A slow start but a blistering end

After a great performance but no points on Tuesday it was probably one of the most difficult games we could have faced to follow it up and it has to be said that there was the very real prospect of a nil point return from the two away games but of course this is Bristol Rovers who are a much different prospect to teams we have had prior to Darrell Clarke. Most importantly gone is the consistent defensive line ups and one up front of the dour John Ward where if we went one down then we all may as well have got on the coach and come home. I remember many years of following Rovers where although we often had impressive home records the away record was an absolute disaster. Add to this if you tried to guess the team before the game the chances were that most would get it the same as the Manager with probably a lot of others being only one player out and you knew that if there were to be any substitutions then only injury would bring any before about the 70th minute and that wouldn’t really matter what the score was.

Anyway enough looking back and onto yesterday’s game which came with a weather warning! At least we knew that there was a chance of weather similar to Swindon away game and at least we were all under cover. As it turned out the weather was to pretty well miss us for the game itself as just under a 1000 gasheads descended on what I call the “dome estate”- a situation that really was a sign of the new stadiums at the end of the nineties where the only areas that got planning permission were outside of the town or city and on a lonely estate where a pub right near the ground was a complete luxury. In fact send football supporters out to an area that gave the basic necessities and nothing more ala Wycombe and Northampton. We really were looked on as low life!! At least Northampton have improved the situation since the Stadium was built with most of what you need being close by.

DC certainly didn’t disappoint with his tinkering with the team and I challenge anybody to have guessed the team right yesterday as it showed 5 changes from the side that undeservedly lost on Tuesday. The biggest surprises for me was that he finally gave Connor Roberts his debut whilst there was no place for Boetang even on the bench (probably because of the limit of loans) and Salter-Clarke being replaced by Hartley after an excellent debut on Tuesday. It was great to see the return of Matty Taylor but again a surprise that it was only to the bench. So we started with a back four of Connor-Roberts, Lockyer, Hartley and Brown which in itself was surprising as DC tends to favour the back three for tough away games. then there was a midfield of Lines, Colkett, O Clarke and Sinclair with a front two of Gaffney and Harrison. I was certainly excited by the prospect of Colkett getting his starting debut though to be fair not over enthusiastic with the Sinclair/Ollie Clarke partnership. I think we were playing a sort of Diamond with Colkett at the front and Lines at the back and Ollie Clarke and Sinclair floating in between. Well that’s how I saw the formation anyway!!!

To the game and yet again it was a game of two halves. The first to be honest; not for the first time; we were pretty awful whilst pretty well holding our own with only Lockyer’s dreadful mistake being the difference in the teams. Second half we were outstanding but the only real surprise was that we didn’t score more goals. There could have been three penalties given two of which looked stonewall to me but perhaps I am biased then there were some outstanding saves by Alex Smith and some heroic blocks by their defenders. We looked like we could score every time we attacked and DC’s substitutions as is so often the case improved us considerably but what is also very clear is the superb fitness levels of our players which has seen us finish every game apart from Scunthorpe on top.

Roos 7.5 Excellent domination of his area again and a couple of good saves although in all honesty he didn’t have a huge amount to do and certainly had no chance whatsoever with the two Alex Revell goals which were caused by our mistakes but both excellently converted. By the end of the season I think we could be saying we have the best keeper in the division so highly do I rate him.

Connor Roberts 7 Hasn’t got the electric pace of Leadbitter but for me looks the safer option defensively. His positioning was good as was generally his distribution and I would like to see him given a run in the team now as I am more for making sure the defence is tight first and foremost and giving accurate passes to the players in front of him. To me he looks a better overall player than Leadbitter or James Clarke.

Lockyer 6 Struggled against the strong and intelligent Revell and was totally at fault for the opening goal failing to attack the long kick from Alex Smith and being caught in no mans land. To me he looks like a player who needs a rest and I would consider playing Salter-Clarke alongside Hartley but maybe I am being a bit unfair on Tom who I have long admired but feel he is struggling a bit so far this season. I know the second goal was down to Lines mistakes but as skipper I would expect Tom to have sorted out the players behind to have been further up the field and marking.

Hartley7 Another strong game from Harts and another invaluable goal. I believe that’s three for the season and personally I would like to see him playing every game and skippering the side as he gives us a presence in both areas and his experience for me is vital.

Brown 7 Back to his best and was very influential in the second half getting both back and forwards with ease. Much better attacking full back than a wingback and I would like to see more of the Moore/Brown combination which looks exciting.

Lines 7 Made the mistake for the second goal but to me what summed him up was the way he brought the ball back to kick off to get on with the game and the next time he got the ball he was still willing to take on a player in a tight space and drive forward. He was involved in the winning goal with the pass to Brown that brought the cross and it was when the substitutions had been made that our midfield really controlled the game. the partnership of Colkett and Lines can really blossom because they can share the deadballs and bring a completely different creative output to the team. Personally I can’t wait to see a midfield quartet of Lines,Colkett,Boetang and Moore which will give us a bit of everything.

