If 2020 was a bad year for Bristol Rovers, the club’s fate in 2021 did little to lift the tribulation. You need heroes to escape relegation from the first division.
But on Easter Monday the gas revived their hopes for survival with a sweeping 2-1 win over Doncaster Rovers, where a new hero completed his rise as the Pirates’ new talisman.
Luke McCormick He deservedly made headlines with two brilliant goals, but stood the full length of the field away from the spot where the Chelsea loanee celebrated his decisive winner, which Rovers have missed just a little less than Jonson Clarke-Harris this season: Anssi Jaakkola.
Jaakkola was sidelined for almost four months after Paul Tisdale’s risk of playing against the Finnish international in the much-maligned EFL Trophy at Leyton Orient backfired in December.
Joe Day – on loan from Cardiff City in January – and Jaakkola’s understudy Jordi van Stappershoef have been sharing gloves ever since. Both had good and bad games, but most importantly, he has neither the control of the penalty area nor the presence in the team that the 34-year-old can exercise.
The return of the former Reading stop in late March was a decisive boost for a Rovers team that has only won five games since the turn of the year and is staring at relegation.
The gas needed an injection of character. McCormick’s breakthrough as an all-action midfielder equally capable of a game-winning challenge or a goal is undoubtedly a boost, but the presence of a goalkeeper like Jaakkola cannot be underestimated.
Technically speaking, Jaakkola is a good operator, ranked among the best in League One in his position, but his recovery from an Achilles tendon injury and return to the XI have had a high level of communication, intent and on a team that has already been successful Responsibility brought back for a tongue clap or two from the stands this season.
Goalkeeper and goalscorer are perhaps the most important roles on the football field, and this year the Rovers have had to forego their best players from last season in those roles. Clarke-Harris’s inevitable departure to Peterborough United last summer was not adequately mitigated in the transfer market, and Rovers’ top scorer this season is left-back Luke Leahy.
And for more than half of their games, the Gas have had to do without Jaakkola – whom the squad elected vice-captain before the start of the season. Day and van Stappershoef could not fill the enormous gap with the same all-round qualities as the number 32.
Based on these facts alone, it’s no surprise that Rovers had tough defense and offense in a grueling relegation battle.
Gas boss Joey Barton said ahead of Jaakkola’s return from injury he was impressed with the goalkeeper’s presence on the training ground and said he had the ability to single-handedly score points on the board.
One cannot contradict. Just its name on the team sheet immediately lifts this team to a higher level. He has the coveted ability to give serenity and ease to the defenders in front of him.
While he’s not had a brilliant performance with high-profile saves in the three games since his return, it’s the little things that made the big difference – the crucial punches, the quick thinking to ignite the counterattack, the flawlessness and the fact that he demands of his teammates.
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Zain Westbrooke was on the receiving end of a missile von Jaakkola on Monday for his poor performance, and that’s exactly what this team needed – a character willing to take on responsibility and ask more of a team that fell far short of expectations. It will fill the void that the 7,000 gasheads typically left in the meme before the pandemic.
The Rovers are in major relegation problems with six big games to go, but Jaakkola’s return immediately made them harder to beat and eradicated some of their blackness.
He might have come just in time to drive the pirates on a grand escape.