By Tony Leighton
New Bristol Rovers manager John Ward will brush emotion aside when he takes his team to former club Cheltenham Town for a head-to-head clash with Robins boss Mark Yates, who was Ward's captain when he was at the Whaddon Road helm.
Rovers travel to Cheltenham on Saturday after Ward's first game in charge brought a 2-2 draw at Aldershot Town, the result ending a three-match losing run but failing to take them off the bottom of an npower League 2 table in which the Robins are third.
"To call us underdogs for this game is just stating the obvious," Ward told football-league.co.uk as he looked ahead to taking on the club which in 2006 he led to promotion from League 2 with the team he is now trying to keep in the same division.
"Cheltenham are in a very strong position while we are fighting for our lives," added Ward, who is starting his second spell as the Pirates' boss, "but this is just as big a game for them as it is for us so there will be some tension.
"On a personal note I'll be going back to a club where there are a lot of wonderful people and whose manager was my captain when we got promoted and who has done a fantastic job there since he took charge three years ago.
"But this game isn't about me, it's about us trying to get some points to help keep Bristol Rovers in The Football League and we'll be aiming to build on the performance and the result that we got at Aldershot on Boxing Day.
"It was the first time I'd seen my team play and the approach and attitude they showed gave me a lot of encouragement. We twice came back from a goal down to get a point, and that showed there's some real character in the squad.
"I've told the players that it's now their responsibility to maintain that level of commitment and, if they do that, then we'll have every chance of avoiding what would be an absolutely devastating blow if we were to go down.
"To prevent that happening one thing we must do is defend better. Our goal difference is the worst in the division and so improving that could be key, but to be fair to the lads they defended pretty well at Aldershot and we'll aim to go on improving.
"I'm not kidding myself that relegation can't happen, and as I said when I came back to the club this is the toughest job I've faced in over 20 years as a manager. But I'll be giving it all the hard work and commitment that I expect from my players."
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