Yeovil Town 4 Bristol Rovers 0 – Saturday 13th March 2004
When Yeovil first entered the Football League, there always seemed to be a much more tasty atmosphere to games against Bristol Rovers than Bristol City, never mind Torquay or Swindon or any of the other relatively ‘local’ games we played. Maybe it was because we were seen as upstarts, for many years the little non-league club down the road that they could pat on the head and patronise, but suddenly in 2003 we were promoted and started to get ideas a bit above our station.
Yeovil’s elevation to the Football League came at a very low time for Bristol Rovers, often the poorer cousins of the Bristol clubs. In what is now the Championship as recently as 1993, they spent a few seasons in the third tier before being relegated again to the basement division in 2001. League performances continued to worsen, as they finished 23rd in 2002 only above relegated Halifax Town, and in 2003 escaped by the skin of their teeth, finishing three points above relegation thanks to a run of ten points from their last four games. They were a long way from the club who had been home to so many great strikers down the years, such as Jason Roberts, Barry Hayles and our very own Marcus Stewart. They’ve been a somewhat nomadic club in recent times, leaving Eastville in 1986 to share Twerton Park with Bath for a number of years. They returned to Bristol in 1996 to share the Memorial Stadium with Bristol Rugby Club, which led to the pitch tending to not be in the best of condition when we played them. The rugby club left to share with City at Ashton Gate in 2014, and since then frequent rumours of development or possible relocation to a new stadium have not materialised.
The very old school Ray Graydon had come in to manage in 2002, but was not well liked for his negative brand of football and he was eventually sacked in January 2004, not long after Yeovil won the first ever league meeting between the two sides at the Mem in December. The match that was perhaps not of the highest quality was settled by a moment of brilliance from Nick Crittenden. That wasn’t the first competitive match between the two clubs though, as they had met in the Football League Trophy (at that time sponsored by LDV) in October 2001, during the brief experimentation of inviting Conference clubs to take part. Despite being in the early days of Gary Johnson’s management Yeovil gave the Gas a pretty good game, taking the lead through McIndoe in the first half. Rovers equalised with a penalty conceded by Chris Weale in the second half, before the game went to extra time and penalties. The Glovers did take a surprisingly good set of penalties from Stansfield, Lockwood, Giles (in off the post) and Crittenden, before McIndoe blasted the last one over the bar and Yeovil were out. But it was an entertaining game which gave a good idea of what Yeovil might be up against should they get promoted, at a time when they were very much a work in progress – the next two games were dismal defeats at home to Chester and away at Southport, probably the low point of the season.
By March 2004, Phil Bater was in caretaker charge. Despite being in relative mid-table and having sacked Graydon, Rovers were in terrible form, with only one win in the last ten. Yeovil had been in patchy form since Christmas, with three defeats out of the last four, and were struggling a bit to find the right combination up front to hurt better League Two defences, but on the day were far too strong for the visitors and it was a fairly comfortable win in front of a full house. In a potentially tense atmosphere, nerves were settled early on as a Terry Skiverton shot from a quickly-taken free kick cannoned back off the bar, with the rebound stabbed home by Adam Lockwood. Rovers lost their composure and realistically the game was probably over when midfielder Graham Hyde managed to get himself booked twice in the same incident, first committing a foul on El Kholti, then shoving Lee Johnson, arguing with the ref about the decision and giving a lot of abusive gestures as he was dragged off the pitch, mostly seemingly aimed at Johnson.
Just before half time, Abou El Kholti made it 2-0 with a speculative shot deflected in off Darren Way. Immediately after half time, Gavin Williams made it 3-0 with a goal in front of the away fans. Although he mis-controlled the ball at first from Gall, he showed great composure and skill to dig the ball out under pressure from several defenders and beat the keeper. Towards the end Colin Pluck made it 4-0 with a header from a Paul Terry cross, and made it clear with a universally understood gesture that he could not hear what the Rovers fans were saying to him. If there were any two players who would have enjoyed scoring in front of the away fans, it would have been Williams and Pluck.
The following season, there was more needle to be enjoyed when Rovers employed Ian Atkins, an old adversary of Gary Johnson’s since their days together at Cambridge. The two managers could not possibly be more different – Gary Johnson, who likes to play attractive passing football and treats his players like sons, compared to Ian Atkins who is the kind of manager usually brought in to save teams from relegation and acts like a sullen sergeant major. The rivalry between the two teams intensified as Atkins, fresh from two fairly decent seasons at Oxford, turned Rovers into a much better team who led League Two towards the start of the season. However, disciplinary problems cost them, as the club with the worst disciplinary record in the division racked up the red cards and suspensions, including two – which could, and should, have been more – in an infamous night at the Memorial Stadium in October 2004.
In the much-anticipated return fixture in February 2005, Atkins would accuse Yeovil plays of diving ahead of the game, claiming that nobody likes them and Gary Johnson doesn’t have the ‘bottle’ to get a team promoted, and then on the day was strangely struck down with a mysterious virus and was unable to take charge of the team as they lose heavily again, this time 4-2 as the Glovers consolidated their position at the top of League Two. The whereabouts of Ian Atkins’ bottle remains unknown.
An interesting footnote to the 2004 game is that the starting line-up that day consisted entirely of players who had appeared for Yeovil in the Conference, which was possibly a deliberate move from Johnson who even employed the same 3-4-1-2 formation he had mostly used in that title-winning season, with Lindegaard and El Kholti as wing backs as opposed to the 4-4-2 that the Glovers generally employed in League Two. That they were able to beat a mid-table side so comfortably that they could just pass amongst themselves for the last 30 minutes shows just how far ahead of the Conference his team were.
Since the departures of Gary Johnson and Ian Atkins, the atmosphere between the two clubs has been less fiery, and subsequent meetings have resulted in quite a lot of draws. Low point was probably when Gavin Williams scored the winner against us in a 1-0 Rovers win at Huish Park in 2011, and high point was definitely Terrell Forbes scoring a late winner with his only goal for the club at the Mem in 2009.
Team that day: Steve Collis, Andy Lindegaard (sub. Paul Terry 71), Colin Pluck, Terry Skiverton (sub. Hugo Rodrigues 64), Adam Lockwood, Darren Way, Lee Johnson, Abou El Kholti (sub. Simon Weatherstone 90), Gavin Williams, Kirk Jackson, Kevin Gall. Subs not used: Jon Sheffield, Adam Stansfield