Football: Bristol Rovers season preview: 2017/18
Summer’s flown by again. It seems like only yesterday that we were wondering why the ref gifted Millwall a goal to get them into the play-offs, and laughing heartily at karma for dealing our friends from Swindon a one-way ticket to League Two.
But here we are: for once, not thinking of how the boys in the famous quarters will adapt to life in a new division instead, wondering whether changes made to the side who put in an incredible shift to finish in the top ten can go a few places better. Dreaming, as all fans of all clubs – yes, even that miserable old man who stands behind you – dream at this time of year.
Speaking of changes made to the side, those who’ve left, while deserving of our respect, haven’t left a gaping hole. The veteran pair of Lee Mansell and Steve Mildenhall are now coaching the next generation of Rovers players, in a move that shows to me at least that management, for once in this club’s long history, have a plan. But neither of them featured regularly last term.
Similarly, Jake Gosling, Jermaine Easter, and Will Puddy won’t be short of a pint in hand in BS7, but those are not the names with which a promotion squad can now be built. I was a bit shocked about Cristian Montano, to be honest, as he can cause absolute havoc on his day and was the best crosser in the squad. But, Darrell know best; Montano will shred defences in League Two, and hopefully his replacement, yet to be announced, will be a tad more consistent.
Peter Hartley will be best remembered for his early-season goalscoring run than any outstanding defensive moments, but he was decent, and put the yards in. I understand his move to Blackpool is more for family reasons than football – all the best, Pete.
Now for the incoming – DC mentioned on the radio in May that he wanted to make a dozen or so signings. As of a week before curtain up, we’ve been introduced to half that number (with due respect to the signings made for the youth team), and we’ve done some good business, not that the impatiently tweeting “just announce something” mob (grow up, lads), would have you believe.
Two goalkeepers, both of whom were first-team regulars last season (imagine how it must feel to have a season without loaning in a ‘keeper – are we about to find out?), and both of them have played in promotion winning sides recently. Adam Smith was involved in Northampton’s canter to the League Two title in 2015/16, and Sam Slocombe in Blackpool’s run to the play-offs and Wembley joy a few months back.
Liam Sercombe looks a wonderful signing in central midfield, a proper box-to-box, goalscoring midfielder. Oxford fans will be sad to see him go, even if a reported fee of £150,000 and overtures from now-departed boss Michael Appleton that he wasn’t wanted (which no-one should believe) cushion the blow. Sercombe, in addition to the flair of Chris Lines, the ability and work-rate of last season’s stand-out performer Ollie Clarke, and the sheer energy of Stuart Sinclair, means we’ve got a top notch group in the middle of the park.
Tom Nichols, Peterborough’s top scorer last season, joins despite being wanted at London Road; he’s a good finisher, from what I’ve seen, and possibly the striker that we lacked after a certain person left in January. He hopefully won’t take much time to settle in the area, being a Somerset lad. Marc Bola, on loan from Arsenal, is here to provide Lee Brown with a bit of competition at left-back, something that’s been lacking for a while. Browner should thrive under that pressure.
Tom Broadbent represents a throwback to the kind of signings Rovers used to make in the “good old days” of the 80s and early 90s: no previous League experience, having spent a while playing part-time.
This, of course, isn’t the whole story; much has been made since his signing of his ‘other job’ in the Army and he’s still officially on their books until September. As a an acquantiance of mine mentioned recently, the droll social media cry to “give soldiers footballers’ wages” has been answered at least once now. I haven’t seen Broadbent play but I can confirm that he’s a giant; Stu Sinclair’s title of hardest trainer at the club is surely under threat.
Hopefully the recruitment drive isn’t over. Your correspondent thinks we’re still short of a replacement for the aforementioned Montano on the left, another striker who can, as the saying goes, “put himself about a bit” and do the physical stuff, and, maybe, just to be sure, another centre-half.
All in all, I think the club has learned from the not-so-great transfer business of last season, where too much reliance was put on loanees with insufficient league experience.
As for the rest of our division, well haven’t we got some treats lined up? Portsmouth and Plymouth are big clubs with good support (though I must stress for regional media purposes that Plymouth is NOT a local derby; just because we both talk with an accent, doesn’t mean Plymouth’s close to Bristol). Wigan, relegated from the second tier, take Bolton’s place as the recent Premier League club with a plastic ground from the north, and Blackburn, champions of England in living memory, find themselves in a place they won’t recognise.
Prediction time, then: our recruitment has been good so far, those who’ve stayed are a year older and wiser to the ways of League One, which should mean we avoid paying too much respect to bigger clubs like we sometimes did last year, and with one or two more signings,
I’m going to get off the fence and say we’ll make… sixth. On the final day. On goal difference. Let the dreaming commence.