It feels like ages since we played as we’ve been spoilt with having two matches a week for so long. Other results have gone very well for us this week and this has added to the growing mood of optimism that we’re going to go up automatically. Bristol Rovers are in the bottom four and have lost their last three matches so we should expect to get at least a draw. I have to say I’m not counting on anything and I have the feeling things aren’t going to go smoothly this afternoon but I still think we can win. Joey Barton has a good record against us in recent years but we’ve shown of late that we can overcome hoodoos. Interestingly he’s just said that we are superb. The injured players in our squad are getting ever closer to fitness with Hume being likely to feature very soon and that is an extra bonus. Like everyone I’m hoping Jones will be back as soon as possible and again it’d be great to see Wyke and Stewart starting together. As usual I’ll be watching the match with my Sunderland bubble and my match prediction is a rather ugly 2-1 win for us.
When I got to the bubble, I saw that Scowen and O’Neill were in for Leadbitter and Stewart, who were on the bench. Bristol had two players with the first name of Zain. I was surprised that my fellow-bubbler was only predicting a 2-0 win instead of his usual 3-0. My other bubbler was going for 2-0 too.
I selected a cool can of Guinness and awaited developments. We had much the better of the opening stages but it was Bristol who had the first decent effort with one of the Zains, Westbrooke, shooting just wide of our right post in the eighth minute. Rovers were being on the heavy-handed side, to use the words of the commentator, and I could see there being plenty of cards. Peterborough had taken an early 2-0 lead against Accrington and Hull were also ahead. Our first chance came in the thirteenth when Gooch did well to bustle into their area from the right and when the ball came out to Winchester, he hit it too high and it went over the bar. Just after that I thought Ayunga was about to put them ahead after an uncharacteristic mistake by Sanderson but mercifully he shot wide. It had been a scrappy opening quarter and we’d been far from our best. We won the first corner of the game in the twenty-second minute but O’Brien headed well wide. We were awarded a free-kick at the left angle of their box and took it quickly with Gooch forcing a good stop out of Jaakkola in goal and the rebound was too high for Wyke to capitalise on. By the half-hour mark we still hadn’t settled down and Rovers had pressed us high up the pitch. Winchester played us into trouble by going backwards instead of forwards and making a dangerous pass across the edge of our box but we survived. Leahy was the first into the book but no doubt not the last. We went ahead from our second corner in the thirty-ninth minute and when McGeady took it from the right, O’Brien met it with a weak shot that somehow strolled into the net unblocked. Who cares? It remained 0-1 at the break and just as well, as three of our immediate rivals were winning too.
We won an early corner but nothing came of it and next thing Scowen was the first of ours into the book. Sanderson soon joined him, conceding a free-kick to the right of our box that he himself headed clear. On the hour, as we were wondering which subs would be brought on, Power put a great cross in from our right that McGeady should’ve headed into the net but instead he opted to shoot and couldn’t get his feet sorted so the chance went begging. He soon atoned by putting a cross in from the right that O’Brien hit just over. I could feel another goal coming and we had them really rattled. We brought on Stewart and Leadbitter for O’Brien and Gooch and we continued to press and win corners. Elsewhere Peterborough were 5-0 up and Hull had been pegged back to 1-1. Wyke got his first decisive effort on target in the seventy-seventh and Jaakkola spilled it but they managed to clear. Of course the price for Charlie’s success is that he’s being very heavily marked these days. Time was going pleasingly fast and with eight minutes to go McGeady hit their left post with a free-kick and then Wyke had a good effort while he was on the deck. Scowen became our third man in the book and then we heard that Doncaster were getting beat. Peterborough were winning 7-0 so their goal-difference was the same as ours. As full-time approached we were all getting edgy as Bristol put us under pressure but Winchester made another great back-heel in their box to set up a chance and alleviate matters. There were three minutes of stoppage-time and there was more added due to an injury but the whistle finally went and it was another win.
It was ugly, as I’d expected, but another three points and another clean sheet while Hull and Blackpool only drew and Doncaster lost so a very positive afternoon all in all.