Out of chaos comes order – How Rovers are surprisingly predictable

by Martin Bull

Although on the face of it Darrell Clarke seems unpredictable and erratic to many, if you look carefully his modus operandi is surprisingly predictable.

So despite the perceived chaos of tinkering, numerous loanees, diamond systems, and Abdulai Bell-Baggie, DC has actually played a very canny, and similar hand each season.

And I’ve accidentally managed to use a quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for two articles in a row.

Now go and grab a pen and a piece of paper and start ticking off the similarities from his (almost) three seasons in charge so far.

Loanees are tried out in the first half of the season but used less in the second half, the budget is never blown early in the season, players are steadily paced and rested throughout the season, Rovers start most games slow and deliberately weigh the opposition up for 55 minutes before being more expansive and attacking in the second half (66% of our League goals this season have come in the second half, 71% last season), injuries and suspensions will be minimal, all three subs will be used in most games (71% of the Conference season, 92% of League Two, and 94% so far in League One), and Rovers will struggle against the best teams in the division.

Whilst I don’t wish to dwell on this (slightly) negative final stat it does give an indication as to why we never quite overhauled Barnet, and never got close to an even vaguely ‘comfortable’ automatic promotion last season. Of course most teams will potentially struggle against the better teams in any sport, but it can be the stat that sorts the men from the, er, boys [there is no way I’m following Rob Page!].

In the Conference Rovers picked up a respectable 17 points in 12 games against the top seven clubs, but in League Two we only earnt ten. Currently we have six points from eight games, with the only win coming against Fleetwood Town when they were actually tenth – in fact that’s our only win against anyone currently in the Top 10 of the table.

In the 2013/14 relegation season Rovers took 12 points against the top seven teams. Whilst it was achieved from two extra games (we don’t play ourselves) it’s still interesting that we have regularly struggled against the top teams.

Ok, back to the tick list…

Certain players will play just about every minute of every game (Tom Lockyer, Lee Brown and to a somewhat lesser degree Matty Taylor), certain players are always involved at some point of a match, even if half of them are as a sub (Ellis), and certain players never quite look like they have the stamina and are always subbed off (e.g. Hiram Boateng – subbed in all of his League starts).

Every season Rovers will also lose an Autumnal cup game to a non-league side but will ride the melodramatic nuclear meltdown to win the following league game (Gateshead 3-2 / Carlisle United 2-0 / Bury 4-2). It’s almost as if they subconsciously want to lose so they can have some tea cups thrown at them and then fulfil the old cliché of concentrating on the league.

Every season there will be a few post-match interviews where DC pinches the bridge of his nose, avoids eye contact and says “the lads are hurting”, every season a goalkeeping crisis will hit us before the summer holidays are even over, every season we will be linked to Jamie Cureton until he shuffles off this mortal coil, and every season Chris Lines will be dropped a few times, but will come back stronger.

A couple of players will become infamous as late season ‘insurance’ players who will probably feature for less minutes than a Swindon fan has toes. In the Conference it was both Josh Wakefield and Abdulai Bell-Baggie, with their entire Rovers ‘career’ spent sitting on the bench (or in the stands). In League Two at least Oli McBurnie was afforded three decent stints during his five sub appearances, bagging exactly 100 minutes of pitch time, and even Rory Fallon picked up 19 minutes, and could say he was part of a team that made history.

Rovers will never lose more than three league games in a row. This has never happened under DC, with three on the trot only occurring twice, and a brace an extra four times. That is a quite remarkable stat from 127 games especially given that this season alone we’ve seen Danny Wilson conjure up eight losses in a row at Chesterfield, David Flitcroft achieve seven at Bury (plus five more by his predecessors, giving a remarkable 12 in a row), Mark Venus defy the ‘dead cat bounce’ theory with six when caretaker at Coventry City, and in the League above Lee Johnson has managed an impressive seven so far.

And probably most importantly of all, the second half of the season will see a growth spurt. The Conference saw us secure nine extra points in the second half of the season, resulting in a modest rise from third to second, and last season was even better with 11 extra points and a rise from fifth to third. This is most probably aided by not blowing the budget in July and by a player adding a new dimension later in the Spring (Lines in the Conference and Bodin in League Two).

Out of chaos comes order. Yes, indeed.

Martin Bull became a Gashead in 1989 and immediately fell in love with Twerton Park, standing near G pillar. Three of his seven books have been about Bristol Rovers. ‘Away The Gas’ is packed full of over 50 years of ‘I was there’ away game moments, all written by fans, ‘Print That Season! – One man’s weekly meanderings throughout Bristol Rovers’ promotion campaign of 2014-15’ is the antidote to obedient season reviews, with none of the hindsight that most writers rely on, and ‘Double Darrell’ is similar, but chronicles the 2015-16 promotion, and is even better.

Full details of all are available at www.awaythegas.org.uk

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