Never-say-die Bristol Rovers continue to shine under Darrell Clarke

by Mike Holden / 19 October 2016, 10:40

In his latest feature Mike Holden (@Ratings_Mike) takes a look at Darrell Clarke's side Bristol Rovers and the club's never-say-die attitude.

There were countless contributing factors to the Leicester City fairytale last season - it was the perfect storm. But chief among the necessary conditions from a psychological standpoint was the propensity to rescue points from seemingly irretrievable positions at the beginning of the season.

Between August and October, the Foxes came from behind to nick a result in six out nine matches. On three separate occasions, they fell two goals behind but roared back to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at home, then salvage 2-2 draws at Stoke and Southampton.

It was a sequence of events that instilled a deep-rooted belief that no challenge was beyond them and no game was ever lost, which in turn created a fearlessness that would later stand them in good stead when the situation became the thing to worry about rather than the opposition.

Over the past five months, the world has been on the lookout for possible parallels. The bookmakers have reported a flurry of bets on outsiders to win this season's title, while journalists and commentators up and down the country seemingly cannot resist any opportunity to frame any unexpected short-term growth spurt with the question: can they do a Leicester?

But worthy parallels are few and far between. Few stretch beyond the reasoning that ‘if Leicester can do it, anyone can’, which is wholly disrespectful and couldn't be further from the truth. In most cases, such comparisons serve only to cheapen the real meaning of what Leicester actually achieved and make the forecaster look silly.

With that in mind, I make the following observation with mild apprehension and a significant caveat about the scale. But have you seen what's going on at Bristol Rovers right now? Newly-promoted from League Two, the Pirates could be on the verge of tearing it up in League One to record a third successive promotion under Darrell Clarke.

In each of the last nine matches - nine! - Rovers have conceded the first goal, yet they've salvaged something in all but one of them. In the first three instances, they nicked a point. In four of the next five, they came from behind to win. Last night, they were 3-1 down with on 86 minutes at MK Dons only to score twice and send the travelling Gasheads into delirium.

Moreover, in the last seven matches, they’ve scored ten goals in the 82nd minute or later. If this was an isolated streak of never-say-die masculinity, it would be absurd of me to draw the comparison with Claudio Ranieri's men, but it's not. This is merely the latest, albeit most sensational example of a familiar pattern that embodies everything that Clarke is about as a manager.

You can talk about tactics, preparation, sports science - all of those fashionable things with which we like to separate the managerial wheat from the chaff nowadays, but Clarke possesses something more tribal and traditional, a quality common among all great leaders stretching back thousands of years - the ability to motivate and lead troops into battle without any hint of fear, regardless of how much the odds might be stacked against them.

Two years ago, bouncing back from relegation to the Conference was unheard of. It hadn’t happened for a decade. But Clarke bucked that trend, with Rovers stringing together a sequence of just one defeat in their final 32 matches, overcoming the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion on the final day to clinch promotion on penalties in the play-off final.

Last season, promotion from League Two was automatic. Again, they came good with another late surge, winning 11 of their last 14 matches to pip Accrington Stanley with a 90th-minute winner against Dagenham & Redbridge on the final day. It was far cry from the previous November, when they were 13th in the table operating at 1.44 points per game.

As it stands, Rovers are tenth in the table on 20 points from 13 matches. It seems like an unlikely position from which to mount a title charge but - like Leicester - they have a core that has been together for two years, and been through so much together.

Given their habit for saving their best for when it really matters, only a fool would rule it out.


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