United's unbeaten away record goes on after a 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers this afternoon. A wonderful goal from James Constable was cancelled out by a late header from John Joe O'Toole for Rovers as they fight for survival at the other end of the table.
On a treacherous surface with driving rain and strong winds gusting down the pitch it was a credit to both sides that the game was open and entertaining. United, playing into the wind in the first half, brought Dave Kitson back into the side to hold the ball in the middle of the three-man front line which saw Deane Smalley and Constable either side of him.
It took ten minutes for that combination to combine and produce the opening goal. Kitson outpaced his man wide on the left and floated in a cross to the back post where Smalley had ghosted in. He chested down for Constable 15 yard from goal and his volley flew past keeper Steve Mildenhall, rooted in the muddy goalmouth. 104 and counting.
Rovers came back and saw a Lee Brown free kick deflected wide on 22 as they tried to get back into the game and also quieten the unrest among their own fans who had been distinctly unimpressed to that point. Mutinous Pirates indeed. That mood didn't improve when O'Toole got the ball in the net on the half hour only to see it rightly chalked off for offside.
With that wind in their sails the Pirates had the bulk of possession in the first half but were constantly repelled by the excellent Mullins and Hunt, with full backs Matt Bevans and Tom Newey both making important challenges to restrict the home side to optimistic long-range efforts at Clarke's goal.
United then took advantage of the conditions to hook the ball in behind the Rovers defence and get the home back line turning towards their own goal in the second period. With Rose and Nicky Wroe snapping into challenges and Josh Ruffels once again impressing in midfield they started to have the lion's share of possession.
Some hesitant defending and some effective hounding from the hard-running Constable set up Ruffels on 57 only for the youngster to fire over the top from 18 yards out.
Clarke made a good save from Tom Lockyer on 65 but the harder Rovers tried the tougher United tackled. Smalley, full of running on the right, got back to help when needed, Constable ran himself into the sodden ground and Kitson was the centre of everything.
Rovers kept plugging away though and even though United had played with great determination and composure the home side were never out of the game. In the end it took a set piece to undo United. Swung in from the Rovers right, O'Toole threw himself in front of the defenders to flick his header beyond Clarke and make it 1-1.
Rovers will be pleased with the point while United keep the pressure on the leaders while drawing further away from the team in 8th and outside the play-offs. Mickey Lewis has overseen four games now: three away draws, one home win. Take a look at the subs bench too: Alfie Potter back in contention and United are still sitting pretty as we go into the last third of the season.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher Stats by OPTA
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