Second Best At The Bescott

Being a fan is about sticking with your team when things aren’t going your way, singing when they’re 5-1 down at home to Charlton, standing proud when they’re losing 3-0 at Walsall and following them up and down the country in non-league. To say that Gasheads have done this well is an understatement, we’ve kept up our away attendances even having lost our last five straight away games going into Saturdays clash at the Bescott and still sold over 2,000 tickets.

The post-match stats made grim reading, on the road we haven’t won since Oldham on the 22nd of October, since which we have conceded nineteen and scored just five, but in the most Bristol Rovers way imaginable we have won our last four home games scoring fifteen and conceding 3. We had a similar problem last season, albeit in November, where we were winning away but couldn’t buy a home win and when it eventually clicked we flew up the table. If we can get it right we are more than good enough to push for a play-off place, although I can’t honestly say we are good enough to achieve a third successive promotion.

It’s been something of a busy spell by our standards, today we added 22 year old Centre-back Johnny Burn from Middlesborough on a permanent basis, our fourth signing of the window to go alongside Joe Lumley, Ryan Sweeney and Joe Partington. I hope that every new face can provide something different during their spells with the club. Six players were also told they were free to leave, I’m sure all Gasheads will join me in wishing all of them the best for the future and thanking them for their service to the club. For me it’s particularly sad to see McChrystal on that list, he gave absolutely everything for the club whenever he wore the shirt and was instrumental in us regaining our place in the Football League. I’ve long argued that it takes a certain type of player to play for Bristol Rovers and Macca was that personified, passionate, hard-working and willing to interact with the fans, I would love to see him involved at the club in a coaching capacity in the future. Easter was perhaps the only other player I would argue can still offer us something, what he’s lost physically over his career he has more than made up for in what he has gained mentally. Darrell has confirmed he will be looking to further his squad before the end of the window so expect at least another new face in the next few days.

Back to Saturday and what went wrong, each goal we conceded was due to individual errors. Linesy for the first, Locks for the second and Moore for the third. Other than that I thought, for the first half at least, it was the best we had defended for a long time. We were fast to close down, quick to regain shape and looked absolutely determined not to concede. We had a ten minute spell where we should have taken the lead but our best chance was Linesy’s free kick which was well saved by Etheridge. It was a lack of discipline from a set piece that meant we were a goal down at the break and it was an awful time to concede, on the stroke of half-time just concentrate, clear the ball and go in level but Lines gifted the ball to their man who took advantage.

We started the second half with intent but didn’t really create that much, rather a lot of frustrating aimless balls into the box. Taylor should have scored from six yards out, if you wanted a player to be in the right place at the right time for that chance it was your top goal-scorer, but he put it directly at Etheridge. Lockyer was caught out for the second after we pushed forwards and it was game over at this stage. Walsall added a third, Taylor clawed one back and it was another disappointing end to an away day. Then came the standard gas meltdown on Social media: at the moment, one win and we’re going up and should never have doubted the squad, one defeat and we’re going down, the squad has found their level, Clarke out, sack the board and liquidate the club! Fair enough it’s been poor lately away from home but is anyone seriously worried that we could go down this season? Surely staying up would be a huge achievement, let alone still being in the hunt for a play-off place. Wael is building slowly, he’s not going to throw millions at it to do it the first time around, it’s about sustainability as he’s said since day one, the signings of Partington and Burn show this, we’re developing a squad that will challenge in a few years and for the time being, some stability at the club is a very good thing.

For me one of the biggest positives was seeing Ryan Broom on the pitch. Him and Lucas are the two young players I think have the most potential, and with the squad size decreasing it looks like we will be seeing more and more of them. It was a harsh introduction on a frustrating day but any first team football will benefit them both at this stage. Joe Lumley in goal looked assured, it’s not often goalkeepers get praised when conceding three on their debut but it could have been more if not for him. He was decisive and commited to his decisions, the worst thing you can do as a goalkeeper is change your mind. He has proven something to me though, whilst some of the standard of goalkeeping has been awful the defence is clearly not good enough, this is the fourth goalkeeper we’ve had this season and we’ve not stopped conceding.

On Saturday we host Swindon in a West Country derby, the Reds are currently sitting tight in nineteenth place and with teams below them like Oldham finding some form, they could find themselves in real trouble come May. They’ve won just one of their last eight league games, but the victory was a vastly impressive one over Bolton at The Macron Stadium so we will have to dig deep to keep up our good home form of late. They have a very talented squad which was recently improved by three Chelsea loan signings including Charlie Colkett, somebody who we all recognise as an extremely good footballer and if I’m honest I’m not looking forward to his return. Colks is capable of hurting us!

The team are going to need more great support from a crowd of over 10,000 to come away with the points, so let’s get behind them, Come on you blues!

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