Burton Albion return to Bristol Rovers in better shape, a year after 7-1 humiliation
EXACTLY one year later, Burton Albion revisit the scene of their worst day as a Football League club tomorrow.
The Brewers were hammered 7-1 by Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium as they inched towards securing their League Two status under Gary Rowett's caretaker managership.
Plenty of people wondered that day if Rowett's chances of landing the job permanently had been damaged beyond repair.
And few would have dared predict that Burton might return to Bristol one year on as serious promotion challengers.
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But Rowett said immediately after the game – and stands by it now – that the result could be a blessing in disguise.
"That was probably the most important result of the season," said Rowett, who should be odds-on to collect his second manager of the month award, since the Brewers are the only League Two side who went through February unbeaten.
"I think it's shaped our current squad.
"It showed me what I needed to do to turn things around.
"You learn a lot more from the kicks up the backside than you do from all the plaudits which people are throwing my way at the minute.
"There were perhaps three or four players that day who were not pulling hard enough for the team, although it wasn't all about individuals.
"Sure, everything Bristol hit that day went in and every player, manager or coach will have had a day like that.
"But any team that concedes six goals in the last half-hour of a game has a big problem."
The extent of Rowett's rebuilding job can be gauged by the fact that only four players in the 16-man match-day squad on duty at Bristol last year were in the 18-man squad who beat Morecambe 3-2 on Tuesday: Calvin Zola, Jacques Maghoma, Jimmy Phillips and Andy Corbett.
Although several others are still involved – Aaron Webster was unavailable on both occasions and Nathan Stanton, if fit, would probably have featured both times – it has still been a remarkable transformation.
With it, of course, has come a change in fortunes and Burton travel tomorrow unbeaten in seven matches, having won their last four.
Rovers' fortunes, meanwhile, have been revived in recent weeks since the experienced John Ward took over as manager from Mark McGhee.
They were looking favourites to drop out of the League but have lost only three of 12 games under Ward to climb away from immediate danger.
"John Ward has had a terrific career with a lot of success at this level and higher," said Rowett.
"He has them working hard and competing and they always had some excellent players.
"So, once again, we will get a real stiff test."
If all of his players are fit, Rowett again faces a dilemma – does he keep an unchanged starting line up for a fourth successive game?
The 18-man squad has also been unchanged for the last three but with captain Zander Diamond having completed his four-match suspension, he will be in the squad.
The opposition have scored two late goals in each of Burton's last two games but Rowett does not necessarily see that as a reason to make a change.
"It could always be an issue with the high-energy way we play," said Rowett.
"But the problem hasn't necessarily been a physical tiredness.
"We've been 4-0 up twice and 3-0 up in the last three games and, just maybe, one or two have thought 'this game's won.'
"Then we've seen you only need to switch off for a second to get punished.
"Against Morecambe, it was just one mistake, by Damien McCrory, which gave them a lifeline but I'd be a greedy person to expect perfection."
On the plus side, up to the 80th minute, Burton had barely given Morecambe a sniff, a similar story to the games against Exeter City and Fleetwood Town previously.
"We started properly, with pace, energy and tempo," said Rowett.
"If you look at the last three games, we have created so many chances and we have stopped the opposition creating many at all.
"Look at the two goals Alex MacDonald set up against Morecambe – they were the result of incisive running and incisive passing.
"I'm thinking I may be the only one wondering 'can we keep on doing this?'
"The lads know what they're doing and they're as focused as ever.
"So do I keep the continuity or bring two or three fresh faces in? I've not decided.
"If you're a player in a team who have just won four on the spin, you don't think you need a rest.
"It might be more of a gamble for me to change it than it would be not to.
"But what I do know for sure is that I have some lovely options."