Full-time: Bristol Rovers 2 Plymouth Argyle 1
There can't be a football club in the country more in need of the new-found optimism and desire for change that arrives with the coming of a New Year than Bristol Rovers.
The year of 2012 will be go down as an annus horibilis at the Memorial Stadium; one to be confined to the annals of history and best forgotten.
The start of it signalled the end of Paul Buckle's turbulent reign to be followed by the early promise injected by the arrival of Mark McGhee. The latter part, however, saw that optimism quickly turn to pessimism before McGhee's reign ended in almost shambolic circumstances, which contrinuted to Rovers 'celebrating' Christmas at the bottom of League Two and fearing for their Football League existence.
Enter John Ward, however, and the renewal of hope and optimism. Ward has made a promising start – a hard-fought draw at Aldershot on Boxing Day followed by this victory over a fellow relegation struggler in the shape of Plymouth Argyle.
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A first win in almost two months in front of a healthy 7,000+ inside the Memorial Stadium was enough to ensure a positive beginning to the New Year and to offer hope that the next 12 months may foster greater progress than that achieved over the previous 12. The players must now make sure that they must seek to carry on in the same way as they have started 2013. This victory has to be more than some sort of New Year's resolution that will be long forgotten and see normal service resumed even before January is over.
This performance was certainly nothing to write home about. Dogged in defence and effective at set-pieces were the ingredients that won the day – whilst the three new additions Ward added to his squad on Monday all made positive contributions.
Much work, however, remains to be done on the training pitch as well as in the transfer market before Rovers supporters are able to sit comfortably in their seats once again.
Ward, at least, will be boosted by the fact that he claimed his first victory in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd that exuded hope when welcoming their new manager for the first time.
Early first-half goals from Joe Anyinsah and Matt Lund provided the the catalyst for a victory that moves Rovers to within one point of safety ahead of what will certainly be a much sterner test of their credentials when league leaders Gillingham arrive at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Anyinsah pounced to fire high into the net from close-range after Plymouth goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin failed to get sufficient purchase on an effort to clear a Fabian Broghammer corner from under his crossbar to open the scoring in the 19th minute.
Six minutes later Rovers profited from a set-piece situation for a second time when Lund was the beneficiary of another corner delivered perfectly delivered by Broghammer, which allowed the on-loan Stoke City midfielder to execute an accurate and powerful volley past a helpless Gilmartin to double the advantage.
Plymouth returned with greater purpose after the break and managed to register their first attempt on target – even if debutant Rovers goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall was able to casually pluck the attempt out of the air with little fuss.
It served as a warning sign, however, that Plymouth were likely to be much sterner opponents for the remainder of the game than they had been during a pretty woeful opening 45 minutes. And so it proved.
They reduced the deficit when skipper Conor Hourihane took advantage of some slack defending to angle a side-foot volley past Mildenhall on the hour mark after he had been picked out at the far post by Argyle right-back Durrell Berry.
Plymouth were then desperately unlucky not to level the scores a few minutes later when Hourihane almost claimed a second goal only to see the ball rattle back off the post following a delicately curled effort from the edge of the penalty area.
Ward moved to tighten things up for the final 20 minutes by introducing the combative Seanan Clucas in place of Oliver Norburn to ensure that Plymouth did not make the sort of comeback that possibly would have offered their manager, Carl Fletcher, who was sensationally sacked at the final whistle, a reprieve.
Rovers new boy John-Joe O'Toole, meanwhile, claimed a man-of-the-match bottle of champagne after showing flashes of good play in a side showing six changes from the one that drew 2-2 with Aldershot on Boxing Day.
Mildenhall could do little about Argyle's goal – but should prove an astute signing to solve an area of the team that has been a problem for most of the season, aside from the few weeks over which Fulham stopper Neil Etheridge had kept goal at the Memorial Stadium.
Young striker Tom Hitchcock also started for the first time after completing a loan deal to join from QPR – but was offered a difficult job when asked to lead the line on his own up front. He took time to warm to the task, but showed some intelligent thinking in his play, even if some of his intended attempts to execute a defence-splitting pass were over-hit or misguided at times.
Ward will no doubt be looking to bolster his squad further before Gillingham arrive at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday – with a striker to add some physical presence likely to be high on the list of priorities.
Bristol Rovers (4-5-1): Mildenhall; Smith, Bolger, Parkes, Brown; Anyinsah (Harding, 90), Lund, Norburn (Clucas, 73) O'Toole, Broghammer (Richards, 77); Hitchcock. Subs: Gough, Harrison, Lockyer, Santos.
Plymouth (4-4-2): Gilmartin; Berry, Blanchard, Nelson, Williams (Lennox, 75); Cowan-Hall, Hourihane, Young (Molesley, 84), Bhasera; Chadwick, Feeney (Griffiths, 78). Subs: Cole, Wotton, Lowry, Lecointe.