BRISTOL Rovers fan like to say goodnight to Irene, but here CHARLIE HEMPSTEAD tells us of his dreams as pertains to our 2-1 loss on Saturday....THE cross of St George is a familiar sight at sports grounds around the world, personalised with a message to demonstrate the owner’s identity and regional allegiance. That is how we know that Trev and Barry from Rotherham were at the fourth Ashes test in Melbourne on Boxing Day, or that there were fans of Skelmersdale United at the Superbowl (and prepared to admit it).
At the Memorial Stadium in Bristol, perhaps because of the ground’s lofty location overlooking the city, the message emblazoned across the flag was rather more whimsical: ‘Make Us Dream’.
It is hard to speculate on what Rovers’ fans dreams might consist of this year. Despite showing almost promotion form in the second half of last season, they started 2013-14 sluggishly and have never really accelerated. Briefly in the top half of the table at the start of September, they have languished in the division’s bottom five teams for most of the year, rising to the giddy heights of 17th on the back of their current mini-revival, which had seen them unbeaten in five matches ahead of Argyle’s visit.
Probably the extent of most home fans’ dreams is that the club will manage to hold on to top scorer John-Joe O’Toole, whose 12 league goals from a central midfield position put him level with Reuben Reid in the scoring charts.
The dream of the Green Army was much clearer – to follow up the 4-0 and 5-0 wins in the last two matches with a 6-0. Admittedly, despite the bullishness being displayed during the past week, that dream definitely falls into the “wildest” category. The bookies – who are seldom far wrong – had that particular outcome at 300-1, for anyone brave enough to take a punt on it, while making Rovers slight favourites to win the match.
A more realistic ambition for Argyle was to move up one place in the table and stay there for the next 12 matches. With the best current away form in Sky Bet League 2 – three successive away victories for the first time in six years and the prospect of four for the first time in nigh on two decades – the 1,400-strong travelling contingent had every reason for optimism.
However, the start was more of a nightmare, with Rovers taking an early lead through Dave Clarkson, or was it Chris Beardsley? The announcer gave it as “number 7, Chris Beardsley”, which was puzzling, since Clarkson was number 7 and Beardsley number 19.
In truth, even in those first few minutes, Rovers had looked the better side, with Argyle struggling to get a foothold in the game.
Gradually though, the Pilgrims began to impose themselves – physically if nothing else – with one Paul Wotton challenge causing hardened men to wince.
Clear chances remained elusive, with a Luke Young drive that stung the hands of home ’keeper Steve Mildenhall being as good as it got until just before half time.
A bizarre sequence of play almost saw Rovers double their lead on three separate occasions in the space of a minute, but a combination of Jake Cole and a lot of defensive bodies just about kept the Argyle goal intact.
Reprieved, the Pilgrims promptly went to the other end of the pitch and Neal Trotman, who had done more than most to avert disaster in his own penalty area moments earlier, nodded in from Max Blanchard’s assist after Mildenhall had failed to deal with Young’s fierce free-kick.
The dream of everyone in the ground after 15 minutes of the second half was that either team would muster a shot on target, because the blustery wind and sticky dog of a pitch – showing the effects of a winter hosting rugby, as well as football – made for an untidy spectacle.
Prayers were answered in the 65th minute, when Ollie Clarke managed a shot that would count in the stats as on target, but in truth, my mum would have had little trouble stopping it.
A spate of substitutions injected some life into proceedings, but it was still something of a surprise when Kaid Mohamed headed Rovers back into the lead from Lee Brown’s cross. The fact that he was only three yards from goal and with no Argyle players for company certainly helped his cause.
Argyle came agonisingly close to hitting the target themselves when Marvin Morgan met Tope Obadeyi’s pinpoint cross five minutes from time, but Mildenhall, who had not had the happiest of afternoons, made the kind of save that most of us can only dream of.
For the travelling Green Army, it was the stuff of nightmares.
As for the bookies, they proved once again why they are the ones living in the dream house on the hill.