Tuesday the 11th of July, Weston-super-Mare host League 1 Bristol Rovers for a local derby of sorts at The Woodspring Stadium.
In what is sure to be an exciting and equally competitive start to pre-season preparations for both clubs, TFF writers Liam Drury and Joe Moon preview what to expect for the upcoming match and cast their eyes over the ‘ones to watch’ from their respective sides.
Rovers Team summary:
The 2016/17 Bristol Rovers season was one of consolidation, adapting to life back in the 3rd tier of English football where many feel the club rightfully belongs. After a turbulent last decade of promotions and relegations, the club yo-yoed it’s way through the divisions before dropping out of the football league and finding consistent success under current manager Darrell Clarke. The young, Mansfield-born manager had limited experience before joining The Pirates yet his ideology now breathes throughout the club, and with two promotions in his first two full seasons in charge, Clarke has reached icon status before even reaching the age of 40.
Rovers top goalscorer in the league last campaign was the now-infamous Matty Taylor, a player that made a January move to the red side of the city joining bitter rivals Bristol City and having limited success in the process, adding just 2 league goals to the 16 he had managed that season for his former side. A 10th placed finish signalled the best league position the club had achieved in 17 years, and under new ownership The Pirates will be looking to build on a solid first season back in League 1 by mounting a play-off push that was almost achieved last year.
Weston Team summary:
From the upcoming season, Weston fans are hoping to not be embroiled in a relegation battle once again. Despite this, the bookies currently have them as least favourites to win the Vanarama National League South title and a relegation battle looks set to be on the cards once again. However, with former player Marc McGregor taking charge of the first team for the first time against Bristol Rovers, Weston’s attractive passing game and attacking football looks to remain, with Scott Bartlett changing to this philosophy when he joined last October. So for Weston fans, gone are the days of defensive, counter-attacking football under Ryan Northmore and in comes another manager with fresh ideas, a manager who is passionate for the club and eager to succeed while in charge at The Woodspring Stadium. Seagull supporters will be going into the season hopeful, but once November goes around, those hopes will either be lifted or dashed following early results.
Last season, Weston finished 15th in the league, just above Welling United and keeping their place in the league after a relegation battle which they struggled to get out of until the latter stages of the campaign. Weston were one of the in-form teams ending the season on a high, with them scoring the most amount of goals in the final five league fixtures. The Somerset outfit reached the Final of the Somerset Premier Cup however, failed to deal with Taunton Town, who had a remarkable season by their standards and reached the FA Cup 1st Round and lost the season finale 4-2. Weston lost a few key members of their squad over the course of the summer, with centre-back and assistant manager Chris Barker being the only real notable departure following the arrival of the new management team, while striker Brad Ash and central midfielder Lloyd Humphries returned to their parent clubs, Barnsley and Cardiff, respectively.
Rovers ones to watch:
All eyes will no doubt be on young defender Rollin Menayese who Rovers signed up ahead of the 2017-18 season. The 19 year old Welshman was an integral part of the Weston first team last year and looks to make an impression against his former side in the absence of a recognised central defensive duo for The Gas. With an impressive build for a defender and clear tactical awareness for such a young man, Menayese could very well break into the Rovers first team squad this coming season and follow in the footsteps of fellow Wales centre-back Tom Lockyer.
Sam Slocombe and Adam Smith
Goalkeeping duo Sam Slocombe and Adam Smith are new signings at The Memorial Stadium and will both be competing for the number 1 spot so expect astute displays in the shot-stopping department from the new recruits. During the course of Rovers Saturday afternoon drubbing of Melksham Town, each keeper played a half of football each so don’t be surprised to see appearances from both senior players. Adam Smith is a young talent with considerable football league experience having starred in the League 2 best XI during Northampton Town’s 2015/16 promotion. Sam Slocombe is yet another vastly experienced player, the 29 year old has played Championship football and will look to be Rovers regular first choice number 1.
In terms of a goal threat, Rovers can boast one of the best goalscoring wingers outside of the top two divisions in Billy Bodin. The former Welsh Under-21 player has netted 25 goals in 72 games for Rovers and at 25 should be heading into the best years of his career. Having scored in Saturday afternoon’s 6-1 win over Melksham, Bodin is clearly looking to continue his blistering form over to this year of the footballing calendar and the ex-Swindon forward looks likely to star for Rovers at The Woodspring Stadium. Weston defenders beware!
