Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1969/70 Part Five
Rovers fan Ray Jest takes us back in time to relive classic seasons from the archives, and is currently documenting the 1969/70 campaign, with Lawrie McMenemy leading the side back in the Third Division. Check out Part Four here, then read on to see how Rovers got on through October and welcomed back an old favourite to the fold.
Saturday October 18th saw Rovers travel down to Brisbane Road to face Leyton Orient.
They were having quite a season themselves and were just two points behind Rovers in the table, with the closeness of the league meaning that those two points meant four places difference.
Fresh from their dismissal of league leaders Luton Town, Rovers were full of confidence but they were not ready for the onslaught of the home side.
Rovers were on the back foot from the start, being pressed back onto the defensive time and time again by Orient’s hungry forwards and Rovers were grateful to John Ogston who was a colossal presence in the Rovers goal.
Time after time he thwarted the opposition forwards as Rovers, a shadow of their last game, were pushed further and further back.
Very few attacks were mounted by the visitors – instead, the front four were pushed into defence to try and stem Orient’s probing raids.
Rovers resolute defence was aided and abetted by referee Mr. Barker who, along with his linesmen, wrote off two goals for Orient, both for offside although the second looked perfectly legal.
The deadlock was broken though with 37 minutes on the clock. Leyton Orient were awarded a free kick for an innocuous challenge just outside the area by Wilcockson and Barry Dyson sent over a looping ball that centre half Terry Mancini headed over Ogston and into the top corner of the net.
Play continued in the same vein for the rest of the half but Orient could not break Rovers’ resolve further and the half time whistle arrived with the score at 1-0.
Rovers were caught cold straight after the break as Orient were awarded a free kick. The foul, seen only by the referee, resulted in John Regan having to leave the field injured and as he walked off Mickey Bullock slammed home from the dead ball.
Rovers substituted in Chris Rabjohn for Regan and finally started to push forward but they could make little inroads into Orient territory.
In the 69th minute Rovers were reduced to ten men when Watson sustained an injury to his leg that meant him having to leave the field. Rovers were once again put under the cosh as a result but the depleted side held out till the final whistle.
Still, Rovers had to trail back to South Yorkshire with their tails firmly between their legs. They had lost their unbeaten eight match run, lost two precious points, lost their fourth place and dropped to eight place in the table.
A very unsatisfactory weekend also left them wondering how bad the injuries to Regan and Watson really were.
Back to Earth, with a Bump
The following Friday night gave Rovers the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways with a home game against Stockport County.
Stockport were next to bottom of the league, had only won one game all season, had not won away all season in fact had only gained one away point all season and had only scored one away goal all season whilst conceding fifteen.
It seemed the ideal opportunity for Rovers to put the Orient debacle behind them and on 24th October, 12,199 fans came to Belle Vue hoping for just that.
Before the game Rovers manager Lawrie McMenemy had asked the fans to get behind the team and they did as asked from the start, but soon their cheers turned to moans as Stockport overawed their illustrious opponents, taking the game to them and shocking them with their teamwork.
Rovers, who had not lost at home since last November, were all at sea and seemed unable to get themselves into the game. Perhaps they thought they only had to turn up to win, but that was a far cry from the reality.
With 25 minutes on the clock, Stockport silenced the home fans and sent their small travelling supporters ecstatic with a superb move from defence through midfield that resulted in John Rowlands scoring a fine goal, heading over the outstretched hands of Ogston.
It was the only goal of the match and shocked Rovers into at least a semblance of trying to get forward but the Stockport team, urged on by their followers, held out to cement a fine and well-deserved win.
It was Rovers’ first defeat at Belle Vue stretching back to last season and the previous November. A twenty-three-match undefeated run had been brought to an end by the most unlikely of opponents and had stunned both the Rovers and their supporters.
Manager McMenemy, needing to add fire to his forward line, moved into the transfer market and to great fan jubilation brought back Laurie Sheffield from Luton Town. The fee was estimated to be in the region of £7,000 and he would be drafted straight into the squad for the trip to Walsall the following Friday evening.
Sheffield's Instant Impact
With Sheffield on the team coach Rovers travelled down to Walsall for a Friday night game on 31st October at their Fellows Park ground.
When the game kicked off Sheffield made an immediate impact, hitting the post in the second minute.
But Parkes in the Walsall goal could do nothing to stop Gilfillan in the 6th minute when a Haselden free kick was unable to be cleared, and from fifteen yards Gilfillan steered the ball into the net.
Walsall were not content to sit back though and launched several attacks of their own, only to be held at bay by some sterling Rovers defending.
