Football / Bristol Rovers

‘All in all, I see no reason to be disheartened’

By james hodges, Friday Sep 8, 2017

It’s fair to say that last week’s visit to Bradford is one that we’ll want to forget in a hurry.  Aside from the free bacon rolls put on by Sky for the travelling fans, the least they can do for turning a good away trip into a 6am start for the benefit of television, there wasn’t much on display to make a Gashead smile.

Defensively we were a bit of a horror show. With our first-choice centre back pairing both away on international duty, something that feels a little bit worse when Tom Lockyer is yet again called up to warm the bench for Wales, it was time for the back-up central defenders to shine.

Tom Broadbent continued his decent start to life in the pro ranks with a good shift. Jonny Burn, rarely seen since his January move from Middlesbrough due to injury and fitness concerns, will be annoyed that this game was televised, as he had a ‘mare. Having completely lost his man for Bradford’s first goal, Bradford’s Charlie Wyke totally evaded him again for the second, killing off the game.

But it’s important that we as a fanbase don’t crucify the lad: as mentioned, he’s barely played first team football since joining. When we’ve seen him previously he’s looked OK, and there’s obviously a player in there somewhere. But to be short of form and fitness and be thrown in at the deep end (through no fault of anyone’s) against one of the league’s better sides, was always going to be a tough ask.

Also, it’s not as if he was alone. Bradford’s wide men had some fun against our left backs; Leadbitter and Brown have had better days. I see them as options to use when we’re going to be able to play a more attacking style, but if we’re going to need a backs-to-the-wall performance, I’d be thinking about using Joe Partington at right back. We’ve not really seen enough of Marc Bola, on the left, but we need real competition in that position.

Aside from Billy Bodin’s usual moments of genius, a hard, if fruitless, shift from Ellis Harrison alone up top, and a disappointing header from Byron Moore, heading straight at the home keeper when it looked easier to score, it was a quiet day attack-wise for us. Well, other than the consolation goal – another in the book for Bodin, but all the hard work was done by a superb marauding run by Tom Nichols.

All in all, I see no reason to be disheartened. We’ve got the quality in the side to bounce back, especially with Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney back from far-flung Eastern European destinations. If we bounce back like we did after the Peterborough defeat, we’ll be fine.

Walsall visit BS7 next, and Oldham Athletic follow them. You couldn’t find two more archetypal League One sides if you tried: both finished mid-table last year; both have been at this level for at least a decade. If the manager’s aim is to try and infiltrate the top six, these are the kind of weeks where we need to come out with six points out of six.

Saturday’s visitors are without an away win in any competition since Boxing Day last year, would you believe, so we’re going to be on a good few accumulators there. They’ve got goals in them, but, just like us, their main threat is from midfield. How they held onto Erhun Oztumer, I don’t know, because he’s a genuine talent at third tier level, and should get his chance in a division above before long.

Oldham aren’t just on a bad run of away form – they’ve had a rotten start. Five defeats in a row in the League, conceding at least two goals a game, so Rovers will fancy their chances of putting a few past the Latics under the lights midweek. They appear to lack any genuine quality, or, for that matter, a balanced squad. I see a lot of old, ex-Championship faces who are a bit beyond their best days, and a lot of young, inexperienced kids, thrown into the lion’s den somewhat.

If we put these two sides away, it can be the platform for the autumn months – going into mid-September with the transfer window now a memory, a couple of wins on the bounce and an overall good recent record (forgetting that disastrous opening week of the season). Plus, the games are coming up thick and fast, this home double-header being the first of seven games in  three weeks, and the tasks only get harder with trips to Wigan and Portsmouth on the horizon.

Expect a return for at least one centre-half, and Joe Partington, and at least four points, if not all six.


Read more: ‘There’s one stand-out name among Rovers’ new signings’

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