Weston ones to watch:
The central midfielder was used more as a defensive midfielder under Ryan Northmore, who left in September 2016, but Cane was pushed forward into a more attacking role under Scott Bartlett once Lloyd Humphries was signed on loan. After suffering injuries in the past, Cane will still play a pivotal part on Tuesday with his eye for a pass and his worth ethic being one of the main reasons why he’s regarded as a solid midfielder at Non-League level over the past few Weston campaigns at least.
The left winger is Weston’s star player, and with his right foot and set-piece ability drawing people back through the turnstiles on the south coast, Grubb will be a player to watch out for on Tuesday. Having scored 19 league goals last season, and adding a solitary strike in the Somerset Premier Cup, Grubb’s goalscoring prowess from midfield is like none other in Non-League and with the player having been scouted by higher league clubs before, a good performance on Tuesday may even see Bristol Rovers show an interest in the 25-year-old again.
Pope was voted the Weston Supporter’s Player of the Year 2016-2017 and the right-back had a solid season. After starting the season at centre-back under Ryan Northmore, Pope was switched to right-back upon Scott Bartlett’s arrival and has stayed there ever since, with the youngster being able to play in central midfield as well. His delivery of a cross, which saw him get four assists during the season, and timing of a tackle saw him improve Weston’s defence last season alongside Chris Barker, Rollin Menayese and Danny Greenslade during the second half of the season. Weston can expect to have a strong showing against Bristol Rovers to kick off their 2017-2018 season.
Credit – Will. T. Photography
With home advantage on their side and a depleted Rovers squad likely to field a number of youngsters, I expect Weston to put up a good fight. Darrell Clarke’s exciting brand of football almost always guarantees goals so I expect Rovers to trouble the Weston defence on occasion and offer up a considerable threat to the opposition from set pieces. With a large number of either new signings or youth players expected to fill the gaps in a makeshift squad, Weston will offer tough competition, however I can see Rovers nicking a win by either a 2-1 or 3-1 scoreline – With at least one of those goals coming from our development squad players who are keen to impress and break into the first team fold ahead of the upcoming campaign no doubt.
I can see Darrell Clarke starting with a particularly strong attacking 4-3-3 formation to take on Weston Tuesday evening. With a large squad to choose from which includes many trialists and young players, it is hard to say what sort of side the Rovers gaffer will decide to field. I personally believe Clarke will trial a mixture of youth and experience with fringe players such as Rollin Menayese and Ryan Broom looking likely to make appearances as well as star attractions such as Billy Bodin and club captain Tom Lockyer.
Trialists are also very much expected to play a part with the Rovers fans making the short trip to Weston understandably excited to see if they can identify who our mystery men fighting to earn a contract with the club could be. Flying high off of his hat-trick at the weekend, Irish forward Rory Gaffney will more than likely see action over the course of the 90 minutes and with Clarke rotating his 11 on the 45 minute mark there could certainly be a mass amount of substitutes appearing for the second half – notable omissions from my 11 such as Ellis Harrison and Stuart Sinclair being the individuals in question.
It is rumoured that Bristol Rovers are set to bring a strong side to The Woodspring on 11th July and Weston, who are light on players, may struggle to contend with a Rovers side who are now back to their best after a slight decline in recent years. If I had to predict a scoreline, I’m going to go for 4-1 Bristol Rovers. If they do bring a strong side as expected, then Weston’s capabilities may not stop their attacking play, but I do hope that I am proven wrong.
I could see Weston starting with a particularly strong side against Bristol Rovers. With it being Marc McGregor’s first game in charge, I could see him evaluating his squad and experimenting to see who could possibly be used in different positions throughout the season. I could see U18 players from last season George Morris-Edwards, Jack Goodall and Jamie Irwin getting a chance from the first whistle, with Weston currently without an out-and-out right winger. Jason Pope can do a job at defensive midfield, from my perspective, with Gethyn Hill perhaps getting the nod up front ahead of Jake Reid and Jake Lee.
Weston stalwarts Luke Purnell and Dayle Grubb will lead the way in terms of experience, while Ash Kington and Jacob Cane will be tasked with and dictating play in the middle of the park. U18 players from last season, striker Sol Wanjau-Smith and goalkeeper Liam Kingston, may well get the chance to prove themselves in the second half. Former Bristol Rovers academy graduate, left-back Danny Greenslade, will be looking to start against his former side following making his loan move permanent in the summer, ahead of the returning Jordan Williams, who spent the majority of last season on loan at Mangotsfield United and Dorchester Town.
Featured Image: Will. T. Photography