Sheffield did just what McMenemy had signed him for after 31 minutes. An attack by Rovers down the left-hand side saw Gilfillan latch onto a neat Haselden through ball, take a touch to one side and fire a tremendous shot towards goal. Parkes this time dived brilliantly to his right and parried the ball away but the ball fell at the edge of the area to Sheffield, who rifled it into the bottom left hand corner.
Rovers were playing much better football than their previous two games and Walsall found themselves under more and more pressure as the first half progressed.
As half time approached, Stephens on the Walsall right wing outpaced the Rovers defence and put over the perfect cross for Taylor but he wasted the chance, blazing wildly over the Doncaster bar.
It was the last action of the half and Rovers left the field leading 2-0.
The second half began with Walsall in the ascendancy and it took a brilliant fingertip save from Ogston to prevent Woodward pulling a goal back after just two minutes of the second half.
It was all Walsall now and Rovers had to be on their toes for long periods of the half.
Again it was Ogston who came to the rescue with saves from Taylor and Baker, but Rovers’ defence held out and then Ogston once again pulled off a magnificent save to keep out Stephens.
Having defended solidly for most of the second half, Rovers struck with a killer blow after 82 minutes.
A free kick to Rovers on the edge of the area gave Haselden the chance to fire home in splendid style and Rovers were home and dry, but not before Haselden had turned from hero to villain by tripping Deakin in the penalty area. Harrison duly stepped up to notch a consolation goal for Walsall in the 84th minute and it ended 3-1.
Rovers lean spell was over and they had answered some of their critics in fine style. Laurie Sheffield had made an immediate impact on the field and Rovers had moved back into the chasing pack for promotion.
A Welcome Homecoming
The following Saturday saw Rovers once again on home territory and a game at Belle Vue against 7th-placed Bristol Rovers.
Bristol, who were one place and one point behind Rovers, would be expected to put McMenemy’s team’s resolve to the test.
On a cold and windy day 10,065 fans greeted the players onto the pitch and gave a rousing welcome home to Laurie Sheffield.
In the first half kicking into a strong wind, Rovers found the going difficult and unsettled the normally calm defence, but still they managed to take the lead in only the 10th minute.
Most of the play had been concentrated in midfield due to the blustery wind but for once Rovers played the ball out of defence along the floor and a neat through ball from Gilfillan found Rabjohn lurking just inside the Bristol box, where he turned and slid the ball under the advancing goalkeeper.
The conditions seemed to grow a little worse as the game wore on and it was a wind-assisted goal that gave Bristol their first half equaliser.
Bobby Jones, Bristol's inside left, spotted Ogston off his line and from fully thirty five yards chanced his luck with a lobbed shot. Ogston saw the ball coming towards him but just could not get back in time to cover his line and the ball bounced over his head into the net.
That was after 27 minutes and from then on the rest of the half was a case of tight midfield play from both teams although whenever Bristol got the ball it was hoofed forward in the hope of a mistake from a Rovers player.
Half time arrived with the scores at 1-1 and Rovers fans hoping that the wind would assist them in the second half just as it had Bristol in the first.
In the second half, Rovers were much more composed with the wind at their backs but it was Bristol who started on the front foot playing close possession football.
Slowly though Rovers began to take control and Sheffield in particular was all over the field. What he really wanted was a goal on his homecoming and he tried his hardest after three years away from Belle Vue against the club with whom he started his career.
With Rovers beginning to dominate, it was left to Haselden once again to shoot Rovers into the lead when a ball from Sheffield found the defender in space on the edge of the Bristol area. Without seeming to think he turned and fired a tremendous shot past the diving goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
Rovers were back in front and their determined rearguard were not going to give anything away easily.
As full time approached, Bristol pushed more and more players towards the Rovers goal but to no avail as despite all their efforts it was Rovers who struck once again in the dying minutes to tie up the game.
From a last-ditch Bristol attack the ball was cleared out to the wing where Brian Usher was lurking. He took the ball on a mazy run, leaving a Bristol defender in his wake, and crossed the ball to the far post where John Flowers hit an unstoppable shot into the Bristol net having raced forward.
The game was over and Rovers had claimed the spoils, but it had not been easy as Bristol had seriously tested their resolve.
Sheffield was disappointed not to have scored on his homecoming and in the words of manager McMenemy, "He tried to hard not to make any mistakes."
Sheffield though along with his teammates had contributed to another excellent home win and Rovers had cemented their place amongst the promotion hopefuls.
We would like to thank Ray for his contributions and would be happy to field enquiries from other Rovers fans with an interest in writing about the club if they wish to join the growing ITEN community. Please get in touch with us via our website or social media pages, or else we can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
All images featured in this article come courtesy of Ray's personal scrapbook, collected from various contemporary news sources.