Football / Bristol Rovers

‘While no part of Saturday was acceptable, now isn’t the time for panic’

By james hodges, Thursday Aug 17, 2017

It’s a good thing I’m trying not to bet on football this season.

While Rovers are usually good value in a ‘both teams to score’ wager, my predictions of a Rovers win and
for Peterborough’s Jack Marriott not to trouble the scoresheet didn’t quite come off, Marriott enjoying a
hat-trick in an embarrassing 4-1 home reverse for the Rovers.

I can’t fault a word Darrell Clarke said in his post-match interview; accusations of mental weakness in the
squad might seem extreme but they were on show at the Mem on Saturday.

Take the first goal build-up, for example: Dan Leadbitter, so loved for his bombing runs forward from
right-back, misses his tackle by a mile and is then out of the game while Tom Lockyer has to come out
from the centre to stop the visiting left winger putting in in a cross. There were another couple of
occasions before the break where they just seemed to carve us open at will, only for the chance to be
missed.

Rovers had the odd half chance here and there; a couple of long shots were comfortably dealt with by
Jonathan Bond in the Peterborough goal, and Billy Bodin would’ve capped off a brilliant solo effort with a
goal if the crossbar had been six inches higher. After the break, too, an equaliser looked more likely, with
Liam Sercombe trying to repeat his League Cup heroics from the edge of the box, and a really poor miss
from Ellis Harrison with the goal at his mercy.

All that good work was totally undone with Peterborough’s second goal, which came gift-wrapped.
Harrison deserves criticism for his miss a few minutes before, and some might extend that to slating him
for not collecting Ryan Sweeney’s long pass along the ground, which Posh easily reached to score, but
why is a centre-half making 20- or 30-yard passes along the ground? For me, the defender takes the blame
there.

After that, every half-chance managed to find the head or body of an opposition player. It wasn’t
that we created nothing, but given the obvious lack of a midfielder to play wide on the left and get crosses
in, Rovers relied on long shots. Bodin, on the right, is more of an inside forward, preferring to cut in and
take chances rather than whip crosses in from the touchline, and when it works as often as it does, I’m not
sure we can complain.

Tom Nichols worked his socks off, in a game he’d love to have won given his recent past, but was forced
to drop deep and go wide to start making chances which left a gap up front. Not a criticism of him –
anyone who works that hard gets some credit – but we need Nichols to be able to concentrate on finishing.

I adore Stuart Sinclair, as many of us do, and his ability to try his hand at any position other than between
the sticks is testament to his commitment and character, but he’s not a League One standard wide man,
and it’s unfair on him really to expect him to be. His versatility might affect his chances of winning a spot
in his native centre midfield, where we clearly have a few options (with the imperious Ollie Clarke on the
bench on Saturday).

We let Peterborough dictate the pace of the game; we weren’t winning any second balls, defenders left
their men in too much space, or were losing them in the box. To top that off, we were careless in
possession. Their third and fourth goals are prime examples of an unacceptable defensive display.

If we’re looking for bright spots, Adam Smith, in goal, stopped it being a proper rout with a few good
stops. Nichols’ work rate was there for all to see, as mentioned, and Liam Sercombe did OK.

Don’t be fooled: Peterborough are a good side, especially going forward, and could be in the promotion
mix come the Spring. While no part of Saturday was acceptable, we are two games into the season and now
isn’t the time for panic. This side haven’t suddenly lost their heads, or stopped being committed. These
kind of results have happened every year since our return to the Football League.

I recall folk wanting Darrell out after a 4-1 home defeat to Newport, and that season ended okay didn’t it? What it is the time for is plugging that gap on the left of midfield with January signings Partington and Burn a shot, not to mention Tom Broadbent, who was quite good at Charlton, and giving Rory Gaffney, who took a free header well for our consolation goal, or newbie Dominic Telford, a starting spot alongside Nichols.

Bury’s Gigg Lane plays host to Rovers on Saturday. Lee Clark has totally rebuilt the Shakers’ side in the
off-season, signing a Paul Buckle-esque 18 players. Many of them are established names from the
division above; goodness knows where they get the money for that from, on gates half the size of our
own, but that’s football for you. On paper, they’re a strong team, especially in attack, but football’s not
played on paper, and it’s obvious that the manager is going to give the squad a tough week training-wise,
which should elicit some reaction. I’m going to be positive and say we’ll collect a point from a long trip
north.

After that comes a trip to Fulham in the League Cup. Their lack of an out-and-out goalscorer probably
cost them promotion back to the Premier League last year, and they’re still one of the second tier’s top
sides. If we defend like we did against Peterborough and their midfield will tear us to shreds. Again, I
expect a reaction from the boys, and I don’t think the horror show will be repeated. A morale-boosting
narrow defeat beckons. But remember, I know nothing…

 

Read more: ‘Liam Sercombe’s first Rovers goal will be goal of the season, surely’

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