In this brief review of the 2016/17 season, TFF Bristol Rovers bloggers Doug Shields and Joe Moon give their frank and honest thoughts on the foregone campaign.
As the season comes to a close most supporters are in one of two camps. ‘We blew our play off chances’, or ‘What a brilliant first season back in League One’. I am firmly in the latter category. Driving up to Scunthorpe on a sunny Saturday in early August, I was expecting us to lose, but was obviously hoping we would win. Looking back now, that game just about encapsulates our entire season. We were for long spells the better side, but didn’t take our chances and lost 3-1. Sounds familiar right? A couple of my Gashead mates called me as I drove back. They predicted a season of struggle and eventually a painful fall back into the bottom tier of the football league. How wrong they were…
2016/17 provided a string of highlights – and lowlights. Happy days, and dark days. Chelsea away goes without saying, apart from that I enjoyed Sheffield United and Bolton away, and Northampton home. February, when we took on five of the best six or seven sides in the league, and more than held our own, was fantastic. I’d like to forget the two games against Charlton if I may!
Ollie Clarke was my star performer all year, and was rightly awarded player of the season. If I’m honest, I thought it would be too much of a step up for him, but he is learning and improving all that time and looks an accomplished League One player now. Most disappointing player? Tough one. For me I expected Moore from Byron.
Of the two factions of supporters previously mentioned by Doug, I similarly find myself in the ‘What a brilliant first season back in League One’ camp. For many of our squad, it was their first taste of football in the third tier and collectively the team seemed to relish the opportunity to demonstrate their talents at a higher level. My season highlights don’t necessarily stem from our league campaign – the early season trip to Stamford Bridge will stay in my memory for a long time thanks to our battling performance against the soon to be crowned champions of England. Ellis Harrison’s 4 goal glut against Northampton Town deserves a mention as well, the Welsh under 21 striker silenced his critics with a sensational double brace (or a “haul” as I’m told is the technical term!?). Taking it down to the final few league games in search of a play-off place was enough of an achievement in itself but factor in our best finish in well over a decade and you have all the more reason to commemorate Darrell Clarke and his players on their exploits.
Of my personal lowlights of the season would have to be our unfortunate form at the hands of Charlton Athletic, losing by embarrassing margins both at home and away against the Londoners highlighted some of our long term defensive problems when it comes to playing more physical teams. It wasn’t all doom and gloom at home though as we turned The Memorial Stadium into somewhat of a fortress, our home record rivalled that of even the very best in the league during the 2016/17 season although ultimately results on the road are what nudged us away from the summit of League 1.
My star performers of the season are undoubtedly Ollie Clarke and Billy Bodin, Clarke has won over naysayers with his consistency in a notoriously difficult division whereas Bodin has come to life in the second half of the season becoming our prized asset since picking up where he left off from some Impressive goalscoring displays in league 2. Overall I feel as if our squad have come on leaps and bounds over the course of the year and things can only get better as DC begins a hectic summer of recruitment as he looks to put together a squad capable of gaining promotion to The Championship.