Off we went to the northern part of Bristol to take on the Pirates (Why are they called that? They just Arrrrr), and came out on top thanks to O’Brien’s goal late in the first half. For once, the defence had to work hard to deal with a lot of hopeful things in and around our box, and, while Burge was busier than he’s been for a while, our keeper was never really stretched. Possession was shared about equally, with the home side’s efforts meaning that there was a lot of the ball flying one way then the other, particularly in the first period. In the second half, we managed to get the ball down more and dictate more of the play, threatening to double our advantage on several occasions but having to settle for a one-goal victory that could be described as winning ugly. I’ll take winning ugly every week if it means we hit one of the two top spots, and while I’d rather win pretty, that’s very difficult in the face of opposition playing the way Rovers did.

All that time off, after having two games a week since the beginning of January, gives a person too long to think about life, the universe, and everything. About why the team is doing well. About confidence. Confidence at a football club, amongst both fans and players, is precarious and needs to be fed a constant diet of achievement. It the manager’s job to make that achievement a win, a clean sheet, a climb up the table, a trophy, a first Wembley win since Bishop Auckland was a choirboy, beating a manager for the first time – anything that can be classed as an achievement should be celebrated as such. Keep people happy, and they’ll keep making themselves and each other happy, building momentum as the season progresses towards what we hope will be a successful conclusion. The days off also brought news from KLD’s meeting with the fans’ groups on Wednesday that the season ticket renewals would soon be landing on our doormats – a welcome sign that, at long last, someone had replaced the lightbulb at the end of the tunnel, and was preparing to switch it on.

As the game will have been ended by the time you read this, I won’t be giving Mr Barton the attention he craves by mentioning his name. Football fans sing derogatory songs about opposing players for four reasons:

They’re very good, and we wish they were in our team. Such as Frank Worthington, who eventually was, and David Beckham, who wasn’t.

They’re a nasty piece of work, and/or a bit of a dickhead. Such as Denis Wise.

They’re an ex-employee of them up the road. Such as Alan Shearer.

They’re both 3 and 4. Such as Joey Barton.

The last game we were able to attend was the game at the Memorial Stadium on March 10th last year, when an utterly dismal 2-0 defeat effectively ended our hopes of a positive outcome for the season. This time there was no stop-off in the Cotswolds, no catch-up with the landlord of the Drapers Arms (chicken and chips = pickled egg in a bag of crisps), and no seats in the Tent End – just the telly again.


Power Sanderson O’Nien McFadzean

Scowen Winchester McGeady

Gooch Wyke O’Brien

...and Matthews, Maguire, Younger, Stewart, Leadbitter, Diamond, and Neil on the bench. We set up to defend the Tent end, where some of our fans would have been, and it quickly became apparent that the Rovers tactics were to mark Charlie tighter than Bob Murray’s wallet and kick lumps off everybody else, while employing the usual tactics of kicking the ball away and generally being arsy at every opportunity. After Sanderson misjudged a Rovers ball and let it hit his thigh to allow their man some space on the edge of the box, their shot went a foot wide, then Luke got in the way of a strange, over-hit pass across the edge of our box to allow another chance, but that was dealt with as well.

With the home side looking to get to every loose ball first and hit it forward early, we weren’t allowed to settle into any sort of pattern, let alone periods of decent passing. Some typically clever jinking into the box by Geads from the left provided the opportunity to cross, and when the ball was deflected up into the air, O’Brien got his head to it but put it well wide.

The ref was having one of those League One days that we should be getting used to by now, whereby he penalised Wyke for jumping for the ball but allowed their forward to whack O’9 with his elbow and go unpunished. Even mild-mannered me was screaming “book him” several times, and eventually Leahy found his way into the ref’s diary after one foul too many. A couple of corners to either side brought no reward, and Burge took an effort to the near post, his right-hand upright, comfortably and we eventually got hold of the game for a while, making good progress down either wing. Gooch was both blocked and tripped as he nipped inside and squeezed between three opponent, with the guy who upended him pathetically trying to plead his innocence. To be honest, I’d have booked him for bare-faced cheek.

With the final five minutes of the half approaching, Geads swung in a corner from the right, everybody missed it, and O’Brien arrived for the ball to sort of run down his body and fly inside the keeper’s right-hand post off his shin, with the aforementioned keeper completely wrong-footed. I’ll take that – well done for being in the right place at the right time. We girded our loins to see the half out, and managed that feat quite comfortably, being on the move down the left again when the single added minute was over. In the lead by that single goal after a first half characterised by bouts of competitive head-tennis, clouting the ball forwards at the earliest opportunity, and a series of shockingly bad free-kicks from both sides. Probably deserved, as we’d been the more composed of the two sides while the home lot ran around like mad things.

