The Decisive Moment

by Martin Bull

If you want to get an idea of a person’s interests ask them to tell you the first thing that comes into their head when you say ‘magnum’ to them. Sweet toothed lovers will say ‘ice cream‘, Clint Eastwood fans will answer ‘Dirty Harry’ and most probably reel off the entire scene where he asks the punk if he feels lucky, Premier League footballers and international playboys will reply ’champagne’, moustache aficionados will likely respond with ’Tom Selleck’, and photography buffs will surely cry ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’.

The latter was a founder member of the Magnum Photos co-operative in 1947, which still to this day is generally regarded as the elite of the profession (sometime too elite), and he was a pioneer of street photography, driven by his belief that a photograph captured a ‘decisive moment‘.

Whatever minor criticisms are thrown at Darrell Clarke he does usually give players and tactics a sporting chance before then making a clear and decisive decision.

In the Conference the decisive moment came during the languid home draw to Kidderminster Harriers in mid October 2014. If the FA Cup exit to Tranmere Rovers was the first strike and the tame draw at Alfreton Town was the second, the third and final strike was the lack of teeth displayed against the Carpetmen.

Dave Martin and Jamie White were both unceremoniously hauled off at half-time, with Ryan Brunt following 16 minutes later. None of those three ever played again for Rovers in the league. It was certainly a ruthless example of out with the old and in with the new and as Rovers lost only one more league game after that day DC must have got something right.

In League Two the decisive moment came in mid-November after the dual 2-1 losses to strugglers Crawley Town and Stevenage, the latter being the first away win of Teddy Sheringham’s ill-advised tenure as boss (and only his fourth League victory). Up to that point Jermaine Easter had started in all bar three games, yet with Jamma, Ellis Harrison, Chris Lines, and Billy Bodin all fit and available DC preferred to drop or ignore them all and went out and recruited Rory Gaffney on loan from fellow League Two also-rans Cambridge United. Nathan Blissett faced an even worse fate, being shipped out for a second loan spell of the season, this time to the badlands of Lincolnshire.

The decisive moment for this season has probably just been made against Coventry City, and then cemented in place against the real Dons and the Addicks. The entire starting XI for all three games, even allowing for six changes at the Valley, were players under contract to Bristol Rovers, and all nine subs that came on were as well. Connor Roberts and Hiram Boateng went back slightly early, and Luke James hasn’t even made the bench for the last two games.

It was as if a statement is being made that the loan players had not particularly improved on what we already had, or what we might soon be getting, and with the January window in the near distance (now well and truly open) we would start concentrating on using Rovers resources rather than those owned by other teams. At this juncture a certain well-known footballing maxim could perhaps be reworded as ‘loans are temporary, contracts are permanent’.

Whilst loanees do serve a purpose, and I believe our six August recruits have served it well, the future is always in sorting out the prospects of your own players, whatever frailties they may have.

I am not suggesting that DC was wrong to give loanees a chance. They all played their part in a generally successful first half of the season, and were not only needed in the lean times as a clear necessity, but also as a general precaution, especially with the new loan system in place (no short term-ism now) and a season top loaded with cup and league games before New Year. Rovers played 32 games before NY (at an average of a game every 4.6 days) whereas the 22 games in 2017 come at an average of a game every 5.4 days.

Although we have yet again been successful at generally keeping our players available (a few minor suspensions) and healthy (only Jake Clarke-Salter enduring a lay-off of more than a few weeks), it was prudent to have extra bodies in the building to cover every eventuality.

This transfer window will be fascinating, with surely a League One level goalkeeper and a taller, more physically dominant centre half high on the wish list, and the potential of real money being spent if the right player can be found.


Postscript – This article was written and originally published before the news broke of Peter Hartley’s injury and Charlie Colkett’s recall.  If anything that news just re-iterates the need for a dominant centre half and shows up the vagaries of the loan system.

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