Ex-Stags star Darrell Clarke has expressed his gratitude for being allowed the opportunity to right the wrongs of a painful relegation as Bristol Rovers prepare to welcome Mansfield Town back to the Memorial Stadium for the first time since the darkest day in their history.
Saturday, May 3, 2014 is a date that Clarke admits will “haunt me forever” after Mansfield midfielder Colin Daniel plundered the only goal of a game that ended with Rovers contemplating life outside the Football League for the first time in their history.
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There were calls for Clarke, pictured, to be sacked for his failure to claim enough points to secure safety after taking over from manager John Ward for the final eight games of what had been a sorry season.
Clarke retained his job by the skin of his teeth and went on to win the hearts and minds of the majority of his critics when returning Rovers to the Football League via a penalty shoot-out victory over Grimsby Town on a glorious day at Wembley last May.
“A lot has changed in two years,” said Clarke. “With Mansfield coming back to the Mem for the first time since that horrible day, it is a good time to thank the supporters for giving me the opportunity to go and right that wrong.
“That day and that game still haunts me now and I know there will always be a minority of people who will never accept me because of what happened.
“I can understand that and the only things I can do are to apologise for it and to keep working hard to try and bring more success on the pitch.”
Having masterminded last season’s triumph, Clarke has steered Rovers into a promotion challenging position on their return to the Football League at the first time of asking.
They are achievements that have seen him become one of the club’s most popular managers of recent times, but he said: “We’ve moved on since that day, but the time to look back is when you leave a football club.
“I want to be able to look back on my time here and simply be able to feel that I made a difference. I don’t want to look back now because I am still hungry to achieve so much more success here.
“I will keep working hard to try and do that and then it will be up to everyone else to make their own minds up on whether I have been a success or a failure once my time here is over.”
Rovers strengthened their hopes of earning a play-off place with a 3-1 victory over top-seven rivals AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night – their third successive win.
Clarke’s side have also rectified the difficulties they were having on home soil earlier in the season by stringing together a nine-game unbeaten run in front of their own supporters.
“That’s the reality of football,” said Clarke. “You will go through good and bad patches. You can’t always put your finger on why something has changed.
“I have been involved in a lot of promotion-chasing teams and the most important quality they have all had is that they have all been able to stay level-headed through the inevitable ups and down you will experience throughout a season.
“It is great for supporters to get excited when their team win two or three games on the bounce, but for me it is about staying professional.
“We are enjoying the momentum we have at the moment and we can take confidence from that, but, ultimately, it is about ticking the games off as they come.
“The league table is looking good for us at the moment, but there are still 33 points left to play.”