It’s Goodnight Irene and its goodbye Bristol Rovers!
As the Rovers theme tune echoed around a wet and windy Memorial stadium, the opening lyrics of Elton John’s recent football anthem were ringing through the ears of Nicky Crittenden. “Catch a star, if you can, wish for something special”. He must have caught the star and made his wish, as 43 minutes into the first half, the “left” winger let fly with a stunning shot that not only won this game, but will probably win goal of the season for all those who saw it, if you didn’t make sure you watch it on the telly, it will probably get your vote too!
This was the first league meeting between the two sides, and probably one of the most anticipated and looked forward to matches of the season. Strange then that the fixture, from a Yeovil perspective at least, has been overshadowed by that other game coming up in January. Gary Johnson would no doubt have told his players before the game, and probably earlier this week at training to put that match out of their minds, focus had to remain on this game to maintain their charge on division 2.
Yeovil started brightly, an early Kirk Jackson cross was well taken by Kevin Miller, the Rovers keeper. Then, in typical derby match fashion Paul Terry made a tremendous crunching tackle out on the right and came away cleanly with the ball. Darren Way he’s not, but Terry, over recent matches has proved to be an excellent addition to the Yeovil squad and has shown his versatility, and consistency in varying positions over the past few weeks.
Rovers first attack on 7 minutes should have given them the lead. Ryan Williams, on loan from Hull, tore down the left wing and struck a wicked low cross into the box which needed the slightest of touches to knock it beyond Chris Weale. Fortunately the ball was cleared and it was Yeovil who turned defence into attack: Kevin Gall put the home defence under pressure, and from the resultant corner a Rovers defender headed clean against his own bar whilst trying to clear. The ball rebounded to Terry Skiverton who, surprised, couldn’t direct his header goalbound, but straight into the grateful hands of Miller. Yeovil now were beginning to take the game by the scruff of the neck, a succession of corners came to nothing but an inswinging free kick from the right was met by Colin Pluck, unusually not by his forehead, but by his boot. He steamed into the box unnoticed from the back of the area and couldn’t quite direct his attempt goalwards. Lee Johnson, not his usual penetrating self, stung the hands of Miller with a rasping drive from distance. Unable to hold the ball, Miller parried it straight to Gall, who shot straight back at the keeper. On 28 minutes Gall had another go at breaking the deadlock, he instinctively took the ball wide, to the by-line, but unlike last week could not direct his cross into the path of a teammate giving Miller an easy save.
Wayne Carlisle, the Pirates midfielder who this week was put on the transfer list, then tested Chris Weale with a low teasing cross which the Yeovil keeper did well to smother. Yeovil attacked again but the best they had to show for their efforts was a succession of corners. The swirling wing made defending difficult against the inswingers, but still the Glovers failed to beat the Rovers defence, well marshalled by Christian Edwards, if not as much by Miller, who at times gave the impression he had butter on his fingers.
As the half drew on, it was only a matter of time before someone went into the ref’s book. First was Lewis Haldane, the promising rovers forward, who took out Gavin Williams in the Yeovil box; and then Hugo Rodrigues, who brought down Junior Agogo on the edge of the other. The respective free kicks failed to trouble either keeper. One that did however came on 39 minutes, a Lee Johnson set piece floated into the danger area and was met well by Adam Lockwood, his header beat everyone but it shaved the top of the bar.
As the halftime whistle approached Yeovil’s possession appeared to bear little fruit, the cutting edge was missing and the final defence splitting ball was absent. Dead balls presented the best opportunity for a goal, that was until with 2 minutes left: Kevin Gall picked up the ball, just in the Rovers half. Lee Johnson screamed for the ball to be sent his way, but Gall swivelled, turned, and passed as Nick CRITTENDEN overlapped down the left channel. Without changing his stride Critts took the ball on, held off the challenges, cut inside and let fly with a superb shot from 25-30 yards that curled into the top corner of the home sides net to send the 1000 visiting fans wild and the 8000 plus home ones in to a stunned silence. The goal, as it proved was worthy of winning this game, in fact, it was good enough to win any game and sent Yeovil in at half time good value for their lead.