IN OPPOSITION: BRISTOL ROVERS
It has been a remarkable couple of years for Bristol Rovers; a side who have just achieved back to back promotions under the management of 38 year old Darrell Clarke. They now look forward to a return to the third tier of English football after a five year absence.
Rovers suffered relegation from League Two in May 2014 with a home loss against Mansfield Town sending them down on goal-difference with Wycombe Wanderers surviving by the skin of their teeth. Clarke had only been in charge a couple of months following the dismissal of John Ward and he couldn’t keep them up, although he was left in charge for their first ever stint outside the Football League the following season.
The Pirates racked up 91 points during the 2014-15 season and missed out on the title and automatic promotion by a single point behind League Two bound Barnet. Two goals from Matty Taylor helped them to a 3-0 aggregate win against his former club, Forest Green Rovers in the play-off semi-final, before they defeated Grimsby Town on penalties in the play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
The rise continued with promotion from League Two a year later, something they achieved on the final day of the season. Rovers needed a win at home to relegated Dagenham & Redbridge whilst at the same time needing Accrington Stanley to drop points at home to Stevenage. Clarke’s men fell behind to Matty Cash’s opener before quickly responding through Billy Bodin. Lee Brown scored an injury time winner to send them up on goal difference with Northampton Town and Oxford United after Accrington Stanley could only manage a goalless draw.
At The Helm: Darrell Clarke
Darrell Clarke remains manager of Bristol Rovers having signed a new contract amid a reported approach from Leeds United. The 38 year old took charge in March 2014 following the dismissal of previous manager, John Ward. He couldn’t save the club from relegation into the Conference but his record since then has been exceptional. With 57 wins from 110 matches, the young manager has guided the club to back-to-back promotions and a return to the third tier.
Clarke began his playing career with hometown club Mansfield Town in 1995 and went on to feature 174 times for The Stags before joining Hartlepool United in July 2001 for a nominal fee. The former midfielder made 136 appearances for The Pools and following loan stints with Stockport County, Port Vale and Rochdale, he signed for Salisbury City in July 2007. He played 84 times for the club and went on to become manager, using that as a platform to go into full time management with Bristol Rovers.
One obvious danger man for Bristol Rovers next season will be Matty Taylor (pictured), a man who earned the Player of the Year award and played a vital role in the club’s promotion to League One with 28 goals in 50 appearances during the 2015-16 season. Taylor also managed 20 goals in 49 appearances during the 2014-15 season, taking his overall tally for Rovers to 48 goals in 99 appearances. He finished as the top scorer in League Two last season and he will be looking for another season filled with goals during the upcoming campaign.
Billy Bodin was also amongst the goals last season and may be one to watch this coming season; he scored 13 times in 41 appearances. Ellis Harrison is a regular for the Welsh under 21s side and he has played a key role in both of Rovers’ recent promotions; he scored 8 goals in 32 appearances last time out. Lee Brown scored the goal to take the club into League One, and a player capable of playing in either defence or midfield, he played every single league game last season and also managed to find the net on 6 occasions.
Head to Head:
In 22 meetings between Bradford City and Bristol Rovers, it is the latter that have a far superior record. All encounters have been league fixtures and Rovers have won 13 of those games. City have won just 4 times with 5 draws recorded.
The first meeting between the two teams resulted in a 1-1 draw back in November 1969 and City only got their first victory against Rovers in February 1983, the eighth fixture since the first 14 years earlier. The most recent encounter was in April 2013, and with Phil Parkinson’s side chasing a place in the play-offs, City recorded a resounding 4-1 victory. A double from Nahki Wells and one from Andrew Davies left the home side in firm control at half time; Tom Hitchcock pulled one back early in the second half, but Garry Thompson put the icing on the cake with a confident finish before the hour.
In the reverse fixture earlier in the season at The Memorial Ground, a superb six goal thriller was conjured up. Former Bantams defender Guy Branston scored a header in the first minute before Nahki Wells equalised just before the half hour mark. City weren’t level for long though as Tom Eaves fired one in from distance to give the hosts the lead again. Carl McHugh’s header brought the sides back level after the break before Michael Smith gave his side the lead for the third time in the game. James Hanson’s header made the scores level again at 3-3 and that’s how it stayed on a miserable November afternoon in Bristol.
Their own patch:
The Memorial Stadium
Although the stadium opened in 1921, Bristol Rovers only took residency in 1996 and two years later they bought the ground from the then owners Bristol Rugby Club. The stadium has a very peculiar lay-out with none of the four sides of the ground resembling each other in the slightest.
The East Stand is a full covered stand but doesn’t stretch along the full width of the pitch, although there is terracing below the stand which stretches along the full length of the pitch. The West Stand has the appearance of a stand you might see at a Cricket ground or at a Racecourse. The Stand is made up of both seating and terracing and is home to the club’s executive boxes. The South Stand and South West Stand have a temporary feel to them and the Blackthorn Terrace is usually packed to the rafters with Rovers fans behind the goal at the other end of the pitch.
It is a really unique football stadium with a lot of character and you’d simply have to either look at photos or be present at the ground to get your head around the lay-out.
Postcode: BS7 0BF
Fancy a flutter?
Bristol Rovers are backed at 13/2 to earn a third successive promotion and to win the title, the odds with Sky Bet are 20/1.