It seems like forever since we completed a League match so I’ll be glad to get back to business this afternoon. To be honest I wasn’t bothered about our Cup exit and I’ve found myself getting beguiled by the Checkatrade Trophy anyway so that’ll do me. Portsmouth’s home defeat on Tuesday was a more significant result for me and today they’ve got a difficult away game at Barnsley while Luton are at Coventry so we have a great chance to advance on them both. Bristol Rovers have lost twelve games so far, including their last four, and are in the bottom four so we have to fancy our chances of getting a win. The fact that their manager Darrell Clarke has just got the shove may of course produce a positive reaction in their squad but if we start well, I think we’ll be too much for them. With Watmore and Catts back in contention our options have improved and if things get rocky, as has happened often enough this season, Catts is the man to steady the ship. I don’t know of any injury problems so we should be starting with a strong side. Match prediction: 3-1 to us.
When I got the team-news, Loovens was starting instead of Flanagan and Catts was starting too while Watmore and Maguire were on the bench. I tuned into SAFSEE and immediately heard that James had been injured in the warm-up and had been replaced by Oviedo meaning that McGeouch was now also on the bench. Oviedo made his presence felt almost immediately by firing a shot on target and we soon won the first corner of the game so it was a positive start. We conceded a free-kick for a foul on the edge of our box and from it Craig somehow headed just wide after we left him loads of space and we escaped. Commentator Gary Bennett was doing his nut about our poor positioning before the kick was taken. In the tenth minute we fell one behind when Rodman hit in a rebound after Loovens had completely miskicked the ball. We promptly battled back with Power hitting an effort wide and Maja heading over, though he was in fact offside. We were displaying the spirit which we’ve lacked in recent seasons but Bristol were clearly well up for it too and with Jakubiak sounding dangerous upfront and Loovens sounding rusty it didn’t make for easy listening. Anyway, Catts smashed a shot against the bar in the twenty-fifth minute and that lifted my spirits. Our next real chance was when Maja had a low shot from a narrow angle that rolled just wide of the post and with around fifteen minutes to the break we badly needed a goal back to warm our cockles. Upson received the first yellow of the day for a foul and that livened our fans up at any rate. Gooch had a shot from just outside the box after good play by Oviedo but he hit it over the bar. We were certainly creating chances but needed to get one on target again. Luton went a goal up and that didn’t exactly add Yuletide cheer to the afternoon. Bristol won their first corner with a few minutes to the break but the ball went out for a goal-kick. It was looking like we were going to be frustrated but right on stoppage-time Matthews headed us level after Bonham in goal fumbled the ball out. That was like a shot in the arm for us and we battered Rovers for the remaining couple of minutes. What a great time to get the equalizer.
Just as we kicked off again a good mate from Sunderland called me about important matters so I couldn’t listen to the commentary but I did hear the roar when Maja put us ahead from a corner and my mate heard it over the phone too. Next thing McLaughlin went down injured and it looked like he’d have to go off. The prospect of Ruiter replacing him didn’t bear thinking about but mercifully he recovered. Rovers made a couple of substitutions not long after the hour-mark and I was wondering when we’d bring Maguire or another sub on as we seemed to be lacking something in midfield. Luton had got an equalizer against Barnsley and that was all to the good. We entered the last twenty minutes and both McGeouch and Watmore had started warming up and I’d temporarily forgotten about the latter and hoped to see him come on and terrorize Rovers for fifteen minutes. We brought on Maguire for Maja with just under a quarter of an hour to go and he had a bit of a face on him apparently as he went off. Gary Bennett said that we’d have to keep Maja happy if we wanted him to sign a new contract and he hadn’t looked at all pleased at being subbed. At the same time Ruiter replaced McLaughlin so I hoped we’d give him maximum protection to minimize his involvement. Watmore came on for Gooch with around seven minutes left and he was warmly received. I had to get up and pace around in the closing minutes but when both Power and Maguire hit the woodwork in quick succession I was briefly calmed. Tension rose again when five minutes of stoppage-time were announced. In the final minute or so I thought Bristol had equalized when Matthews did something that was unclear but horrible and the ball hit our woodwork and it went out for a corner. Anyway, we survived and shortly afterwards the whistle went and we’d won.
Yet again we’ve shown great character to fight back after conceding early on. This was a nervy performance at times but again we’ve won without playing particularly well. Let’s hope McLaughlin recovers soon. We’ve gained two points on Portsmouth, who drew today, and that sets things up very nicely for next Saturday. See you at Fratton Park.