It’s fair to say that Rovers are in a wee bit of a rut right now. The last two weeks have produced three defeats, no goals scored, and six conceded. Anyone from Real Madrid to Radstock Town has been through such a run, and, most of the time, these things work themselves out.
But when it’s happening, it seems like there’s no end in sight. Worryingly, the boys appear to be losing games that we’d have got points from last season.
Usually when we’ve lost away from home this year, the talk is of abject performances and the game being over at half-time. Not so at Rochdale last week. While the home side scored the customary early goal (due to the customary defensive lapse), that was it. All that needed to be done in order to go home with something was to put a chance away.
Ultimately, Rovers were reduced to long-range pot-shots and half-chances, ably dealt with by the home keeper. It looks like we lacked a bit of spark going forward: a Billy Bodin-shaped hole in the side, if you will. We are by no means a one-man team – I’m not alone in raving about the improvement in both performance and goal return of our front two, Harrison and Gaffney. And of course, five of the half-dozen scored at Northampton came without Bodin on the field.
But, sans Billy, it seems that a solid defence that sticks to their tasks and their men can shut us out. Then, they can wait for one clear-cut opportunity at the other end. Sitting pretty at the top of the league’s goalscoring charts post-Northampton, we suddenly find ourselves somewhat lacking in a cutting edge or final ball.
That’s no criticism of the players out there, but it does show Bodin’s importance. Who knows how long the Welshman will be out. Darrell Clarke’s policy is not to give anyone information about injury absences, and that makes a great deal of sense.
But if it’s going to be much longer, I feel we need to see a change of approach tactically. Is that an increase in width? We appear to lack the personnel, unless Ryan Broom is given an extended run on the right and Byron Moore gets the left midfield spot. Is it playing three out-and-out strikers rather than two wide forwards and a main front man? Possibly – Dom Telford and the potentially-cursed Tom Nichols can play alongside the main two starters, and we have cover in central midfield.
That issue is further complicated by defensive woes; sure, Rochdale and Oxford didn’t put a few past us like other sides have, but both goals started with errors that really shouldn’t continue happening.
For once I’m glad that my dream to be manager of Bristol Rovers, one only to be achieved in video game format, never came true. Because the gaffer has some serious thinking to do ahead of the winter, where seasons are shaped.
“We go again”, as some might say. There’ll be a football match at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday. But before the whistle blows, there’ll be tributes to the person whose work ensured that Rovers have a home in Bristol.
As you’ll know by now, Geoff Dunford passed away last week. During his involvement with Rovers, there were ridiculous highs and catastrophic lows, on the field and off, but he, along with his late father, deserves to be remembered as a person without whom the football club may not still exist.
Your correspondent isn’t of sufficient age to recall the end of Eastville, but I was at the first game at the Mem on an August day in 1996. Despite the uneven goalposts, the players changing in portakabins, and there only being two stands, Rovers were back. Not renting a non-league ground from a non-league team (with respect to Bath City, whom I adore, and Twerton Park, which will forever be a special place). Bristol Rovers were in Bristol again. Even as a child, the feeling of euphoria around the place was palpable.
We then, of course, went on to own the place – something we’d not done in generations. No leader, be it a football manager, a business person, or a politician – especially the latter – will go through life without making mistakes, and some perceived missteps made Mr Dunford a divisive figure at times. This writer certainly did not agree with the man 100 per cent of the time.
But we always had, and still have, a football club to argue about – and, as mentioned, the thought of there being no Rovers at all was a possibility in the dark days of the 1980s, and again in the early 2000s. The pre kick-off minute of applause will be deserved.