This was a superb game, honestly it was. I know on the face of it its a 2-0 win. At home. Against Wigan. But honestly it was. Perhaps some context would help..
It was during a period where Ken Richardson’s destructive hands were tightening around the throat of the club. It was widely rumoured that manager Kerry Dixon didn’t get to pick the team, we looking very likely to exit the football league and were on a run which had seen us pick up 2 points from the last 7 games. We were going one way.
In contrast, Wigan were going up and up. They were on their way to claim the Division 3 title and commence their rise to the Premier League. Graeme Jones was returning to Belle Vue for the first time since his summer move to Wigan and was on fire. He would go on to finish as the league’s top scorer and among the highest in Europe as he would find the net 31 times for Wigan during 96/97. Put all that together then and the inevitable outcome was another heavy defeat.
Something happened however, Dixon must have wrestled back some sway in terms of team selection as Paul Birch was reinstalled to midfield (tragically Paul Birch would lose a battle with illness a few years later) and his quality shone through above everything else on show. Well past his best with us, Birch totally ran this game and allied with a couple of pieces of genuine quality from Colin Cramb (not least the first goal, including the typical celebration) along with good performances from Darren Moore and Ian Gore, (who shackled Jones throughout) John Schofield and Martin McDonald, Rovers produced a shock result. This was the start of a run of 4 wins in 5 which granted a stay of execution until the following year and was a rare highlight during 1997.
Rovers: 1.Williams 2.Cunningham 3.Darren Esdaille 4.Moore 5.Gore 6.Birch 7.Schofield 8.McDonald 9.Mike 10.Cramb 11.Ireland. 12.Warren (for Birch)
This was 20 years ago. I can’t believe it really. Listen out for Ken Avis on the tannoy too..