Marcus Stewart returns to East Anglia as Bristol Rovers prepare to face Braintree Town in a league game
Former Ipswich Town fans’ favourite Marcus Stewart returns to East Anglian tomorrow for a match which proves just how quickly things change in football.
The 41-year-old – who fired Town to Play-Off glory in 2000 and scored 19 goals the following season as George Burley’s side finished in the Premier League – is a development coach at his boyhood club Bristol Rovers these days.
Not so long ago, few associated with Bristol Rovers will have even heard of the Essex town of Braintree and its football club.
Rovers – from a city populated by more than 400,000 – had been a fixture of the Football League since 1920 prior to last season’s relegation. Braintree – population around 50,000 – were playing at Step Six of the non-league pyramid as recently as 1996.
Tomorrow, the two teams go head-to-head at Cressing Road as Conference peers though.
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The Iron have revelled in their underdog tag during their three seasons in non-league’s top-flight, supporters delighting in their ‘pub team from Essex’ tag.
Former Football League clubs such as Luton, Wrexham, Grimsby, Cambridge United and Mansfield have all been beaten along the way, with ever-improving finishes of 12th, ninth and sixth continually proving the doubters wrong. Indeed, boss Alan Devonshire was linked with the Colchester United job earlier this week such has been his success.
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For the above reasons, Gas boss Darrell Clarke says his side will not be taking the match lightly.
With his outfit yet to register an away win at this level, he said: “If people think we are just going to go there and win because of who we are then they are mistaken. Braintree are a very well organised and established Conference Premier side.
“It is a point I will keep trying to emphasise. We came unstuck in similar circumstances at Altrincham, and I think that was enough to give some of the players a wake-up call.
“A lot of people fancied Braintree to go down last year, but they went and proved them all wrong by being there or thereabouts at the other end of the table for most of the season.
“They beat some of the better teams on their way to finishing in the top ten last season. Luton came unstuck at their place last season and we also have to factor in that every team is going to be right up for it when they play Bristol Rovers. It is another tough game in what is a very tough league.”
Rovers will be attempting to extend their unbeaten run to four games at the start of a busy month consisting of seven games for most teams in the division.
They come into the game off the back of narrow home wins over Telford and Halifax, either side of a 1-1 draw at Forest Green, while Braintree – one point better off after six games – also have reasons to feel confident following back-to-back wins against Nuneaton and Alfreton last week.
Iron skipper Kenny Davis said: “All the time we’ve been in this league we’ve competed with everyone. It’s a big thing if Braintree beat these sort of sides but it isn’t a shock if they beat us.
“I think they’ll be more worried about us than we will be about then. Of course we’ll be respectful, and they will probably bring a few hundred fans, but at the end of the day it’s just 11 v 11.
“Over the last few years I think we’ve earned a lot of respect in this division and people know it’s a difficult place to come to. You get teams coming to us happy if they can come away with a point now.”