Before we discuss anything else, let’s deal with the 10,000lb elephant in the room.
The UWE stadium isn’t happening. This is what we know. There are plenty of armchair stadium architects, amateur finance experts and wannabe business gurus all over social media and forums, who will tell you myths, legends, rumours, half-truths, gossip, and in some cases outright nonsense, about the ground, the owners or the club. If you want that, please go and find it. I’m going to concentrate on the football.
Last week’s season opener away at Charlton has to be filed under the ‘points dropped’ category. Sure, no-one gave us a prayer going into the game. It would almost have been easier to take a 2-0 defeat to a really convincing Charlton side than to lose 1-0 in the way we did.
Charlton were a man down almost from the off, thanks to Lee Novak’s mistimed two-footed lunge on Stuart Sinclair (don’t even start me on the home side’s protests about that decision). It should have given Rovers the upper hand, despite the use of an irregular formation, forced on us by injury and the two new Stoke loanees being unavailable due to someone at the Premier League side not filling in a form.
Due to the hosts’ impressive defensive organisation, and our inability to put a final ball in or finish anything, that chance wasn’t taken. That said, I share Darrell Clarke’s utter exasperation at the ‘goal’ that gifted Charlton the win as they weren’t up to much going forward either.
Adam Smith’s point-blank save was the bright spot of a convincing debut but the assistant referee on the far side flagged for a goal. To the naked eye the whole of the ball didn’t cross the whole of the line; if it’s not clear in real time in HD from a TV gantry then how the linesman was 100% convinced – as he must be in order to give the goal – is beyond me.
If we’re looking for positives, both Smith and Tom Broadbent impressed on their maiden Rovers appearances, with Broadbent almost scoring a 35-yard wonder goal. However, there were so many players missing due to injury or admin errors that Darrell was forced into playing a few lads out of position: Sinclair is neither a left winger nor a right-back. But it’s ok because and the away kit looks great.
Onto the Mem, then, for Tuesday’s home League Cup tie against League Two Cambridge United. This looked on paper like a routine win against a committed but limited visiting side, and it lived up to that billing. Billy Bodin showed his class again with two goals: one a delightful sprint-and-finish from a pinpoint 50-yard cross-field ball; the other a classic Bodin goal, with dancing feet bamboozling a couple of defenders before a finish which the United keeper couldn’t deal with.
While Bodin’s pair and Ellis Harrison’s header are worthy of a highlight reel, Liam Sercombe’s first Rovers goal will be goal of the season, surely. Three touches on the edge of the area, taking two defenders completely out of the game, then an unstoppable curling shot that two keepers wouldn’t have saved. Sercombe looks as good a player for Rovers so far as he did for Oxford last season. You can never say that a player signed for an undisclosed fee is a ‘bargain’, for obvious reasons, but unless the fee was Neymar-sized I think we’ve done well there.
In truth we could’ve scored seven or eight on Tuesday, which was much closer to the kind of performance we’ve been used to in recent years than Charlton was.
Peterborough United make the long trip south on Saturday. Our most recent dealing with them is, of course, the transfer of Tom Nichols, which their chairman tweeted incessantly about all summer. Nichols was rated by the management at London Road but forced out by negativity from their supporters. No doubt he’ll be wound up like an old-fashioned children’s toy come 3pm Saturday.
Our guests do have some more-than handy players in their ranks: Jack Marriott, signed from Luton in the off-season, is a known creator of goals, if not a prolific scorer of them. Their new centre half, Steven Taylor, has extensive Premier League experience, even if he is past his best and prone to injury. Posh’s marquee signing, Ricky Miller from Dover Athletic, had a ridiculous strike-rate in non-league, but is suspended for Saturday’s game. Having been linked with us ever since a certain striker left in January, I’m glad to say we’ve missed out on the poetic justice of Miller scoring a winner at the Mem.
Betting folk should go for a Rovers win and both teams to score. Peterborough’s defence is by no means watertight, and while ours isn’t either, we’ve improved in that area, and should be playing a similar formation to Tuesday rather than Saturday.
One final thing – if you can, get down to Mangotsfield United FC on Sunday for a 2pm kick off. A Rovers ex-players squad featuring two dozen recent ex-Pirates are playing a fans’ team, in aid of Deerhurst care home, a facility for those suffering from dementia. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a very good cause, and there’s an auction and raffle of loads of top Rovers, football and other prizes too. Tickets cost £5 and can be bought on the gate.
Read more: ‘We’re not the finished article as a squad’