The Opposition View: Bristol Rovers

It’s time for a bit of a grudge match! So we crossed no man’s land (sent an email) to see what the situation is behind enemy lines… Here’s Tom Metcalfe from Gascast 👇

When we last met what now seems an age ago, there wasn’t a lot to suggest that either of these sides would be in promotion contention. Our challenge is crumbling and yours has really crumbled, but do you think there’s any chance you can climb back into the play-offs? After all, this is a crazy league where gaps can close quickly! It does feel like the league is wide open this season, especially with some of the big boys like Sunderland and Pompey having slow starts. I can’t see us troubling the play-offs again, though. Since Ben Garner has taken over, we haven’t won in 11 and personally I’m looking to where we are going to get the points required to make sure we stay clear of a relegation battle.

However, the signs are there for Garner. Our last three games against Fleetwood (0-0) where Jonson Clarke-Harris missed a penalty, Bolton (1-1) where we dominated, and Coventry (1-2) where we were good for 30 minutes and threw it away show we’re not a million miles away from getting that first win of the Garner revolution.

What were your pre-season hopes and expectations and what would represent a successful campaign in the grand scheme of things? Pre-season, my hope was a top half finish and my expectation was anywhere from 14th to 20th. We survived by the skin of our teeth last season and have JCH to thank for his goals after he came in from Coventry in January. The summer transfer business was practical but not very inspiring, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up.

Like most Gasheads, I was delighted to see us up in the play-offs and getting up to fourth after beating Ipswich away – which has proven to be the high water mark of our season. It was after that game when Graham Coughlan dropped the bombshell that he was considering his position, so that day was a bit of a rollercoaster.

Success this season would be a mid-table finish.

Anyone can see what impact the departure of Graham Coughlan had. Even though he moved largely – as far as I can gather – to be closer to home, was it a hard one to get your head around given that you were flying in the league? And how do the fans feel about Ben Garner (who of course has had to take a fair bit of time off himself)?

It came completely out of the blue. He lives in Sheffield, so Mansfield is closer to home for him and that was his main reason. He handled the whole thing terribly and it’s a shame because he has a great record here, but most Gasheads now want him to fail at Mansfield.

It would be too simple to blame his leaving for the downturn in form. The injuries were piling up and going on the xG stats we were punching above our weight and it had to come to an end at some point.

Ben Garner turned out to be a controversial appointment. Club legend Ian Holloway had issued a come and get me plea and the board went with Garner who has no managerial experience – but is a highly rated coach. This seems to fit in with the direction in which the board want to go: signing young players with potential sell-on value to try and run the club sustainably.

This has been shown in Garner’s first window, which has seen five players go out and seven come in to match the more possession-based style of play he wants us to play. The players that have come in have all been young and more technical than the players we have.

The big ‘sliding doors’ moment for us will be if we had appointed a Holloway or someone of that ilk, could we have kept the play-off push going?

Who have been your standout players this season and why?

Standout players have been:

  • JCH, our talismanic striker, top scorer and all-round battering ram
  • Midfielder Josh Ginnelly, who has come in on loan from Preston and shown some great skill
  • Tom Davies, a rock at the back and a born leader
  • Anssi Jaakkola, one of the best ‘keepers in the league for my money

Of those four, only Ginnelly hasn’t been injured. We’ve really been hit badly over the Christmas period. We now have players coming back, though, so hopefully we can turn our form around sharpish.

Honourable mentions for midfielder Liam Sercombe (currently injured), Alfie Kilgour – our young CB who will be a captain one day – Derby loanee Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, a skilful and pacey winger.

How do you see the game going and, if you like, what’s your score prediction?

It should be a low-scoring game, but we said that before the Shrewsbury game, so this will probably be a thriller!

Rovers will likely line up in a 3-4-3 as we did against Coventry with two inside forwards supporting JCH up top. He is the focal point of our attacks, so expect us to get the ball into him as soon as we can. He’s got two in two, so his form is picking up.

I’m praying that Fred Onyedinma is still out for you guys as he was absolute class when you came to the Mem.

I’m going for a 1-1 draw. I’m very excited to make my first visit to the legendary away tent for a beer and a bratwurst. If we can get a point to go with that I’ll call it a successful day!

Header image by Dan Clark
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