Ryan Loft conspiracy wrong as Bristol Rovers beat Scunthorpe for deserved promotion
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Bristol Rovers set a record at the weekend: the first team in league history to require a seven-goal victory to go up in their final league game.
As reported by The Times’ Bill Edgar on Monday, the Gas did just that. ‘Playing seven miles by road from the River Severn’ he added.
Rovers were brilliant on the weekend and what a run it’s been: from 17th at the turn of the year to finally making the top three positions in the league with just five minutes of the season remaining.
Of course, there were plenty or protestations on social media across the weekend - no doubt from the unhappy Northampton end - that Joey Barton’s side were helped over the line by the visitors on the final day.
What rubbish. You could tell during the game that Keith Hill was desperate for his side to do well, as he remonstrated at his players and the officials from the sidelines.
And there was a decent fight from the visitors in the first half who kept the home side to a two goal lead but may have scored themselves when Finley Shrimpton shot from 30 yards for Scunthorpe United’s only shot on target, while Joe Nuttall burst through one-on-one with James Belshaw, only for Connor Taylor to recover at the last.
Rovers did much better after the break, but the writing was on the wall. The visitors were already relegated and playing for little more than pride.
In the final game, why should Hill’s side not look to the future and use players who are likely to be around the next season, even if they are younger and less expereinced? Scunthorpe needed to look after themselves.
Scunthorpe made three changes from their previous game against Hartlepool. Although the average age of their starting lineup was just 20 years old, the club adhered to EFL rules that state that from the fourth Thursday in March, any team sheet for a league game should include at least 10 outfield players who featured on the team sheet for the previous league game.
And if there was so little fight, then why is the referee reporting an incident towards the end of the game when supporters spilled onto the pitch in the final minutes and opposition keeper Owen Foster was allegedly involved in a incident with Rovers supporters?
When the fans ran on from the Thatchers end and West stand, we watched as one made a beeline for Luke Matheson. Who knows what the conversation involved, but the on-loan Wolves man had proved stubborn opposition for the outstanding Elliot Anderson for much of the afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Cobblers, Hill’s young side wilted late on, but by then momentum was with the Pirates and the bit was between the teeth.
“It’s the way that I’ve decided to go with the young players to try and give them the experience,” explained Hill of his team selection following the game.
“I wanted them to enjoy the experience of playing in front of a big crowd against a good side, but from a football perspective they were miles better than us.”
When one side has such motivation, and there was a clear disparity in ability between the two teams, then it can be tough juggernaut to bring to a halt. Hence why we’ve seen some great comebacks over the years: Liverpool from three down to Barcelona, Barcelona coming back against PSG, Real Madrid against Chelsea... That’s the game.
A big score was always likely on the weekend. The only question was whether it would be enough. Rovers finish the season as third top scorers in the league, demonstrating that their cutting edge was not a one-off, and go up by the finest of margins: on scoring more goals over the campaign.
“I don’t want to say anything on the matter. We need to look forward. Whatever is done is done, whether it’s right or wrong,” said Jon Brady when asked about Scunthorpe’s team selection on the final day.
And when things are decided at the last, and by events outside of your control, it can sting but ultimately the reflection must turn inwards.
As for suggestions that Scunthorpe wanted Rovers to go up to collect a fee from the Ryan Loft transfer - who switched between the two clubs in January - it’s routine for most transfers to include such clauses.
Scunthorpe may benefit from a fee, but it will be minor and the risk that the Lincolnshire side could be fined by the governing bodies for not fielding a full-strength side mitigates that.
Though it will bristle for Northampton fans, Rovers earned promotion fairly, decided on 46 games rather than a crazy last 15 minutes at the Mem, where one side had everything to gain and the other little.