Bristol Rovers v Boreham Wood
Sunday 27th November 2022, 2.00pm
Memorial Stadium, Emirates FA Cup Second Round
The FIFA World Cup may have got underway over in Qatar, but the games continue to come thick and fast for the Wood with a trip to League One outfit Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup on Sunday.
IN FOCUS: BRISTOL ROVERS
The Gas have spent the bulk of their recent history bouncing between League One and League Two, spending just one season outside those divisions since the turn of the century. Relegation to the Conference Premier in 2013/14 meant they dropped out of the Football League for the first time since the First World War, but they regained their status immediately with back-to-back promotions seeing them secure five successive seasons in League One. Rovers opted to appoint former Premier League midfielder Joey Barton as manager in February 2021, and although he was unable to prevent their slide back into League Two, he was able to guide the club straight back to the third tier on a dramatic final day of the season, with a 7-0 victory over Scunthorpe United giving them the five-goal swing required to overtake Northampton Town and jump into the final automatic promotion spot. They have subsequently enjoyed a steady first half of the current campaign after strengthening with the likes of Jordan Rossiter, John Marquis, Lewis Gordon, Luke McCormick, James Gibbons, James Connolly, Lewis Gibson, Bobby Thomas, Josh Coburn and Scott Sinclair arriving at the Memorial Stadium, and the Pirates currently sit 15th with a ten-point gap to the bottom four.
ROAD TO THE SECOND ROUND
Rovers progressed to the FA Cup Second Round for the fourth year running after Scott Sinclair’s first goal for the club was enough to overcome League Two side Rochdale AFC.
The Gas were the quickest out the blocks with Aaron Collins showed some good skill to cut inside before forcing Richard O’Donnell into the first save of the game, but this just proved to be the first warning sign from the hosts. Sam Finley pulled the strings for much of the early stages and played a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Sinclair, but Collins was unable to convert the former’s cross as it flew wide. At the other end Bobby Thomas had to be alert after Abraham Odoh had done well to beat Lewis Gordon before delivering a cross which would have caused alarm bells if it wasn’t for a crucial intervention from the Burnley loanee.
Thomas wouldn’t be quite as lucky after the restart, with Ian Henderson looking to capitalise as he struggled to clear the ball but he couldn’t keep his effort on target after robbing the centre back of possession. Rochdale did have another chance to take the lead when Devante Rodney was played in behind with James Belshaw requiring a strong hand to deny the forward, but the hosts looked to hit back immediately with Finley at the heart of it once more. After winning the ball in the middle of the pitch, he picked out Sam McCormick who in turn found Collins, with a deflection preventing the striker from breaking the deadlock. They did soon make the breakthrough at long last though, as Harvey Saunders chased down a loose ball to force a corner which would be floated towards the back post via a flick-on, where Sinclair was waiting to tap home his first goal for the club. Keen to add a second, Collins went close again as some strong defending from Rochdale denied the Welshman, but despite the Dale’s desperate push for a late leveller, Rovers held firm to secure their name in the hat for Round Two.
LAST TIME OUT
Colchester United 1-2 Bristol Rovers
Wednesday 23rd November 2022
Papa John’s Trophy
Rovers left it late at the JobServe Community Stadium but a last gasp Harvey Saunders winner meant they were able to secure their passage into the Round of 16 of the Papa John’s Trophy.
It was the visitors who produced the first opportunity with John Marquis having the chance to open the scoring from point blank range, but he could only force Kieran O’Hara into a good save. The Gas were on top for much of the first half, with O’Hara called into action once more to deny Antony Evans who’s strike from 30 yards was acrobatically tipped behind for a corner. Colchester did grow into it and forced James Gibbons to head the ball out for a corner, which fell to Samson Tovide at the back post but he couldn’t power his header on target.
The visitors refused to let their opponents get the upper hand and finally made the breakthrough ten minutes into the second half. An Evans free kick was sent towards Bobby Thomas at the back post who directed his header towards goal, where James Connolly was on hand to turn the ball home from close range to open the scoring for the Gas. A change between the sticks was required when Anssi Jaakkola was forced off through injury, and this sparked a swing in momentum for the U’s. They drew level with ten minutes left to play when a counter attack ended with Freddie Sears finding the net via a deflection off Connolly, giving James Belshaw no chance. With the minutes ebbing away it looked as if the tie was heading for a penalty shootout, but Saunders found himself in a position to capitalise on an O’Hara mistake and bundle the ball over the line right at the death, sending the Gas into the next round of the Papa John’s Trophy.
