Sunday, 30 July 2017

#54 Huish Park, Yeovil Town

Yeovil Town 1 Bristol Rovers 3

Tuesday 25th July 2017, Pre-season Friendly

Cheapskate swine that I am, the opportunity to tick-off one of the 92 in pre-season for a knock-down price is an alluring prospect, especially when someone else is driving (cheers John). Yeovil Town are a team I probably wasn't going to be doing anytime soon under normal circumstances. At an hour and twenty minutes away they are a little over what I'd really accept as local game, plus they're a club Rovers have battled on many an occasion over the last decade since the Glovers were promoted into the football league for the first time in 2003. So I while I had no plans to go out of my way to see them again, I knew I'd have to tick off Huish Park at some point so may as well seize the day.

The little club from South Somerset were non-league mainstays for the first 108 years of their existence, winning the Conference League Cup in 1989–90 followed by the FA Trophy in 2001–02. After years of steady progress it was inevitable that Yeovil would eventually make that difficult jump into the league but it was to the surprise of the entire west country when they went up as champions in only their second season in League Two. Yeovil reached the play-off final in their second season in the third-tier where they were beaten by Blackpool but this was an outlier sandwiched between six seasons of struggle where their average finish was 16th. So you can imagine our shock when in the 2012–13 season the club finished 4th in League One and beat Brentford at Wembley to secure a place in the Championship. The tiny market town with it's population of 45,000, of whom only 4,000 turned up to watch the local side, had somehow got themselves into the second tier of English football just a decade after joining the league.

The club, managed at the time by former Cambridge United and Latvian national team boss Gary Johnson, had gone hell for leather in the transfer market and signed 13 (thirteen) players including experienced head James Hayter who, at the age of 33, already had 520 league appearances under his belt.  Other notables were previously misfiring Carlisle striker Paddy Madden, who went on to score 23 goals in all competitions for the Glovers and Bristol City youth graduate Joe Edwards who eventually joined the club full-time. The epic period of over-achievement turned out to be the beginning of an equally epic downfall, with chairman John Fry commenting in 2015:

"When we came into that Championship I could see what was coming. I was probably the one person that day when looking around at the celebrations and I thought 'hang on a minute, we have to get the money in here'. To get into the Championship was an absolute miracle for a club of this size."

Yeovil finished their first and only season in the Championship in last place resulting in relegation back to League One and as if that weren't enough, they repeated the feat next season, scoring a mere 36 goals and parting company with Johnson in February. Back in League Two under Paul Sturrock followed by Darren Way the Glovers just about avoided triple-relegation by finishing 19th in 2015/16 (thus ending any future competitive meetings with Rovers for the time being) and 20th the season after.

Terry, John and I set off nice and early in John's gurt big van, fresh from Nozstock where it's driver had been working the week before. Encountering only moderate traffic on the way we had plenty of time to kill after arriving at the ground. We were herded into what I believed to be an executive lounge, complete with a sign pleading with visitors to adhere to a dress code of no shorts and no replica shirts on anyone over 16. The pleas were unsuccessful on this occasion and the place was full of portly elderly chaps proudly cutting about in their finest home kits. The bar reminded me of a hotel from a 70s horror movie with it's over-saturation of dark wood paneling and assorted brass bits, which only went to complement the eminently tasteful green and yellow Yeovil Town Branded Carpet™. We sat for a while drinking in the ambiance with some light refreshments and studied the teamsheets. Appearing for Rovers were new boys Rollin Menayese, Adam Smith and former armed forces man Tom Broadbent who is roughly the same size as a tree. John made the comment that Broadbent's remarkable physique could potentially cost us a few offsides this season simply because of the width of his chest and biceps. A formidable addition to the back line indeed if he can make the step-up to professional level. Notably absent from the Yeovil line-up was former Rovers striker Jermaine Easter who is currently a trialist with the Somerset club but another former player, Henbury's finest Brazilian Alefe Santos, was starting on the bench having signed for the Glovers the previous day.

Huish Park isn't the most interesting stadium to be brutally honest. It's like a lot of lower league grounds built in the 90s. There are two identical single-tier seated stands on either side of the pitch and two large terraces behind each goal with the uncovered one being reserved for away fans. Each of the four stands is self-contained. The only real quirky design feature to write home about is the metal weather vane depicting three men in green kits running for a ball that adorns the top of the electric scoreboard on the away terrace.

The first goal of the afternoon came when the owner of the largest forehead in North Bristol Byron Moore found himself running into a decent crossing position after a deft one-two with Lee Brown. As he was running towards the box, the last man shoved him over from behind and Rovers were awarded with a free-kick. Chris Lines hit the ball low across the middle of the box for Billy Bodin to burst onto and slot into the top corner. A perfectly executed set-piece routine.

Straight out of the blocks in the second half Ellis Harrison found himself in command of a stray ball on the edge of the D. He had to take his shot fast as a pair of Yeovil defenders were bearing down on him. I'm unsure whether his effort was a scuffed shot or a masterful and unselfish set-up but the end result was the ball rolling gently into the penalty-area for Bodin to slide past the keeper for his second. Bodin is pleasantly toasty, your defence is marginally less confident about Luton away next weekend.

Next it was time for the home side to net one as James Bailey trotted down the right wing and booted the ball into the box for Nathan Smith to redirect in the air past Adam Smith and into goal. The home fan's jubilation would prove to be short-lived however when straight out of the blocks in the second half Rovers scored again. Chris Lines stole the ball just inside the Rovers half before putting in a through-ball for Bodin to run onto. Bodin did well to navigate past Nathan Smith's tackle to supply Moore with another fine through-ball allowing the Potteries native to chip it over the encroaching keeper. This was the cherry on top of what had been a good afternoon for the oft-maligned Moore. The fine team goal led to me hearing my first Terryism of the new season as my bearded friend cupped his hands to his mouth and boomed: "SHUT UP YOU GAGGLE OF MUTANTS" to the Yeovil fans.

So a comfortable and pleasing pre-season victory for the Gas. All the sweeter for being on the road against 'local' rivals. I'm not one for reading too much into pre-season friendlies but the likes of Broadbent, Liam Sercombe and the new keepers look to be bedding-in nicely and it's good to see Bodin firing on all cylinders since he seems to be our main attacking option going into 2017-18. As I write this Rovers have gone on to lose to Bath City 1-0 at Twerton Park but then overcame a strong West Bromwich Albion side 2-1 back at the Mem, so God knows what shape we'll be in come the start of August. Either way I'm looking forward to the start of the season proper next week when I'll be checking out some more grounds in Prague. Watch this space.

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