A penalty from Jonson-Clarke Harris on March 10, 2020 was the last time a packed-out Memorial Stadium got to celebrate a competitive Bristol Rovers goal, but finally after 525 days of waiting, a capacity crowd of Gasheads set the Mem rocking once again.
Harvey Saunders’ deflected header in the 35th minute ended Rovers seven game streak without a goal at home, stretching back to last season, and was enough for the Gas to earn their first win of the Sky Bet League Two season.
Defeats to Mansfield and Stevenage in the league and Cheltenham in the Carabao cup preceded Tuesday night’s clash with Oldham Athletic, who were also winless in the league, but Joey Barton’s men didn’t perform like a team with zero wins and only one goal scored so far this season.
Luke Thomas, Aaron Collins and Harry Anderson were all guilty of missing chances in the first half, but Saunders found the clinical touch to give Rovers the three points.
While all Gasheads will remember Saunders roaring with emotion at the North Terrace after his goal and Sam Finley’s commanding midfield performance, here’s a few moments you may have missed:
Barton’s unusual pre-match preparation
Without Clint Hill, who has now left Rovers due to personal reasons, Joey Barton had a slightly different evening in the build up to the clash with Oldham.
Barton’s former QPR teammate and assistant coach would normally be the man orchestrating Rovers warm-ups along with Kevin Maher, but on Tuesday night, Barton was firmly involved in the preparations.
Just 30 minutes out from kick-off, Barton, in his iconic Rovers hat, could be seen on the pitch at the Mem handing out instructions to Jack Baldwin who was returning to the team to form a back three alongside Nick Anderton and Mark Hughes.
When the 38-year-old wasn’t helping his team prepare for the 90 minutes ahead though, he channelled his previous years as a player with some of his coaching staff.
Barton, Maher and Andy Mangan, with roughly 10 yards between them, picked up a ball not being used by the team and began sending driven passes to one another with real aplomb.
One thing that did remain a constant though was Barton’s usual appreciation towards the Thatchers terrace, walking by himself over to the dugouts applauding the crowd as they sang his name.
The simple but effective gameplan
In their opening three games, it’s fair to say Rovers have been void of ideas going forward, but the Gas looked like a completely different team against Oldham.
From the very first minute of the match both Saunders and Collins were constantly making runs beyond the high Oldham backline and while at first the lofted through balls from the three centre-halves were off target, they soon began to pick out the best areas.
Collins and Saunders were finding the most joy running in between the wing-backs and the outside centre-backs and there was a particular moment that signified that Barton knew exactly what would work.
The pace mis-match between the Rovers attack and Latics defence was abundantly clear and following a break in play after Sam Finley had chosen a five-yard pass over a perhaps aimless ball into the channels, Barton could be seen speaking to his number six.
While the verbal message wasn’t clear due to the thousands of people inside the Mem, the mannerisms told you everything you needed to know.
Barton re-enacted Finley’s short pass and could be seen shaking his head, instead suggesting with his hands that Finley should next time try and send a lofted ball into the channels for Collins or Saunders to chase.
And while it wasn’t the prettiest style of play it allowed Rovers to get up the pitch, create opportunities and ultimately win the game.
Saunders and Anderson share touching moment
Without even a second thought Saunders, overcome with emotion, sprinted over to the North Terrace to celebrate his goal, but once he had composed himself, he went looking for only one man.
Before Tuesday night’s win over Oldham, someone who had shown constant hard work and endeavour minus the disappointing results was former Lincoln City man, Anderson.
His tenacity to take on his marker while also working back to help the defence was commendable, and that was why he didn’t look out of sorts at all playing at left-wing back, despite it not being his favoured position.
Anderson’s pace and runs in behind on the left caused severe problems for Oldham in particular in the first half and that was exactly where the breakthrough came from.
A delightful move between Josh Grant and Anderson saw the latter send an inch-perfect cross with his weaker foot directly onto the head of Saunders.
And after being embraced by a flock of blue and white shirts, Saunders then spotted Anderson, gritted his teeth, threw his arms round him and kissed him on the back of his head as a clear thank you for the incredible cross.
A popular half time guest
Had any Gasheads been down in the queues for food or for the toilet, they may have missed an interview at the interval with a man who’s had a very busy summer.
Gloucestershire’s James Bracey was brought out by Rovers stadium announcer Lance Cook following his performances with the England test squad this summer.
Bracey, a lifelong Gashead, received a very good ovation from the 6,000+ at the Mem and admitted it was his first time watching Rovers in several years.
The 24-year-old probably could not have picked a better half of football to watch with Rovers dominating Oldham throughout the first 45 minutes.
He then went on to talk about his return to County level cricket and how he is very excited to get back to things with Gloucester.
Anderson’s admirable desire to play
Barton’s decision to play Anderson in an unfamiliar wing-back role seemed strange at first, but it turned out to be a stroke of genius as Oldham simply couldn’t cope with his running power and therefore realised the only way to stop him, was to foul him.
Anderson was the subject of many crunching and cynical tackles by Oldham players, until he was eventually replaced by Cian Harries in the 76th minute.
There was a particular challenge in the first half which left Anderson needing treatment for a few minutes, and he could be seen visibly limping off the pitch.
And when he wasn’t running, there was a certain pattern in how Anderson was walking, almost not wanting to put weight on his left leg and this was confirmed by Barton after the game.
“Harry Anderson picked up a knock in the first half quite early in the game and couldn’t put any weight on his foot so he’s virtually played with one leg in the second half,” admitted Barton in his post-match press conference.
Understandably, Anderson wasn’t quite able to get up and down the line with the speed and vigour he managed in the first half, due to his knock and perhaps his differing role for the game which requires remarkable fitness levels, something not many players will have after just four games.
Nonetheless this meant a much more defensive shift in the second half and to perform the way he did, practically only playing with one leg, was nothing short of admirable.
Anderson was spotted with ice on his knee following the match, and Gasheads will be hoping it’s nothing serious ahead of the weekend’s west country clash against Exeter, with Barton likely to confirm his availability in his pre-match press conference on Friday.