Bristol Rovers 5, Accrington Stanley 1: Rovers' fitting tribute to the memory of a legend
ON a day when the Memorial Stadium faithful paid tribute to the passing of Alfie Biggs, one of Bristol Rovers' greatest ever players, it was probably fitting that the opening goal in another thumping home win could have been lifted straight from their Eastville glory days.
Thrilling wing play produced a marvellous cross which was duly converted by a bullet header – a real old-fashioned centre-forward's goal. It was reminiscent of Tote End favourite Harold Jarman and The Baron himself at their best.
But instead, this was the inspirational Mustapha Carayol, pictured, doing the supplying and Matt Harrold providing the finish which started off an afternoon of fulsome entertainment and some marvellous football by the Pirates.
Gasheads went home buzzing – not simply because Rovers had rounded off their home campaign with 12 goals in their last two outings on their own soil, but also with a lip-smacking sense of anticipation for next season.
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Mixed in with it were probably a few rueful thoughts about what might have been possible had Mark McGhee arrived at the start of the campaign rather than 26 games into it.
Carayol, one of Paul Buckle's more astute signings, turned in another thrilling, irrepressible performance to delight a good home crowd – their numbers boosted by the club's welcome decision to slash admission prices for the final home game of a rollercoaster campaign. The young Gambian not only played a full part in four of the home side's goals, but at times left you feeling almost sympathetic for an Accrington side who simply had no idea how to stop him.
Stanley's central defender Peter Murphy had tried innovative means of doing so in this season's first meeting between the teams when he simply ignored the ball, which was some distance away, and decided instead to try and kick Carayol into a neighbouring county – an outrageous challenge probably worthy of two red cards, although it received only one.
This time, faced with Carayol's mazy run into the box, he simply body-checked his opponent to concede the penalty which allowed Harrold to fire home Rovers' second goal midway through the opening period.
If Murphy was to have another uncomfortable afternoon, then the visitors' left-back Kevin McIntyre – handed the thankless task of trying to mark Carayol – had one he won't forget in a hurry.
He did, at least, manage to score Stanley's consolation goal, although it was something of a freak one as Rovers keeper Scott Bevan helped to claw his inswinging corner into the net. But for the rest of the game, McIntyre and his team-mates were repeatedly torn to pieces. Carayol was tormentor-in-chief, but the rest of Rovers' team were also bristling with confidence and playing some of their best football of the season as they made light of the stadium's much-maligned surface with some slick passing, exciting build-up play and top-quality finishing.
Arguably the best goal of the lot came just before the half-hour when more good work by Carayol allowed Harrold the chance to provide a cross which was hammered home on the volley from the edge of the box by Andy Dorman, his spectacular left-footed strike probably the crowning moment of his loan spell from Crystal Palace. The Pirates could have added two more goals in quick succession but for good work by Stanley's keeper Ian Dunbavin, who managed to tip Aaron Downes' header from a corner against the bar having just steered a Matt Gill drive past a post.
Despite rarely looking as though they would overhaul the deficit, the visitors could have had more goals of their own on another afternoon. But after his earlier blemish, Bevan more than redeemed himself with some good stops, particularly after the break. Just before the interval he had come out well to deny the luckless Padraig Amond from a one-on-one opportunity – Downes then foiling the striker again by clearing off the line – and the keeper made a couple more notable saves to make it an afternoon of frustration for Stanley's danger man. One, from a close-range header in the 56th minute, was right out the top drawer.
Rovers were denied what looked a stonewall penalty five minutes into the second half when Carayol was upended from behind while cutting in along the byline, and Dunbavin made a fine close-range stop to prevent the winger getting on the scoresheet ten minutes before the end.
As it was, they had to contend themselves with two goals from substitute Matt Lund, who rounded off his loan spell from Stoke City in some style. The youngster's first was steered in via a post with Carayol, almost inevitably, the provider, while his second was thumped home convincingly from Wayne Brown's cross.