Wycombe Woes & Cup Conundrums
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Etheridge at the heart of recurring problems
There is nowhere else to start when assessing the failure to see off Gareth Ainsworth’s team than with the goalkeeper, unfortunately. Ross Etheridge was called upon to make his first start since August due to a knee injury suffered by Marko Marosi at Blackpool. Marosi has been impressive since replacing the young new signing after a tough start to life at Rovers, but Etheridge by all accounts did well as a substitute at Bloomfield Road and had a great chance to re-stake his claim for the starting berth here. Sadly, he blew it spectacularly and endured one of the most embarrassing afternoons by any goalie in recent memory.
Whilst there was a hint of a foul in the build-up to Matt Bloomfield’s first goal (a view shared at least by manager Darren Ferguson), Etheridge did not demonstrate the dominance needed in the air to claim the ball as his own when Joe Jacobson made light work of rounding Matty Blair to send in a floating cross from the left. The ball ended up on the floor and Bloomfield, sat on his backside facing away from goal, was able to hook in an easy finish. Minutes later, Etheridge jogged over during a drinks break to the sideline but was shunned by the rest of the team, all gathered around the manager. One can only imagine how frosty the atmosphere might have been in the dressing room at half time, but at least by then we had turned it round to deservedly lead.
However, it all went wrong again in the second half, and this time there can be no excuses. Etheridge, already called out for suspect diving in conceding routine goals to Accrington and Crawley in the opening week, fluffed a simple stop from a tame Paris Cowan-Hall effort and Bloomfield gratefully mopped up for his second to level it at 2-2, earning Etheridge an earful from Andy Butler so vociferous that the keeper could have felt it had he still been at Accrington. From there the crowd really turned on the hapless rookie and if you had asked me in the moment if I’d wanted to see him play for us again I’d have told you in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t want him in my Subbuteo team again.
But, the fixture list presents young Ross with a chance to earn redemption. Successive games in the cup mean Fergie may give him the chance to banish the awful memories of this game quickly and at least curry some favour with the Rovers faithful, even if it is nigh on certain we will line-up at Exeter a week on Saturday with a fit-again Marosi back between the posts. Etheridge isn’t the only one to blame, and shocking errors suitable only for the playground have plagued Rovers all season. It is a big negative that, despite having the best scoring rate in League Two, we also have the third worst defence now and this major flaw must be addressed immediately.
Rowe avoids Halloween scare
Tommy Rowe was arguably our best player in the first half on Saturday, integral to the turnaround that saw Rovers go in 2-1 up at the break. Unfortunately, the midfielder had to go off injured with a potentially nasty foot injury picked up prior to his fine equaliser, and for several days the rumour swirled that Rowe would be out for an extended period of time, possibly even the rest of the season. Thankfully, Fergie revealed yesterday that the knock is nowhere near as bad as first feared and he will in fact be fit again by the time we next go into league action at Exeter in 10 days time.
This is huge for Rovers, particularly with Andy Williams still sidelined. We have a wealth of attacking talent, enough to trouble any defence in League Two, but missing more than one of that front five (Marquis, Williams, Rowe, Blair & Coppinger) for any lengthy period of time would be tough to overcome due to the relative lack of established squad depth behind them in the pecking order. Rowe has netted four goals in his last six games, a tally that should be even better if not for two missed penalties in that time as well, and is clearly growing into the influential creative role that we expected him to take up when he joined from Wolves in the summer.
His commitment to get on the end of James Coppinger’s fine cross to level the score at 1-1 against Wycombe demonstrates his mental and physical edge over many in this division, whilst a dancing run through the heart of the Wanderers’ defence minutes later, all while carrying the injury that eventually forced him off, showcased his ball-playing ability neatly as well. He’s an all-rounder and all fans will have sighed one big collective sigh of relief when the all-clear was announced yesterday on Rowe’s foot injury. Losing him on Saturday severely affected our ability to attack effectively, and coupled with the introduction of Bayo “The Beast” Akinfenwa for the visitors, the game turned around in Wycombe’s favour swiftly after the break.
Off to Oldham again
For the fifth time in twelve seasons (seriously), Rovers have drawn Oldham Athletic in the F.A. Cup despite having nearly eighty other possible opponents. Disappointing as this may be, the game comes at a good time for us as more players return from injury and others are in need of the rest. Rowe will miss the game as is expected, and we could see veteran James Coppinger rested as well to avoid burning out the ageing legs of the midfield maestro, whilst Craig Alcock should be able to use the game as an opportunity to build up some match fitness having missed the entire early portion of the campaign.
It is a chance for several players to step in and stake a claim, including the aforementioned Etheridge, plus Tyler Garratt, Paul Keegan and Harry Middleton who have all featured infrequently (or not at all) due to injuries and others in the same position performing well. Next Tuesday is the final group game in the ridiculous EFL Trophy, hopefully our final outing in the disgraced competition versus Port Vale but, owing to our good form thus far, is likely to be the game that seals qualification for the knock-out phase. Don’t expect to see any match reports from those fixtures on this website any time soon mind.
Yes, this is a bit of a blip for Rovers and the small pockets of concern among the fans is understandable considering our last blip turned into a crisis ending in relegation. However, perspective is needed and a glance at the league table provides just that. Despite dropping (literally) two points on Saturday, and losing poorly at lowly Blackpool the week before, we sit in the automatic promotion places with a three point gap to Luton in fourth. We have picked up ten points from five games in October, highlighted by a superb away victory at Portsmouth, and have managed to keep on picking up points in the face of poor performances at home of late too. Indeed, it is worth noting we remain unbeaten at the Keepmoat since the back end of last season, our best ever run at the hallowed (or should that be hollowed?) stadium.
Keep on smiling, even if you’re off to Oldham again.