Now, call us paranoid or what have you, but we can’t help think that Bristol Rovers are a side who have been trying to avoid us. Just as it seemed over the years that our paths might cross, they end up missing. Is it the lingering guilt from taking Barry Hayles from us in 1997 – even if they did reportedly chuck £250k in our direction for our star striker? Or could it be something we’d said or done? If it was, we didn’t mean it. Either way, it took a bloody long time for us to meet in competitive action. But, even now, we’re hardly the most familiar of friends.
It certainly is that team again. Not that we have much previous…
Bristol Rovers v Stevenage
Memorial Stadium, Bristol — 14 August 2021 — Sky Bet League Two
So, how did the Gas spend so much time avoiding us? The 2001-2 season saw them end up second bottom of the Football League. Had it been one season later, they’d have been the first team in such a position to be relegated to the Conference when the playoffs came in. But they survived. The following year, they finished 20th and dodged that bullet by only three points. After that, their fortunes started to improve.
After winning promotion to League One, the tables turned in 2011 – and the Gas dropped back down into League Two. In doing so, they avoided us again. We went up at the same time and effectively swapped places. Then, when we were relegated in 2014, so too were they. We fell back into League Two, while they tumbled out of the Football League for the first time since 1920. You really do feel as if they were genuinely staying out of our way.
Ready or not, here we come – you can’t hide
After ending their non-league exile at the first attempt, the Gas returned to League Two in 2015. And we rolled into action for the first time against them on 24 November; travelling down for a midweek encounter at the Memorial Stadium. Teddy Sheringham was our boss at the time, and wasn’t having the happiest time. At the break, the score was 1-1. But Steven Schumacher‘s goal on the hour mark was enough to secure our first away league win of the campaign.
The Gas came to us for another Tuesday night clash on 19 April 2016. By now, Sheringham had gone; Darren Sarll tasked with clearing up the mess and keeping our heads above water. On the other hand, they were eyeing up a second successive promotion. In many ways, a 0-0 draw was to no-one’s real benefit. Still, it was a point towards our respective aims – and we both hit them come the end of the campaign. We stayed up, they went up. Can’t really complain at that.
Of course, that gave them an excuse to dodge our presence for another couple of seasons. That was until the 2019-20 campaign; the Leasing.com knockout round taking us back down there to renew acquaintances. Given how dire we were that season, it was a bit of a shock to come away with a 1-0 win on 08 January 2020 and a place in the next stage. Or perhaps we have a thing for the Memorial Stadium. Two wins in two suggests so. But we’ll wait and see if that stands up.
First, however, let’s see if either of us can break our ducks at the Lamex. Us, if possible…