After a turbulent season which saw Rovers dangerously close to dropping back down the basement league of the EFL, a bland but comfortable midtable season would surely be welcomed by most Gasheads, you would think. However, as the crowd filtered out of the Thatchers End following a typical 1-1 draw at home with Gillingham, I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming sense of apathy emanating from the blue and white faithful. Almost routinely I pulled out my phone and started typing a message to my Dad, who watches the game from the East Enclosure.
“Frustrating” was the single word I sent him, awaiting his response as I flicked through Twitter to gauge the reactions of our fan-base, which ranged from measured analysis to knee-jerk shouts. The game in itself was fairly balanced, with Rovers perhaps marginally the better side. It struck me as a typical mid-table League One clash, which is what it will probably be look back upon as come the end of the season.
Gillingham played some tidy passing football when we allowed them space, but they rarely threatened. Rovers were happy to concede possession and play on the counter through Clarke-Harris and Smith, however poor decision making in the final third was getting us nowhere, and the crowd were definitely growing frustrated as the first half progressed. Thankfully a quick throw-in and a decisive pass from Luke Leahy bought Tyler Smith some space, which he aggressively dribbled into, selling Connor Ogilvie a dummy and firing past the familiar frame of Jack Bonham giving Rovers a 1-0 lead going into half-time.
The second half opened with Rovers playing a far more expansive style, with the fullbacks much higher and the midfield more fluid. Ed Upson was excellent, I thought, and Ogogo mopped up the second ball very well too. I was perhaps a little disappointed with Ollie Clarke’s performance, but Liam Sercombe did okay when substituted in place of the skipper, and is a welcome return to the first team squad. For all our dominance in the opening stages of the second half, we were unable to capitalise. Clarke-Harris was uncharacteristically wasteful with his chances and even too selfish at times, however you can’t really blame the most in-form striker in the league for wanting to shoot instead of square the ball.
Later into the game, Josh Hare went down unchallenged, which is frankly never a good sign and something that instils dread within me whenever I’ve seen it happen over the years. A lengthy injury can be devastating for a player, and a team. Hare was on a superb run of form that no one was really expecting, and his development was progressing at a healthy rate as he played more and more games at this level. I can only hope that the lad is only out for a few months and not the season, as an injury like that can really change a player.
Predictably, we conceded late. The ball fell to the unmarked Ogilvie, who shot low and hard at Jaakkola, who was able to save the effort, only to see the ball prodded into the net by O’Connor. The collective groan from the crowd spoke volumes as Rovers fell to their second draw in as many home games, the Gas conceding the equaliser in the final ten minutes in both games. A mid-table clash was exactly what it was, and a draw not entirely an unfair result, just frustrating. I had texted my dad as much a few seconds after Kevin Johnson blew his whistle.
As I made my way down Filton Avenue towards my car, I overheard a lot of chatter about playoffs, being one point off top had we held on in the last two home games, etc. Football fans love hypotheticals, me included, but the fact is that we didn’t beat Accrington and we didn’t beat Gillingham, and we didn’t overwhelmingly deserve to win either. We are where we deserve to be, and in all likelihood where we will finish.
I passed the civil service sports club, where I usually park my car due to it’s proximity to the ground, but this season they’ve started charging for parking. This meant a slightly longer walk towards Wessex Avenue, where I had parked up by the Crafty Cow pub - my pre-match watering hole of choice. All the while I couldn’t get over the amount of discontent both online and from fans walking back to their cars or at numerous bus stops in Horfield. I appreciate that we as fans always want more, and perhaps we still haven’t seen the best of this team, only glimpses of the potential that it could realise with the right combination of time, luck with injuries, and coaching. However, given the catastrophe of last season, most fans would have given their right bollock for a boring mid-table finish this time around. Now it looks like we’re getting exactly that, people aren’t content.
I understand that as paying customers we want to be entertained - I am the same. The football has been uninspiring and I almost regret purchasing a season ticket this time around, although I am happy to financially support my club I do think there are better things to do on a Saturday that watch home draws against average sides as we watch the calendar months fly past. That said, I think this season is very much about staying comfortable, developing some younger players like Kilgour, van Stappershoef, and Hare, and waiting to hear for some off-field news. That for me would be a successful season.
I reach my car, and check that my tires haven’t been slashed for parking outside someone’s house instead of at the civil service. My phone lights up, and sure enough my dad has replied.
“12th. If we finish there, job done.”
I can’t disagree, and I’ll do my best to try and keep that at the forefront of my mind after the next disappointing home draw.