accrington were still drawing 0-0 but that didn’t really seemed to matter especially as the crossbar took another shot. Surely it was over but the crowd kept baying for a goal with a succession of corners.
Then we were in injury time and as Chris Lines slid another ball forward to the impressive Easter,he picked out Matty Taylor who beat his player and the crowd sensed it, the noise was sucking the ball into the goal as Matty despatched his shot past the keeper the cheers went up but the ball thudded against the inside of the post but before the sheer agony of that moment had sunk in the ball was at Lee Browns feet and a second later the noise was unbelievable as Dagenham were finally breached. We had done our part but Accrington were still playing as the final whistle at the Mem was met with a huge roar, they were still 0-0 but the fans were on the pitch- it was almost a “The fans are on the pitch,they think its all over” “It is now” as news of the final whistle at Accrington produced another huge roar and the Dream had come true. The pleas before the game for supporters to stay off the pitch had no chance. The pitch was swarmed from all directions and the celebrations went on and on. it was an unbelievably emotional time to be a Gashead. There were cheers, tears, smiles all round it was just sublime moments – it couldn’t have been more emotional even Mansells penalty at Wembley was overshadowed by this moment , the time had come and we had done the seemingly impossible and got back to back promotions.
Looking at the players who did us proud yesterday there is a temptation to give absolutely everybody a 10 – even the members of the squad who didn’t enter the pitch until the celebrations! but I will try to be impartial and relate to the actual individual performances.

Mildenhall 7 Didn’t have a lot to do but what he did do he did well. The man has been immense since returning to the team and the important thing yesterday was that there were no mistakes and there wern’t, he stood no chance with the goal and handled every ball well and his distribution was good too

.Leadbitter 8 Great game both defending and attacking. Didn’t allow his opponent the time and space and brought the ball out with confidence. His pace is such an asset and he has just got better and better.

Brown 9 MOM Brilliant performance and no player could have deserved the winning goal more than him and then there was that moment when it looked like Dagenham had scored not far off the finish but there was Lee on the line showing great calmness to clear the ball- the importance of that moment and the way he calmly took the winning goal coupled with his all round defending and attacking made him my Man of the match.

McChrystal 8 Another great Captains performance from Mark. Strong in the tackle, masterly in the air and led by example. He didn’t put a foot wrong. with him you get exactly what is written on the tin- no frills and showboating just an honest ,solid performance.

Lockyer 7 Seemed to be affected by the occasion more than others which was surprising. First half especially he didn’t look his usual calm, efficient self but come the end he had put in a good performance. He has had a great season and is entitled to the odd lapse where his performance is an honest 7

Bodin 8 Was a constant threat to Dagenham with his close control and sublime skills. IMO he has just got better and better as the season has drawn on and his finish for his goal was just first class. I thought his goal last week was good but this was just simply special and showed everything that is good about him. Not sure how many goals he has scored this season but this was without doubt the most important and probably the best of many outstanding goals.

Mansell 8 Never stopped running and is amazing for his age. Not everything came off but he is the perfect foil for Chris Lines and just works his socks off never letting the opposition have time and they certainly know he is there. His enthusiasm and experience rubs off on those around him and it is no coincidence that Lines has reached a new level since Manse came back in after injury.

Lines 8.5 My Man of the Match was a very close thing with Browner just edging it for the 2 important moments in the match. Several times recently I have said it was Chris’s best match but I thought yesterday surpassed all the others and he looked a class act with his strength on the ball and some sublime passes. He kept carrying the ball forward and the only surprise for me is that he has not scored a goal this season. this performance was just pure class and he started the move for the winning goal as he ran with the ball and then released it to Easter. He also put in some good challenges and it is true that the defensive side of his game has improved considerably. I have the feeling he is going to be a very important player next season when he is probably at his true level

Montano 7 A mixed performance with good and bad moments Unlucky not to score in the first half and put over two excellent crosses both of which should have created goals. How Gaffney missed the header that was put on the plate for him was beyond belief. Was involved in some good moves with Lee Brown and has the capability to beat an opponent with a turn of pace and has a powerful shot. I still don’t feel we have seen the very best from him but hope that we do see more of him next season. He does seem to go off the boil in the second half of games and I think substituting him then with Gosling against tiring defenders is a great piece of Managing by DC.

Taylor 7.5 OK he missed some chances you would expect him to score but you have to be in the position to get those chances and his actual work in taking the ball past defenders to get the shot in were perfection and really he set up the winning goal with the shot that hit the inside of the post and rebounded to Brown. The chance he put wide looked to have been so costly and he should have scored with a header but it was just one of those games where it didn’t go for him or the team until the last gasp and he was heavily involved in that. A lesser player would have allowed the miss to get him down and give up. I very much hope that we can keep hold of him and he can have a crack at the next level.

Gaffney 7 Good touches and tried hard and looked strong on the ground and when running with the ball at his feet but not at his most effective and how on earth did he miss that header. That said he does bring something to the way we play and the style with which we look very effective.

Easter 7.5 For me one of the classiest footballers we have and he too was involved in the winning goal with a great pass to Matty. It seems a shame that he is just starting to look at his fittest as the season ends and I think yesterday bringing him on sparked the performance of the team at a vital time. Should probably have scored but it was another excellent save by the overworked keeper. Another who I would love to see more of next season in the level above.

Gosling 7 Another good substitution and for me he is best used from the bench when defenders are tiring and he has the capability to open up the defence. Another who should have scored but again the keeper foiled him.

Harrison 7 Another who played his part and was unlucky with a thunderous cross shot that the keeper did well to get down to. Has all the qualities to be a really good player and well worth persevering with. We could yet see him develop into a top striker.

Ref 9 An excellent referee in an excellent game of football to watch.

Crowd 10 What can I say another immense performance and turnout. 11,000 sold out about a month before the game. We kept our nerve and kept backing the lads even when it looked like it was not to be our day but in the end we got what we deserved and when you look back at it the lateness of the goal made it that much sweeter and the noise that greeted it was truly unbelievable. You had to be there to actually get the full emotions. The video on facebook of the supporters carrying the owner down Gloucester road was just unbelievable. What a club!!

DC 10 Well I don’t usually mark the Manager but today I will because this man has given us our Rovers back. Don’t always agree with his decisions but that is football but when it comes down to it he generally gets the decisions right. He has built this squad and has created a magnificent team spirit and I wouldn’t swop him for any other Manager. Hail the KIng and long may he stay.

D&G How did they go down but the League table never lies? Looked a reasonable side, far better than some we have played and made it a very nerve wracking occasion. Their keeper was excellent throughout and was the sole reason the game did not get decided until injury time. Maybe worth signing but not sure of his age.

I haven’t really mentioned the owner of our club but without doubt the takeover has pulled us all together and most of all given us hope that he can take this club forward. DC started it and now hopefully his ambitions can be met by the owners and as a perfect team we can go forwards both on and off the pitch.

Well folks that’s the end of the Match reports for this season and its been a pleasure to report on so many highs. So I write off with the perfect ending and the knowledge that some dreams do come true.

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