Pick of the Promotion Pops – Part 2

Pick of the Promotion Pops – Part 2

by Martin Bull

Greetings pop pickers and welcome to Part 2 of this special edition of Pick of the Pops, featuring the year 2015/16 and focusing on 10 golden themes in an unprecedented second promotion in two seasons for Bristol Rovers.  Today we look at the number 7 slot and then number 6.

Are Gasheads still in wonderland? Not ‘arf.

At Number 7 we have – Return of the Mild

No, this is not an oblique reference to a cleaning product, a weak beer, or even Mark Morrison’s signature hit, but the re-integration of Steve Mildenhall as first choice keeper, and ditching the uncomfortable reliance on loanees from other clubs.

After some weak performances during the run-in to the end of the Conference season Mildy was replaced as first choice keeper by Will Puddy and didn’t feature again until his dramatic 119th minute Wembley entrance to face the penalty shoot-out that catapulted Rovers back to the Football League. His shot-stopping had never been under question, but his command of the box and distribution of the ball was.

As August came upon us Puddy was on the treatment table and Mildy was given a ‘final’ chance to stake his claim to be number one keeper again. But after only the first two games of the season, DC decided to draw on the loan market instead, with Aaron Chapman from Chesterfield between the sticks for five games, and Lee Nicholls from Wigan Athletic getting 18 games under his young belt; indeed, Nicholls was still in pre-school when Mildenhall made his League debut in 1997.

Despite Mildenhall being the keeper on the bench throughout Nicholls’ mediocre loan spell, Will Puddy was rushed back to take his place between the posts for the first game after his departure, a trip to east London in mid-December. In the 50th minute Puddy was struck by a recurrence of his groin problem and Mildy was offered an early Chrimbo present; a huge Yuletide redemption log. Co-incidentally at the final whistle of the velvety 3-0 win Rovers found themselves in the play-offs for the first moment of the season, replacing… yes… Mansfield Town. Amiable karma was finally alive and kicking again.

Stuck with Mildenhall as the only fit keeper the atmosphere seemed to be tense for a while, as questions were left dangling in the air. Would DC plump for another loanee? Had any bridges been burnt on either side? Could humble pie be on the lunch menu? But most crucially for us fans – was Mildy up to the job?

Thankfully all the questions were answered just as we desired. Mildy slowly showed that he had improved his game whilst on the sidelines, and reports filtered out that he had been a model professional during his bench warming days; still passionate and resolute about his job, and still encouraging to the very young ‘uns who were usurping him (well, they do say it is a barmy little club they all belong to…).

Mildy played for the rest of the season, grew in confidence as his form returned and made some spectacular saves which helped earn some crucial points. But more importantly, he and others like Ellis Harrison and Jake Gosling showed that the special spirit in the squad wasn’t confined just to the ones getting regular games, but also to those at the periphery, those loaned out, or in Mildy’s case, even those publicly deemed surplus to requirements.

At Number 6 we have – It could be worse, we could be Yeovil Town

Only six loan players were used all season, and none of them were heavily relied upon. I see this as a confident shift in strategy because numerous loanees can be the sign of an incomplete, transient or problematic squad, or even worse, having a defective manager at the helm. Loanees will rarely buy you longer-term success and stability.

Whilst Lee Nicholls and fellow keeper Aaron Chapman did contribute a valuable 23 appearances between them they weren’t actually covering for injury as Steve Mildenhall was fit and on the bench for all bar one of their appearances. Their recruitment was calculated rather than compulsory.

And whilst Rory Gaffney certainly had a significant impact on the team whilst on loan from Cambridge United, even he was mainly a ’shake up’ signing at first, as Jermaine Easter and Ellis Harrison warmed the bench for most of his seven match loan period.

Paris Cowan-Hall made two starts, one sub appearance, and remained on the bench twice, Ollie McBurnie received game time from the bench for his first five games, but then sat unused for his final four, and the forgotten hero of promotion, Jeffrey Monakana, made three appearances off the bench, and took the weight off his feet for a further trio of games. He currently works in a Subway. As a busker. Maybe. Or holds the bizarre squad number 77 for FC Voluntari (est. 2010) in Romania. One of them is true.

It seems clear that our squad was far stronger in League Two and that DC now had the time, experience and maybe budget to assemble a far more complete team. Compare this to the non-league season hotchpotch of Dave Martin, Adam Cunnington, Alex Wall, Bradley Goldberg, Fabian Spiess, Lyle Della-Verde, Josh Wakefield, Adam Dawson and Chris Lines, with an improbable 58 starts, and 24 sub appearances between them.

Only Mr. Lines now plays in League football. I rest my case your Honour.

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