• Adam Stubbings

Rovers step up in Barnet late show


That sweet feeling of a late winner brings everyone off their seat.

Rovers remain safely in 2nd place in League Two after a captivating 3-2 win over Barnet this past weekend. ITEN looks back on that last-gasp victory as well as ahead to the upcoming visit of Colchester, with attacking considerations coming sharply into focus for Darren Ferguson’s side after another bout of injury misfortune.

Sting in the Tail

Saturday’s game was a captivating one, a microcosm of the contrasting styles that largely make up the tactical landscape of the bottom division. As Rovers turned on the style in the first half to take a deserved 2-0 lead with a pair of fantastic goals, the visitors executed a near-perfect gameplan in the second half to wipe out that lead. The nous shown by James Coppinger to send an exquisite volley into the bottom corner of Josh Vickers’ net on 17 minutes set the tone for how we would approach the game, but the passing move to create the second goal a quarter of an hour later was something to be applauded for the excellent display of teamwork and fluidity. Andy Williams won possession back near halfway, the ball eventually came to Matty Blair and he performed a superb one-two with deputy striker Liam Mandeville before sweeping home coolly. It was to be a Man of the Match display from Blair on the day the winger put himself firmly in the favour of Rovers fans everywhere, but his best moment would arguably come much later.

Before that however, Barnet bit back as “Mad Dog” Martin Allen brought his side out for the second half rejuvenated. In the first 45, the Bees’ attempts to make John Akinde the focal point had failed to pay off, our defenders dealing well with the threat and managing the long-throw ability of Sam Muggleton. After the break however this changed, Barnet pressing us higher up the field and disrupting our game, gaining more possession and forcing many more long-throw situations. Muggleton can launch the ball to the penalty box from inside his own half, so it is to the credit of Andy Butler and his defensive partners that they managed to deflect so many missiles, but ultimately the power of defenders Bondz N’Gala and Bira Dembele coupled with the sheer relentlessness of the set pieces paid dividends, Dembele glancing home to make it 2-1. The aerial bombardment continued and, having wasted a couple of decent chances to go clear again we were punished late on when Maltese international Luke Gambin, suspended from his national squad for a trip to Wembley, tucked in the equaliser to make sure Barnet’s pressure paid off.

Indeed we could even have gone on to lose the game, but Darren Ferguson’s sides do not know when they’re beat and don’t accept laying down in the face of adversity late on. We have seen this before, most notably in the incredible comeback win over Crewe last season, and again it showed here. Blair had already been announced as MOTM by this point, but he marked that award by tearing down the right wing, out-running and out-gunning opponents as they came in to stop him. He then put in a superb cross to the front post where Williams, who had enjoyed an impressive performance without finding a goal up to that point, swept home his seventh of the season to send Rovers into delirium. As well as their plan had worked in the second half, Barnet were ultimately undone by a quality counter attack that underlined our superiority with the ball on the floor. Both of these sides’ styles of play have their merits, and certainly both can and will be effective throughout the course of the season, but against clubs towards the bottom end of the table Rovers will have too much for them if they play as crisply and fluidly as they did here.

Stoked Mandeville

With John Marquis suspended, the onus fell on Liam Mandeville to partner Andy Williams in attack against Barnet. Whilst no one was expecting Mandeville to perform the loveable pitbull role Marquis does, the hope was that he could contribute his bright ball-playing abilities to meaningful attacks, and he proved more than capable of doing this throughout. His best moment was in the build-up to Blair’s goal, providing the assist as part of a give-and-go move in the penalty area, and he also showed a keen sense of tactical awareness and vision in his play, pushing us on several times and beating Barnet defenders more than once down the right channel. He was also unlucky not to receive the ball in superb positions on more than one occasion, usually missing out as Williams looked to go it alone in search of goals.

This audition showed he has a lot to contribute to this team, but whether he is truly ready or not to step up to a starting role is not something we are likely to have the luxury of debating for long. Williams left the Keepmoat on crutches following a bad tackle from behind right on full time, and is rated doubtful at best for the Colchester game. With Marquis back from suspension, it looks like Mandeville will keep his place and have a new strike partner, and it may be to his benefit that it is Marquis standing alongside him this weekend. Mandeville’s game is not a physical one, he is the foil of finesse. Marquis, a strong physical player who harries defenders and holds up the ball, will suit partnering Mandeville more than Williams does, but this does mean the teenager will need to discover the goalscoring form he has lacked since stepping up to the first team last year. His movement on and off the ball will be an asset, he can feed off Marquis and therefore the team can maintain the same shape and style that it has become accustomed to playing in so far in 2016/17.

Boiling Over

They say a watched pot never boils, but if you watch a Kettle for long enough he’s bound to whistle eventually. And whistle he did, referee Trevor Kettle doing his utmost to affect the game in his favour as the minutes rolled on. We actually have a superb record in games refereed by the controversial official, but he did not endear himself to anybody in the vicinity in this one, earning the ire of both sets of fans with some downright ridiculous decision-making in the second half. Applying the rules liberally concerning the stoppage of play for injuries, Kettle elected to begin a bizarre war with Rovers players after taking exception to a perfectly reasonable complaint over the home side getting the ball back after a Barnet player went down with an itch in his own half. After a visibly heated exchange with Tommy Rowe in which the midfielder was booked, Kettle elected to restart the game with a ‘contested’ drop ball, promptly blowing for a free kick to the Bees for utterly no reason after dropping the ball into play and souring what had to that point been a fairly benign showing.

What possessed him to turn on us remains a mystery, but Kettle appeared to be disappointed when Williams turned in the winner in injury time, and post-match allegations from Fergie that Kettle used inappropriate language towards our players is worrying. It is more worrying that officials like Kettle can be allowed to turn in such blatantly incompetent performances and get away with it. Do assessors actually go to these matches as they’re supposed to, or do they merely protect their own in a world where they are increasingly seen as the villains of the piece. Make no mistake, some – like Kettle here – willingly make themselves the villain, and the pattern of doing so is something that has followed him around for years and sullied his reputation. The name of Mick Russell still causes outright fury in Rovers circles and for good reason, yet despite several notable examples of downright appalling officiating in matches, Russell continues to referee in the league. He is just one example, along with Kettle, of a system that perhaps does not work as it should, and to prove I’m not merely criticising an official for not favouring Rovers in this match, feel free to consult the story of how he earned the ire of Accrington Stanley last season and possibly cost them promotion in the long run.

Should a referee even be allowed to take charge of a league match again after that? You already know the answer to that.