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Monday, 2 September 2013

The Inside Line: The G*s (04/09/2013) #OTIB

It's been 2,379 days since some Fat Scouser who has done nothing in his career since scored a penalty to guide the G*s to a fluky win. Now it's time for revenge.

There was a feeling of inevitability as we faced our first Johnstone Paint's Trophy draw since that semi-final. Six-and-a-half years has done nothing but heightened the feeling of expectation, the tension and the anticipation ahead of Wednesday night's clash live on Sky TV, something borne out by the brisk ticket sales - the crowd will almost certainly be a record for a non area-final/Final of this competition.

City will undoubtedly be favourites, being the bigger and better club 'n' all, but what can we expect? We were favourites in 2007 after all, and look where that left us.

Stu Radnedge has interviewed top G*s blogger Nathan Bees and asked him for his views ahead of the unusually anticipated first-round tie

Derbies are what every football fan lives for. The media loves it as well. Where the Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, London and Welsh clubs, to name a few, experience it on a more familiar basis - the fans of the beautiful game in Bristol have had to wait quite some time for this fixture to occur. Does it make the occasion that little more exciting and important to win?
I think it does. Neither team have had much to cheer about in the last few seasons and this fixture represents the perfect opportunity to build some momentum and attempt to turn 2013-2014 into a successful campaign. In the six-and-a-half years since our last competitive meeting an awful lot has changed, some good but a lot of it bitterly disappointing. The night itself at the Memorial Stadium in late February 2007 when Rovers ran out 1-0 winners seems just yesterday though and that’s testament to the type of occasion that is created by the supporters of both clubs during a Bristol derby. 

Simply because it’s not a regular fixture at the moment doesn’t mean that there is any less passion or drama than in the derbies you list above. In fact, I think absence has given supporters a different perspective and will serve to magnify the intense rivalry even further. I’m confident that it won’t be too long before the Bristol derby becomes a regular occurrence again but you can never be sure so I think there is added significance in winning this one.

Last time the clubs met in 2007, City gained promotion to the Championship but Rovers won the match thanks to Ricky Lambert. In your opinion, what has happened at the Memorial Stadium which led to the Gas dropping to league two?

It may not be a popular opinion among Rovers supporters but I think our problem, after a relatively impressive first couple of seasons in League One, was that we stuck with Head Coach Paul Trollope for too long. After his mentor Lennie Lawrence departed he was found wanting as he just didn’t command the respect of his players. He was well liked but I think that was the problem - he was seen as one of the boys as opposed to being the boss. As a result our performances were becoming tame and lifeless, the players seemed too relaxed instead of looking motivated and Trollope’s summer recruitment drive was woefully inadequate. Much like City supporters may bemoan in regards to their team in recent years, good money was wasted in wages to players who simply didn’t warrant it. Trollope spent a lot of our budget on signing just one or two players as opposed to strengthening across all areas of the pitch and unfortunately his new recruits proved to be leaches on our finances. We got little return from them in terms of appearances and goals and after a dismal start to the 2010-2011 season he was given his marching orders in December. In my view it should have been 12 months earlier while we still had some forward momentum but I suppose that’s easy to say with hindsight.

From that point on a succession of bad managerial appointments have led us to where we are today. Fortunately after a long and difficult spell we are now looking upwards as we have the right people at the club, of that I’m sure.

John Ward, a former manager of both sides, is back in the hot seat at Rovers. What impact has he had on the club this time around?

He galvanised a group of players that had lost all belief in their ability, both as individuals and as a team, and got them playing some impressive football that led us to the brink of the play-offs late last season. I thought we were destined for non-league before he took over but he completely transformed the football club both on and off the pitch. 

For the first time in years we were a united Bristol Rovers and Gasheads felt that the players who donned the quarters did so with pride and commitment, unlike under previous managers. John knew exactly what he had to do to turn things around and he used his man-management skills to great effect, not only with the players already here but with the ones he managed to attract to us. He is the perfect man for the job.

And what impact can he have on Wednesday night?

If he gets it right tactically then he can have a winning impact, without question. He’ll have scouted City (ER: He was at the match against Palace last week) and have an idea of how he wants us to play so we just have to hope the players can carry it out on the pitch. He’s cool, calm and collected - probably the ideal man to lead a team into such a fierce derby.

When Ward took control last season, it could be argued that he saved the club from possible relegation. What are your hopes for this year?

When Ward is afforded a fully fit squad I’m confident that we can compete at the top of the division. We proved with out form in the new year that we can beat any side at this level and given the fact we’ve kept the nucleus of the squad together there’s a general feeling of positivity in regards to what we can achieve on the pitch. Unfortunately we’ve suffered from a staggering number of long-term injuries in the past 12 months and it may take a little while before all our key senior players return but we’re buoyed by the fact the majority are beginning to return now. My personal hope is for the top 7 but I think it’s too early to say whether or not we can manage it given how young our squad is.

Rovers have bragging rights after securing a deal with the UWE for a new ground. How important is this for the club's future?

It’s massively important. There’s still a lingering feeling of ‘I’ll believe it when I’m sat in it’ given our previous false dawns but it certainly gives us plenty of optimism for the future. The momentum that could be built by moving to the UWE would give us a tremendous platform to climb the Football League and compete in higher divisions than League Two. The revenue it will provide us, and the fact we’ll be debt free, means that we will have the  financial muscle to spend should we want to. That’s exactly what any football fan wants at their club. I’m very excited by the move to the UWE Stadium but it will only start to feel like it’s really happening when we start building work.

Looking at Wednesday's match - who should City fans be wary of?

I think the pressure could be telling. Despite an awful start in the league, City will be expecting to beat us and the pressure will be on them to do so. If we can play on that and put as much pressure on their goal as they will look to put on ours then we give ourselves a tremendous chance. We have got talented but sometimes unpredictable teenagers around the team who will provide energy and directness while we have senior players who are able to provide an aerial threat as well as instigate good passing football. The options we have mean that we can mix things up as and when to try and tip the game in our favour. We’re not stupid, we know it will be a difficult game with the players City have but there will be absolutely no pressure on us at all and that could suit us.

Who do you believe poses the biggest threat in the City squad?

City have some very good players and we’re under no illusions as to how difficult they will make it for us. Sam Baldock is an impressive goalscorer and he is by far the most obvious threat but on their day both Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Scott Wagstaff could cause us a few problems too. On derby day though any player can make themselves a hero so it would be foolish of me to play down the threat of any player. Fingers crossed that it’s a new Rovers hero being discussed in the press on Thursday and not a City player!

And a score prediction, please?

I hate giving score predictions at the best of times but it’s even tougher when it comes to a derby. I’ve got to go for a Rovers win but I base that purely on the fact I’m a proud Gashead. I’ll plump for 2-1 as I can see it being a tight game. Most of your readers will strongly oppose my prediction but you’ve got to back your own team in a derby. If you don’t then you want shooting. 

I bloody hope I’m right!

My thanks to Stu and to Nathan for this preview, it certainly helps the countdown take shape and we're not far away now. Let's hope come Thursday morning there is only One Team in Bristol that anyone is talking about. 


The Exiled Robin

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