O Clarke 5. Lacks consistency and although he started the game well with a good strike he faded into obscurity and went missing far too often. Really feel he lacks the class of Boetang as an overall midfield player and that Colkett is a better attacking midfielder who rarely gives the ball away and is happy to receive the ball something Ollie struggles with.

Sinclair 5.5 I was surprised he came straight back in the side and I am sorry if this upsets some people but for me he lacks the quality and whilst the midfield with him and Ollie Clarke in is workmanlike we just lack the creativity and organisation to really get in the game. Whilst passing back and sideways retains possession too often Stu IMO slows us down by rarely playing a forward pass even when it is on. He should have done much better when breaking in
the first half.

Colkett 8 MOM This man has talent and for such a young player always wants the ball and is capable of holding it under pressure and is a delightful passer of the ball. He really needs to be on the ball as often as possible and whilst first half he was not in the game as much as he would have liked it was clear that he rarely wastes a ball and the second half for me he was outstanding and showed with his finish on the winning goal that he is a confident striker of the ball. It was also great to see him taking control of the dead ball situations and only another great save by Smith stopped his excellent free kick creeping in the top corner.We are very lucky to have him and I am really looking forward to watching him for the rest of this season.

Harrison 7 Tried very hard again and was unlucky with the overhead kick. The service to him was nowhere near as good as it was on Tuesday night and whilst he is good in the air I do not believe that we are at our best when we are playing high balls up. I feel that our two strikers do not get close enough to each other and don’t at this time see any partnerships forming that are any better than the Gaffney/Taylor spearhead.

Gaffney 7.5 Lacks the aerial power but there were signs in the first half that he was getting his form back with his footwork and laying the ball off and the second 45 was his best performance for a long time with his willingness and skill to attack players and the goal would have worked wonders for his confidence and I fully expect him now to become a force in this division. Only a brilliant save by the keeper stopped him getting a second goal when he skilfully got himself into space to drive a low shot for the corner.

Subs

Bodin 6 Some good touches after coming on but to be honest is off form and there are no signs at the moment that his form is returning. One great chance should have at the very least worked the keeper but fired well over from an excellent position.

Moore 7 Has that ability to run with the ball whilst looking up and glide effortlessly past players. Wingers IMO do not feature enough in DC’s plans which is a shame because I think he really has the talent to open up defences and is good enough to feature every week.

Taylor 7 Great to have him back and as soon as he was on the pitch he looked dangerous and was mtoo good for the Northampton defenders to contain him. Could have come off with two goals and then there was a lovely defence splitting pass. I really hope that we are going to be able to keep hold of him in January because with him I would say we have every chance of making the Play offs.

Ref 3 Another belter of a referee who thankfully went off injured. I thought he had gone to put his contact lens in rather than ending his days work but how he missed two stonewall penalties and another possible one is beyond me. The general standard of referees and linesman has dropped like a stone. Yes they have never been the most favourite person on the field but I am sure they didn’t make as many errors as most make now.

Northampton 6 You only have to look at their record of something like two defeats in 34 games and yesterday being their first home defeat since December to realise that they are a good team with some very experienced players. For me their performance yesterday really showed me what a good side we are because they looked average at best and were outclassed in the second half where IMO only poor refereeing decisions stopped a big win. It could easily have been 5-2.

Crowd 9 Another large turnout that whilst a bit quiet in the first half which is hardly surprising given the first half performance made up for it by driving the team on vocally in the second and out singing the home support.

DC Well the result says that Darrell has yet again got the squad selection right and at the end of the day it is a results based business. When he gets the first half team selection right we will really be a force to be reckoned with but what a job he has done to get this squad together. We now have so many players capable of playing in the side that he has really created himself a problem and I am not sure that he is totally convinced by what is his best side at the moment. I can see that he is trying to keep everybody happy but in all honesty he has no chance of succeeding with that because we have so many players that are good enough and who are not going to be happy with being on the bench let alone the possibility they could have to sit in the stands. Then there is the fitness levels and again DC has given this to us by bringing in the backroom staff he has – it is no coincidence that we never give up and by the end of most games have the opposition on their knees. When people say that Wael has not put much money into the club at present I just look at the 27 players we have, the back staff that we are building and the fact that we held on to our prized assets Taylor and DC himself and then I cringe in horror at what might have been without the takeover. 7th position in League 1 in October and all I can say is arise Sir Darrell you have given us our Rovers back and more. Long may your tinkering continue.

So we move on to a bit of relief from the League programme with a Tin pot cup match against Yeovile followed by a Saturday off and a chance possibly for Darrell to give a few of the players who haven’t played much or at all a game within the rules of course which I believe restricts the number of changes you can make without being fined. I honestly believe that we could put out a completely different team that would still be able to give a good account of themselves however I would try to give the defence a chance to get playing time together although I would not be surprised to see Salter-Clarke given another start . My attempt to guess the team is

Roos

Connor-Roberts Lockyer Clarke-Salter
Brown

Montano Clarke-Colkett Boetang Moore

Gaffney James

Subs Mildenhall Mansell Taylor Harrison Hartley Lines Bodin

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