“We’re very ambitious and we’re not scared of voicing our ambition,” says Bristol Rovers striker John Marquis.
The 30-year-old has set his sights set high this season with the Gas and that could potentially include a trip to Wembley Stadium for the Papa Johns Trophy.
With the Quarter-Final of the competition on the horizon, the famous arch is within reach.
“We know that people might look at us as ‘little old Bristol Rovers’ but internally, we’ve got high standards of ourselves and we want to make this another memorable season for Bristol Rovers. We want to win this competition – that’s why you enter it in the first place.”
Marquis and his teammates have already swapping tales of their trips to the home of football – although some more positive than others – in anticipation, but could they dare to dream? He certainly thinks so.
“We’ve spoken about the whole way through and said it’s a great opportunity to get there,” he explains. “With our squad being so young, there’s only a handful of us that have actually played there. The lads that have told the other boys what a great experience and great day out it is, and one that you’ll remember forever.
“As you get further and further down the line, it comes that little bit closer. We know it’s a good opportunity for us to get to Wembley and make some history. You want to play in all of the biggest games and challenge yourself and test yourselves. Running out at the National Stadium is something that when our careers are over you can be immensely proud of.”
Marquis played his part in helping Pompey get there. He averaged a goal every other game in the competition in 2019/20, notching three goals in six outings in the competition.
He netted against Walsall and Scunthorpe United in the knockout stages, but his most important contribution came in the Semi-Final. With Portsmouth just 90 minutes from Wembley, they prepared for the visit of Exeter City to Fratton Park. And Marquis was responsible for some late drama.
“It was very uneventful for about 80 minutes,” he recalls. “We go a goal behind then get a goal back, then we go behind in the 90th minute and we thought that our opportunity had gone.
“Cameron McGeehan equalised for us in the 96th minute and we thought we’d at least taken it to penalties, until I managed to score a header in the 97th minute to win it with virtually the last kick of the game. It was great memories in terms of getting there.”
Portsmouth would go on to lose on penalties to Salford City after the game finished goalless.
But should the Gas advance, Marquis will be hoping for a different outcome on the day.
“It’s an opportunity now for me to right a few wrongs of what’s happened in the past,” he affirms. “I played there when it’s was Portsmouth versus Salford after COVID and it wasn’t the same experience that the others have had at Wembley, so that’s driving me on to try and get there again and do it the proper way this time.
“It’s a shame we weren’t able to take our supporters with us who followed us the whole journey to get there. Being the season after, there was a couple of changes in personnel so some of the lads that got us there weren’t available to play, and vice versa for Salford.”
The Gas’ number nine bagged a brace in an emphatic 4-1 victory over Milton Keynes Dons in the Round of 16 to book their place in the Quarter-Final.
“I don’t score too many from outside the area,’ he adds. “To chip in with a couple of goals to help us get through to the next round was great, and it gave the manager a bit of a headache. I then managed to come off the bench on the Saturday and score a couple of goals.
“As a striker, you want to be scoring goals, no matter what game it is. Scoring gives you more and more confidence, and there’s no better feeling than hitting the back of the net. It can kickstart you on a run.”
In-form Plymouth Argyle are up next for Marquis and Bristol Rovers on Tuesday evening. The Pilgrims, who have suffered just one defeat in all EFL competitions since August, are riding high at the top of Sky Bet League One.
The two teams have already locked horns in this competition in the Group Stage, with the tie ending in a 1-1 draw, with Plymouth edging the Gas 4-3 on spot-kicks.
Marquis continues: “We’ve already played Plymouth twice this season – once in this competition when we lost on penalties and probably should have beat them. We know they’re a strong side and they might have more of an eye on their league campaign. We know we’re going to have to beat some good teams to get to the Final.
“Barring probably Ipswich, we feel like we’ve been in it every single game where we’ve had opportunities or been a position where we can win the game. We feel like we’re a match for anyone in the league or in the cup competitions, so we know if we play to our best capabilities, we’ll have a very strong chance of winning the game.”
Marquis’ ex-employers Portsmouth and Lincoln City, whom he joined Bristol Rovers from in the summer, remain in the mix, with both sides having lifted the silverware in recent years, with Pompey winning the competition in 2019 and the Imps tasting success the year prior in 2018.
“They’ll be saying the same things and they’re going to want to do that as well,” he sayss. “Portsmouth won it the season before I joined, and Lincoln have won it in the last few years as well. Both of them have got experience of winning this competition, and there’ll be players and staff still there saying the same things that we’re saying at Bristol Rovers.”
But the ultimate prize for Marquis is a trip to the National Stadium in front of a packed-out crowd.
“If we do get the opportunity to get to Wembley, we know that the Bristol Rovers fans in recent years have travelled there in big numbers in their Conference Play-Off Final and in the EFL Trophy Final,” he states.
“After we’ve done our business in the league on Saturday, all focus will be on to Tuesday night and we’ll be reiterating the same messages that we’re not far away from Wembley.”