No changes for the second half, and we won an early corner on the right which the keeper flew out to punch away, and Scowen was booked for flattening their man as they tried to move across the halfway line from that clearance. O’Brien did well to rob a home player then hold of about six challenges as me churned his way down the right, and we won a free when it was taken of his toes and played to halfway. This was played forward, and booted behind for a corner on the right – again, the keeper was out to take it, this time a comfortable catch, and Sanderson was penalised for holding his man out on our left near the corner flag. Thankfully, he was there to head the cross clear and we mopped up before being caught with a ridiculously late offside decision. When Wyke came back to pick up the pieces near halfway on the right, he was fouled and yet again the ball was kicked away by a Pirate who went unpunished. Gooch did really well to resist the temptation for a hopeful shot after his cross was blocked (with me screaming “ handball”) and paid to back wide to Power, whose cross found Geads at the back post, but he could only side-foot his effort wide as we passed the hour mark. Should have done better, Aiden.

More good work by the other Aiden, juggling the ball over his man, won us a corner which we again made nothing of, but the ball was now spending the bulk of its time in the home half as we pressed forward. Geads sprinted down the left and rolled it to O’Brien, and his shot looked to have taken a touch off a home boot on its way over the bar, but the ref decided otherwise.

A corner on the right followed, after Rovers headed it behind with Wyke ready to head home, and the low cross led to two shots being blocked and before another corner was won, again on the right. As we waited to take it, off went O’B, and on came Ross Stewart in a straight swap, with fifteen minutes for our newish forward to make an impression. Leadbitter replaced Winchester at the same time – shoring up the defensive side of midfield at the same time as beefing up the forward line. A canny idea.

While we were way behind in the conceding of free-kicks, we managed to concede one in what on another day have been a dangerous position, Today, however, it was yet another of Sunday morning accuracy and we cleared without much bother. A timely tackle by McFadz, at the expense of a corner, ended a Rovers excursion forward, and when we cleared there was another foul in the centre circle and another talking-to for the home player prior to their first two substitutions, with fifteen to go. Wyke collected ball from the free, forcing the keeper to a low save with a shot on the turn from the edge of the box, which he held at the second attempt.

A foul on O’9 as he cleared a ball down our left gave their left back the chance to lie down for treatment and the rest of the players to have a slurp and listen to some words of wisdom from the respective managers/coaches. We’d hardly got going when another Pirate sat down, and was led from the field of play as the clock ticked past 80 minutes. A Stewart run to the corner of the box saw the ball fall to Geads, who was upended, so he and Grant concocted a plan, with Geads seeing his effort hit the near post and go behind. Close. Wyke nearly got his customary goal after we brought the ball in from the right and there was a bit of a scramble, but the keeper got down low to his left to save. Another period of pressure was ended when Rovers broke clear, and O’9’s tackle near halfway looked perfectly good to me, but earned him a yellow and we had some defending to do. A couple of crosses were cleared before a low shot was comfortably gathered by Burge as we entered the final five minutes. While we were basically on top, a second goal would have been very welcome, especially when we conceded a corner on our left and Burge had to save at the left hand post when we couldn’t get it clear. Thankfully he was in the right place at the back post to save comfortably when the shot eventually came in, and we got it down the other end for Wyke and Stewart to make Lee Johnson’s claim that they could be a real partnership when Charlie set up Ross, only for the left-foot shot from a narrow angle to fly across the face of goal and just wide.

Three added minutes were announced as Rovers were given another soft free fort yards out, and there was more heading about in our box as the home side desperately sought to get something from the game. Another Gas attack ended with a clash of heads and a free for a foul on the nut of O’9. He was up before his nutter as the home players moaned at the ref about something or other. After 94 minutes, the whistle went and we’d got the three points we set out to get and the home players moaned at the ref again.

Did we deserve to win that? Absolutely we did, with the only downside the fact that we didn’t get a second and that we picked up three yellows, with O’9’s being ridiculously soft and yet another example of the officials (or rather, the ref) in this league seeing one thing when another has actually happened. For once, possession had been about 50/50, although our possession had been of a higher quality - despite Rovers having more shots on target. Burge was the busier keeper, but none of his saves could really be classed as outstanding – obviously, one of them got past him, but he was never really stretched, despite out defence being under more pressure than has been usual of late. With Lincoln losing last night, and Hull drawing today, only Peterborough’s thumping win over Accrington went “against” us as we carried on carrying on. The top of the table remains in our sights, a win in our next home game will make next Friday a proper Good Friday and set us up nicely for the big one on Easter Monday against Peterborough.

Man of the Match? Sanderson and O’9 both had their moments of madness today, and both were booked as our defence looked a little less comfortable in the middle than of late – but they dealt with everything, even if not as easily as we’ve become used to. The central midfield also had to work hard, with the home side obviously instructed to get to every ball first (amongst other things), and Wyke took the burden of being the focal point of both our attack and the home defence. I think it’ll go to Geads, who, as well as being a constant threat, got back to defend when necessary and was always likely to produce something entertaining as he danced on the ball and around opponents.