Game 37: Bristol Rovers V Hartlepool United 1st March 2016

Or: Friends Reunited.

It takes a big person to do the right thing and put injustices right. The actions go a long way to putting flags on the pole to announce what may well be a new dawn at the Rovers. The Social Media grapevine had full news of the return of fans lost, some thought for ever, during the darkest recent years of the previous regime. We will surely meet over the rest of the season and share a beer or two. I hope you will enjoy the games and days out without being chased for further comment and question.

I have always been very wary of sticking my head above the Bristol Rovers fan focus parapet. I know from the first hand treatment of friends that it has potentially nasty pitfalls for those who only want to do good for the club. A well-known profile among fans also endows the “average” fan with ammunition to throw at the well intention volunteer of free time and money. Too often good people are presumed to know more than most, to have powers of insight way beyond their access to information and are subjected to spurious accusations of favouritism from many angles. Social media runs on gossip and intrigue. Football Club communications and websites now fuel the comments that fill the days between matches and offer the topics of many a lunchtime beer drinking conversation. Where once we waited for a local sports paper to fill out detail we now have self-appointed insiders offering knowledge as fact every minute of the day. We also have serious trolls with agendas of jealous intent ready to use the same media to prove the accuracy of their own wild comments and accusations.

Pre-Match Pubs

Drapers Arms

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I felt a bit sneaky in taking the photo. The pub doesn’t encourage the use of mobile phones but what is the camera policy? We have become social media friends. They seem a bit shy themselves when wanting to advertise their attributes online. I am not so reserved in sharing their excellence. The chaps here are keen to chat about the beer and so, with no friends to join, it was good to get some insight into the new breweries on the board. For the record my short sampling took in the Combined Nibley Ale that was better for my taste than their own Ashley Down Landlords Ale. The beer range was, as usual, more traditional in style than most modern beer outlets. I settled to read Pints West, the local CAMRA mag, determined to return it to the rack so as to not lose a copy for other readers. As the pub filled I left to stroll early to the ground.

The Match

Bristol Rovers 4 Hartlepool United 1 Attendance 6,634 (87 Poolies)

I must mention the 87 Hartlepool fans who made the trip. I admire and sympathise with them because it is totally mad that we have such a fixture scheduled for a Tuesday Evening. At least the team offered entertainment in the style they play. Hope to see you again next season, unless of course we get promoted.

Rovers won well but not as easily as the scoreline suggests. On the way to the ground I listened to Radio Bristol and, on it, an interview with Darryl Clarke. In it he warned us of the expected intent of Hartlepool to attack rather than “park the bus”. He stated the wish for an early goal and not to be deceived by their position in the league table as they were in better form than the table suggests.
We scored the early goal, raced to 3-0 at half time yet didn’t play particularly well as Hartlepool did indeed throw players forward with mad abandon. 4-1 could have been 4-4. It could also have been 8-1. It was a very open game, one which privately I expect the boss was not too happy with. In public however it was a result to welcome back the open fast flowing in-form Rovers to the promotion race.

For a change I will offer my scores out of 10 for the team.

Steve Mildenhall 7
A good solid game, no emergencies, some solid gathering of shots and generally decisive and astute in choosing whether to roll the ball out or kick long. Best cheer came for a cheeky chip over the advancing forward. No doubt he will be being seriously chastised for that this morning.
James Clarke 5
A bit like Tom Locker of last year he is an awkward centre back playing at right side of our defence. He is learning the trade but is the obvious weak point in our defence. I hope he will eventually return to central defence. For the moment we have to fret whenever someone puts a decent wide man to run at him.
Lee Brown 6
Lee has been the model of consistency in the last few years. He had a pretty decent wide opponent getting plenty of ball and opportunity to run at him. He, shock of shocks, did get past him once. On most occasions he closed the cross down well or just smothered the run with his own pace. His best attribute is the overlapping and crossing he offers. He is dependent on a decent wide player in front of him. I think he should spend some time asking whether Lawrence, or later Bodin, might want to offer some help to him defensively. For now he seems to cope.
Tom Lockyer 8
I am going to have to bring extra handkerchiefs to games. I am aware that I am starting to drool when I watch this man. He appears to have found an extra yard of pace over short distances. He used to remind me of the Rovers version of Gary Mabbutt. Now he is the next Bobby Moore, He is starting to bring the ball forward in a passable imitation of that ultimate of central defender idols.
Mark McCrystal 5
He didn’t do too much wrong but he worries me every time the ball is thrown forward early. It is perhaps unfair of me because he has been out for such a long while. He is slower to react to change. I felt he should have stood up to let Paynter be offside for their goal. He compensates for a lack of pace, as we all would do, by standing off the forward. When he didn’t do so he lost a key header that eventually led to their goal
Billy Bodin 6
He offers a lot when things go well. He has a Mehew like knack of getting into good spaces in the box. He doesn’t score very highly because I want him to do more help out the full backs. I like his little flicks and close control.
Chris Lines 8
When Chris Lines is in upright, arrogant, stroller mode he can destroy teams like Hartlepool tonight. He will use open space well and at times we saw the hard running, space finding, passing genius. He also, unusually, cleared defensive lines with covering headers in gaps vacated by our occupied centre halves. He still missed plenty of challenges and infuriated the west terrace with a few Hollywood passes. He will probably be dropped at the weekend. Grrrr
Lee Mansell 6
He did what Mansell does. Filled in spaces, won a few tackles, kept the side moving in changing angles of attack. He covered midfield runners and got forward to pick up cleared headers. All in all a good solid game until he ran out of puff and was replaced.
Liam Lawrence 7
He is the latest subject of the internet bully boys. I have questioned his inclusion in recent games because of the change he offers to our pace of play. He played well today. He ran into key gaps around the box and helped to get Lee Brown in vast spaces on the left. He will still need to find some stamina to get back and support him in defence. I think it was also significant in the way he was directing traffic in the forward line at the end of the game.
Matty Taylor 9
A Hat-trick and only a few missed chances. He looked like a player that had been rested rather than dropped. He managed to find space to run forward at the defence in the first half.
Rory Gaffney 8
He had a very good game, running at ponderous defenders and finding team mates with short knock-ons and passes. I hope he isn’t injured long term.
Substitutes
Jermaine Easter 6
Looked sharper and was given plenty of space to run into. As usual his close control puzzled defenders when he went into the box.
Ellis Harrison 5
Struggled to get in the game. His contribution came down to offering a head to numerous throw-ins. Not the easiest way to sooth critical observers.
Ollie Clarke 6
No doubt he was asked to come on and close down the centre of midfield, stop their numerous runners and this is essentially what he did. He has this good knack of wedging his body between the ball and opponent. As you may know, I am a big Ollie fan and I think he should start before Mansell at the moment.

Entertainment Value 4

Man of the Match: Matty Taylor

Pub of the day: Drapers Arms

Beer of the day: Combined Nibley Ale

Next up: Notts County Away March 5th 2016

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