The Thursday Preview: Southampton Vs Bristol Rovers
Lanterne Rouge has left the lectern. Having spent the early part of this week putting together this well-received post (well, someone at WSC liked it), he’ll expect nothing less than an insightful and reasoned Preview to follow it up. But it’s 8.35pm and I haven’t had my tea, so readers will have to settle for partisan piffle and whimsy.
Putting such self-indulgent laundry airing to one side, the pick of this week’s League One fixtures has to be Bristol Rovers’ trip to St Mary’s, the second time we’ve profiled a fixture between these two teams this season. We’ve now reached the run in, that time of the year where sides start acquiring a C, P or R beside their league standings. Yet neither of these teams look close to securing anything just yet, and it’s likely that the season will stay live right until May 7th.
It’s taken them a tad longer than expected to get going, but until Tuesday night Southampton looked fair set for second spot. Seven wins in eight, made up of an energising derby win at Bournemouth and a storming fight back against MK Dons to boot, signalled a team on the way to what’s rightfully (or, at least, financially) theirs. But the gremlin climbed out of the locker once again, and a 2-0 defeat at a Rochdale side with the bit most definitely between their teeth will have given cause for worry in Saints’ households in a week that saw rivals Brighton make next term’s 16,000 season ticket holders happy.
A midweek defeat at Spotland is nothing to be ashamed of these days, of course, but with Huddersfield too close for comfort there’s now little room for error. The Yorkshiremen face the tougher set of fixtures with trips to Charlton, MK Dons and Brighton to come, but Saints have their own hurdles, most notably another trip to Sussex by the Sea to face Nigel Adkins’ foes, so Saturday’s game against Rovers takes on real meaning.
Rickie Lambert will lead the line against a former club for the second time in two games, and will hope that his 90 minutes will prove as fruitful as previous outings against the Gas; the last two of which have yielded a hat trick of strikes and six points. He’ll almost definitely start alongside the gob of Lee Barnard. Further back, Adkins will look to Adam Lallana’s return for impetus and there’s a possibility that Richard ‘squeaky’ Chaplow and Alex Chamberlain may make an appearance at some stage.
Bristol Rovers will be up against it whichever Southampton team is put out, but form has been excellent since Stuart Campbell stepped in to caretake following Dave Penney’s rapid dismissal. Indeed, the Pirates have won three on the bounce away from the Mem and, but for a disappointing home loss against Exeter on Saturday which witnessed Marcus Stewart hanging up his boots, it’s been a good few weeks in Horfield. Talisman and captain Will Hoskins missed that one, and will be wheeled out to play on Saturday if at all possible. If he doesn’t make it then the delightfully named Reggie Lambe, on loan from Ipswich, could start in his place once again.
As clichéd as it sounds, momentum is all that matters at this stage and with a full-house of travelling support following Rovers across to the South Coast it would be foolish of Saints to overlook the threat of the Gas. Both sides have been in good nick, but went down by two goals in their last game, and I expect a draw in this one, which should be a great showcase for third tier football.