After scoring in six consecutive games its understandable that all the attention has been on Billy Sharp of late. His current record is aiding his gradual progression into Rovers’ goalscoring folklore so that in fifty years time we can all tell embellished tales of his goalscoring exploits to impress our grandkids. “I tell you, he scored at Derby one Christmas, when the pitch was under four feet of snow and he hit past the Derby ‘keeper so hard it not only burst the net, but carried on across the county before being brought to an eventual halt by Chesterfield’s St Marys and All Saints Church; thats why the spire remains bent to this day.” Anyway, despite the understandable hype, there is another Rovers player edging towards another club record.
Whilst Billy the kid has been finding the net, Rovers back-line have been just as effective at protecting the one at the opposite end. Five clean sheets in six games now for Rovers, and more significantly the shutout at Pride Park on Saturday made it four in a row. This got me wondering, ‘what exactly is the club record for consecutive clean sheets?’ And when ever I wonder, I do the obvious thing, I remove the bright red Stat-Phone from under its glass case in Viva Towers and call for our very own statistics tsar Dutch Uncle.
As ever, Dutch Uncle has been swift in his response, and he confirms my suspicions that Rovers have rarely fared better in this field than their current run. Rovers have now gone three-hundred and seventy minutes without conceding a goal with Neil Sullivan on hand for the last three-hundred and sixty of those. According to Dutch Uncle’s provisional research Rovers have only ever racked up five or more consecutive league clean sheets on half a dozen occasions.
The last such occasion did indeed include Rovers current two goalkeepers, as Rovers went five league games without conceding a goal in the 2006-07 season. This run stretched from Neil Sullivan’s Rovers debut in a 1-0 win against Brighton in November, included the last game at Belle Vue, a 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest, and ended after a 1-0 Boxing Day win at Bradford. Sullivan had kept goal for the first three games of that run, with Ben Smith in goal for the final two.
Of the two other occasions when Rovers have achieved five consecutive clean sheets the least surprising is probably that which came in 1946-47. Rovers stormed to the Division Three North title that season scoring an incredible 123 goals, but just as remarkably for the time conceding just forty. Archie Ferguson’s run of five consecutive clean sheets were part of an overall total of twenty from Rovers’ greatest ever season.
Having won the Division Four title in 1981 Rovers returned to the third tier where they made an immediate impact. After a defeat and a draw in their opening two games they went on to find form aided by five consecutive clean sheets for Willie Boyd in a run which put Rovers in second place in September. However, drawn games would cost the team dear and they fell away over the course of the season, eventually finishing in nineteenth place.
Twice Rovers have achieved six consecutive league clean sheets, with the first occasion again coming in a title-winning year. John Ogston remained unbeaten for six straight matches as part of a twenty match unbeaten run which saw Rovers stride to the 1968-69 Division Four title. The second is something of an anomaly really as it came during Rovers slide to oblivion under the misguidance of Ken Richardson. Despite the obvious problems at the top, and a bottom half finish, Dean Williams managed six straight shut-outs in the 1996-97.
The record for the club in this field though stands at seven matches, and again was achieved in the 1990s, albeit by three different ‘keepers. The run began with a clean sheet for Gary Ingham against Hereford on the final day of the 1993-94 season, and then continued into the following season. Rovers went the opening six league games of 1994-95 unbreached with Perry Suckling and Dean Williams keeping three clean sheets each as Rovers looked to be mounting a genuine promotion push. Rovers led Division Four for one day that Autumn, but again would eventually fall away, finishing four points outside the play-offs in ninth place.
So the team record stands at seven league games then, which would require clean-sheets at Coventry, at home to Leicester and away to Preston. However, for the record for a single goalkeeper, Sullivan just needs clean sheets in the two festive fixtures to put himself on a par with Williams and Ogston. Both are tall orders, but with all the focus on Sharp, it would perhaps be fitting to Sullivan’s professionalism if he were to understatedly notch this record for himself. As opposition strikers are finding… you wouldn’t put it past him
(As ever, I am indebted to Dutch Uncle for the bones of this article)