Colchester United (A) W1-2
Peterborough United (H) W1-0
Fleetwood Town (H) D2-2
Rochdale AFC (H) W1-0
Derby County (A) L4-2
Sheffield Wednesday (A) D1-1
After a poor start to the season, the Gas have maintained consistency and rose up the League One table with an almost unbeaten October. A draw at Sheffield Wednesday was followed by a loss at Derby County, but this would be the only time they tasted defeat in 13 outings as Scott Sinclair’s first goal for the club was enough to see them bounce back with victory in the FA Cup First Round against Rochdale AFC. A hard-earned point against Fleetwood Town was secured despite being in the lead until the 90th minute, but they made it three wins from four games when Sinclair struck again to beat Peterborough United at the Memorial Stadium, shortly before Harvey Saunders’ late strike secured victory over Colchester United last time out in the Papa John’s Trophy.
IN THE DUGOUT: JOEY BARTON
Former Premier League midfielder Joey Barton made a name for himself as one of the most physical and tough-tackling players in the division during his playing days, having turned out over 100 times for Manchester City along with stints at Newcastle United, Queens Park Rangers, Marseille, Burnley and Rangers. Barton made 435 appearances during a 15-year playing career which included a solitary England cap, but he opted to hang up his boots upon his decision to take on his first managerial role at Fleetwood Town in 2018. He spent three years at the Highbury Stadium before leaving the club midway through the 2020/21 campaign, joining league rivals Bristol Rovers a month later. He guided the Gas straight back to League One after relegation in the previous season, and was rewarded with a three-year contract extension in the summer.
ONE TO WATCH: SCOTT SINCLAIR
Scott Sinclair returned to the Memorial Stadium 18 years after leaving, having initially joined the Bristol Rovers academy at the age of nine. Having been spotted playing for local side Bath Arsenal, Sinclair went on to become the Gas’ second youngest first team debutant when he came off the bench in a League Two match against Leyton Orient at the age of 15, before making his second appearance four months later against Rushden & Diamonds. It was his form in the youth and reserve teams which caught the eye and he would be picked up by Chelsea at the age of 16, but his time at Stamford Bridge was filled with loan spells as he gained experience at Plymouth Argyle, Queens Park Rangers, Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic, before his five-year stint in West London came to an end with just 14 appearances to his name.
He would go on to join Swansea City in 2010 and went on to play almost 100 times with a stint at Manchester City following, before loan spells at West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa brought his time at the Etihad Stadium to an end as he opted to join the latter on a permanent basis. He failed to impress at Villa Park though and was a part of the Villains side that was relegated from the Premier League for the first time, but a move to Scottish giants Celtic allowed him to renew his reputation. He contributed an impressive 62 goals and 33 assists in 167 games to help the Bhoys retain their Scottish Premiership title for four successive seasons, being voted Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year at the end of his first season. Sinclair returned to England for a brief spell at Preston North End in January 2021 but was released after just half-a-season, returning to Bristol Rovers on a short-term deal five months later. The 33-year old scored his first goal for the club on his first start to send the Gas through to the FA Cup Second Round.
A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS
Current Dagenham & Redbridge skipper Angelo Balanta arrived at Victoria Road in October 2018, following a successful two-year stint in Hertfordshire with Boreham Wood. Before moving to the LV BET Stadium Meadow Park though, the former Queens Park Rangers man had had a spell at the Memorial Stadium with Sunday’s opponents Bristol Rovers.
With the majority of his appearances for QPR coming in his first two seasons as a senior player, his time in the West Country proved to be his first shot at regular football at a permanent home since he first broke out at Loftus Road. He had spent the last five years out on loan primarily at MK Dons along with stints at Wycombe Wanderers and Yeovil Town coming either side of a three-year temporary spell at Stadium MK. After a seven-year spell in West London came to an end, Balanta helped Rovers return to League Two after a single season in the Conference Premier including scoring a spot-kick in the winning penalty shootout to overcome Grimsby Town in the play-off final.
His time with the Pirates would be limited to 18 appearances in just one season as the versatile forward opted to join Carlisle United in the summer, but he finally found a chance at consistent football when he joined Boreham Wood. His debut season saw him feature 44 times in all competitions before an even better 2017/18 campaign brought record-breaking exploits in the FA Cup, including victory over League One side Blackpool. Balanta contributed ten goals and six assists in 37 games, including an appearance at Wembley Stadium in the National League play-off final which the Wood would lose at the hands of Tranmere Rovers. Nonetheless, the Colombian-born forward continued to feature for the Wood with starts in all of their opening ten games of the 2018/19 season, but departed for Dagenham & Redbridge just two months into the campaign.
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