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Bristol Rovers 1
Wycombe Wanderers 0
Saturday 11th March 1995
Football League Division Two
Wanderers fell to a 1-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers in a controversial day at Bath City’s Twerton Park ground. An unhappy day for Wanderers was compounded by Martin O’Neill’s confrontation with a Rovers fan in the car park after the game. Gareth Taylor netted the only goal of the game with a header for the home side after just 75 seconds.
O’Neill was incensed with Wanderers’ first half performance and an improved second-half display did little to quell the Wanderers’ boss frustration. And it boiled over even more in the car-park after the game after the Wycombe boss was approached by a Rovers fan.
Reporting for the Bucks Free Press from Twerton Park, Claire Nash wrote: 'Martin O’Neill wished that any combative talking there was to be done on Saturday could have been done by his players’ feet on the pitch at Bristol Rovers. It would have avoided his post-match contretemps with a football fan for a start, but more importantly, and for the sake of preserving cool heads all round, it would have stopped Blues dropping from seventh to ninth in Division Two. O’Neill’s frustration boiled over after Wycombe Wanderers failed to dig themselves out of a mire at boggy Twerton Park.
They were up against it from the start when Rovers punished Blues’ sorely inadequate, sluggish start by scoring after just two minutes. Rovers, who O’Neill turned down more than three years ago, took the lead through a well-taken header by Gareth Taylor, and they protected it by fiercely fending of Wycombe’s battling second- half performance.
Wycombe are now four places off the play-off zone, but just four points behind with two games in hand. However, if they produce such a Jekyll and Hyde performance again, they will not make up lost ground. O’Neill was tearing his hair out during the game at admittedly questionable refereeing decisions by Rob Harris, and later David Spicer who replaced the injured official.
But these only exacerbated the frustrations O’Neill has about players who are not up to it. But it’s in his, and his team’s hands, to get to the promised land of the play-offs and a Wembley final at best. Mathematically, it’s still very possible, but their grip on the baton has been loosening to dropping point over the last month.
Fortune, and goodness knows little has come their way with recent injuries, may still smile on them if teams bunched around them were to press their own self-destruct buttons in the end of season run-in. But Wycombe cannot afford to focus on anything other than bolstering a side which has been flagging. They were indeed, in the words of their manager, dreadful in the first half, while umpteen times better in the second. But this was only after a half-time rollicking from O’Neill.
The fighting unit they became should have taken to the pitch in the first place. A revival was in the offing when Simon Garner got a touch to a Mickey Bell cross on 46 minutes, but the close- range shot rebounded from post to goalkeeper and away. For all their pressure afterwards, that remained the nearest Wycombe got to scoring.
Blues sorely need someone to be in the right place at the right time — if need be, a replacement for Miquel Desouza who is out for the rest of the season after netting six goals in six games. For all the crosses which Bell, who worked tirelessly off Garner’s invaluable distribution, slung in from the left wing, there was never anyone there to meet them and the ball was invariably met by Rovers’ backline instead. It was like watching Blues banging their heads against a brick wall.
One would never assume it’s easy to score, or straight forward to get someone else in to do the job, but a cure is necessary to end such agony. The consensus among fans is new signings now, we don’t care how.'
Speaking after the game Wanderers Manager Martin O'Neill said: "We were absolutely dreadful in the first half. We could not compete. We just couldn’t get close enough to their players. I felt there were one or two players who seemed to have accepted that defeat is not all that bad."
Match referee Rob Harris upset O’Neill with a few questionable decisions and his replacement due to injury, David Spicer, did little to make the Wycombe Manager’s good books - a decision late in the game that seeing O’Neill leave his dug out and confront the official at the final whistle. A furious O’Neill then avoided most of the usual press conference and headed straight to the team coach.
It was there that O’Neill was confronted by a burly, bearded supporter who taunted O’Neill with the bad loser tag. The incident witnessed by some journalists saw O’Neill react by shouting ‘You are right, I am a bad loser’ before grabbing the fan by the throat and shirt collar and pushing him against a wall. O’Neill eventually regained his composure and shook the fan’s hand.
The Wycombe Manager admitted later: “Everything got a bit heated. There was a bit of handbags at ten paces, as if we were about to get embroiled in a situation. I grabbed hold of him and he grabbed hold of me.”
The incident made the national newspapers and the front page of the Bucks Free Press Midweek. O’Neill claimed he was spat at after he left the pitch following a 1-0 defeat on the mud bath. O’Neill said: “The moment you stand up for yourself and make a stand, all hell breaks loose, while a rival team’s fan spitting at me seems to have gone unnoticed.”
O’Neill believed the whole incident was blown out of proportion by the press and commented: “I apologised to him after it happened. I got on the coach and actually got off to apologise again. He accepted it and said to me ‘It takes a man to be able to say that’.”
No action was taken on either incident inside and outside of the ground as no official complaint was made to the Football Association. O’Neill later went on to add that the Rovers fan motivation to confront him may have been fuelled by the Wycombe Manager’s decision four years early to turn down the offer of the Manager’s job at Rovers.
The result left Wanderers four points off the play-off zone but with two games in hand. O’Neill said: “Our league position is the lowest position we have been in since we’ve been in the Football League. We’ve been struggling for a few weeks to score goals. We have lost key players through injury. It’s my job to turn it round and that is what I’m trying to do.”
The visit to 12th place York City the following Tuesday would be the first chance for Wanderers to re-ignite their challenge for promotion.
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