If you didn’t know about Bristol Rovers already then you’re about to get well and truly acquainted with them!
That’s not just because we have a delightful little chat with Jim Campbell, the Bristol Rovers Supporters Club chairman, here for you. It’s because Saturday is one of two trips to The Memorial Stadium (or “The Mem” as Jim likes to call it) in very short space of time. As soon as we get back from our trip to the south west, it’ll be pretty much time for Jack Ross and the lads to head back to Bristol for the Checkatrade Semi Final.
Let’s put that towards one side for now though and get down to League One business. Since we played Rovers at home back in December, they’ve found their footing somewhat. They’ve only lost once since our December meeting and got a good point away to Portsmouth in midweek, indicating it won’t be a walkover for SAFC.
One thing that does play into our favour though is the fact that Bristol Rovers are absolutely shocking at home. If the league table was just based on home games, they would be second bottom while we sit nicely in fifth when it comes to away form.
So let’s find out what Jim makes of all the above and find out his thoughts on the upcoming game...
RR: When we met back in December, you were in an awful run of form. Our victory condemned you to a fifth straight defeat but since then, you’ve only lost once. What has changed to turn around your form so dramatically? Is purely down to a managerial change?
JC: The match back in December was the first under the temporary management of Graham Coughlan and this appointment has subsequently been made permanent. Graham had only an hour’s training with the players before they set off from Bristol the same day as he was appointed although he had been defence coach prior to that.
From my rather privileged position I know that the players were glad to have got some guidance prior to the game and they started well, taking a deserved lead from recalled winger Alex Rodman before conceding, (as we always did at the time!), in the dying minutes of the first half.
We lost 2-1 but probably deserved a draw and the side has not been beaten on the road since. It is undoubtedly down to change of manager and Assistant Chris Hargreaves. They have stopped making wholesale changes to suit the opposition, as Darrell Clarke did before, regardless of previous results/performances and the players seem to have bought into this, being told publicly by GC that if they perform they keep the shirt!
RR: Despite that upturn in fortunes, your home form has been very poor. I was doing some research the other day and noticed that, based on home games, Rovers are 2nd bottom this season. Is there any particular reason for your struggles at The Memorial Stadium?
JC: The home form has been terrible – only three wins and no less than eight defeats is the worst I can ever remember.
The crowd has always remained supportive but we have had little to cheer and the players seem to struggle to dominate the opposition at the Memorial Stadium. Thankfully we have turned this round in away games, getting on top early on at Walsall, Oxford, Southend and last Tuesday at Pompey who were lucky to scrape a draw.
Nobody seems to know why such a previously good home team has become such a poor one. It must be down to player confidence but they get good support and we need to turn it around soon – tomorrow would be nice! At least we have stopped losing though.
RR: A quick word on the Checkatrade too, as we find ourselves back in Bristol very soon! Your thoughts on the semi final and a potential trip to Wembley? How confident do you feel?
JC: Due to the above I am never confident of winning at “the Mem” these days and the semi-final is a really hard one to predict. Both sides probably want the League points more than a Wembley appearance but that view will probably change after the match tomorrow.
Will the two Managers pick their very strongest teams bearing that in mind? Will every player be risked if carrying an injury? I guess every player wants a Wembley appearance and it’s a good day out for the fans.
For us it would be a fifth appearance with two desperately close defeats and two equally close & exciting wins to date. We also lost this final in a brilliant game against Doncaster at the Millennium Stadium when it was played there.
Great days but I want three points tomorrow, unlikely as they may be!
RR: Onto Saturday’s game and who’s impressing for you at the minute? Anyone in particular that Sunderland fans should be keeping an eye on?
JC: New signing Jonson Clarke-Harris was brought in on deadline day to add some very much-needed strength up-front and that he certainly does. He bullied ‘Pompey’ on Tuesday, won two penalties but only scored one of them, ballooning the other into the top of the Fratton End.
I think he will be the man for you to watch out for. Not much of a scoring record but he seems happy to give the opposing defence a very hard time.
Alex Rodman has been a revelation under Coughlan but appears to be injured and missed Portsmouth so you might have a bit of luck there.
RR: Flipping that one back around, who will you be watching closely in the Sunderland side? Anyone in Jack Ross’ squad you think Graham Coughlan needs to pay special attention to?
JC: I confess to never paying much attention to the opposition and in this case Sunderland are clearly going to be a threat all over the pitch so I am expecting a very hard game.
Having said that, I viewed Pompey the same and we came away with less than we deserved.
RR: How do you expect Coughlan to approach this game and what do you think the starting line up will be?
JC: Coughlan will definitely go for a win and if the away form can be replicated Rovers will throw everything at Sunderland from the start. We are flaky at the back though and can concede at the drop of a hat although rarely get thrashed.
We seem to be squeezed out of games at home despite a passionate and volatile crowd. Ten thousand won’t seem like much to you “the Mem” can be a very hostile place and you’ll hear it if Rovers score!
Likely line-up I think will be as follows, (this would have been impossible under Darrell!);
Partington, Lockyer (capt.), Craig, James Clarke,
Ogogo, Sercombe, Holmes-Dennis and one of Rodman, Ollie Clarke or Upson depending on fitness.
Jakubiak & Clarke-Harris.
Subs; Smith GK, Nichols, Reilly, Sinclair, Matthews, Kelly, Lines or one of the above.
RR: And to finish off, can we have a score prediction for both Saturday and the Checkatrade Semi Final please?
JC: I predict another home draw for us as we probably don’t have the firepower to defeat such a good team that has lost only twice. That would be a good result for Rovers but probably not be enough for you!
I feel the same for the semi-final but Sunderland’s greater confidence winning the extra time or penalty shoot-out.