With a new season, comes new challenges, and top of Darrell Clarke’s list of priorities prior to the start of the 2017-18 campaign was undoubtedly adding to a depleted squad that succeeded in claiming an impressive 10th place finish upon return to League 1.
Left with just 14 first team players before the window opened on the 9th of June, our transfer business has been both relentless and impressive with no less than 8 first team players arriving in BS7 and countless other exciting youth prospects destined to don the famous blue and white quarters in the future. With an interesting mix of League 1 experience and untapped potential in our recruits, it’s unsurprising to notice that a steady stream of positive results has coincided with our new-look squad adjusting to the challenges of playing as part of a cohesive unit. Positive results against Championship Fulham and a high-flying Fleetwood side have seen impressive contributions from the new boys and with the season well and truly in full effect, games will be coming thick and fast to make an impression.
Embarking on just their second full seasons at League 1 level this year will be Liam Sercombe and Tom Nichols. The Gaffer has said himself, picking up players with the potential to improve their game is of high importance, and after solid campaigns in the third tier for Oxford and Peterborough respectively, the duo will be looking to build upon the foundations they set out with their former clubs. Sercombe strikes me as the sort of creative influence that will be a hugely important asset for us if we are to fulfil our promotion ambitions, goals from anywhere other than our forward line were lacking last year and Sercombe’s record for previous clubs speaks for itself, not to mention the impressive number of assists the number 7 has accumulated in recent times. Tom Nichols managed the accolade of being Peterborough United’s top goalscorer last season – and with a respectable haul of 11 goals in 43 League 1 appearances overall, the local lad has all of the qualities to fire us up the table if given the chance to showcase his abilities.
One undoubted ‘Problem Position‘ in the last few seasons has been deciding upon a regular first choice goalkeeper. With experienced fan favourite Steve Mildenhall joining the backroom staff, we were left without a senior shot-stopper in our ranks but fears were quickly dispelled. The arrival of both Sam Slocombe and Adam Smith on the same day was a breath of fresh air, two capable League 1 keepers fighting it out for the number 1 spot – competition breeds success and if we are to compete at the very top of the table this year, then building from the back isn’t a bad place to start at all. Both have put in assured displays when chosen so far and although a current injury has halted Smith’s tenure between the sticks, the fight for the goalkeeping position has never been more fiercely contested with Slocombe looking confident in his absence.
Continuing the theme of new additions, the unpredictability of loan trio Ryan Sweeney, Dom Telford and Marc Bola could very well be our trump card this year. Gasheads already know just how important it was to secure the services of Sweeney for the entirety of next season, but Stoke teammate Dominic Telford could have a similar impact the other end of the pitch. A regular name on the scoresheet for the Stoke reserve team, Telford has experience of Championship football whilst at Blackpool as a youngster and is sure to relish senior football with Rovers in a more physically demanding division. Rounding off the trio of loanees is Marc Bola. The Arsenal man was one of the most impressive players on the pitch when filling in at the unfamiliar right back position against Fulham and provided an equally astute defensive and attacking performance during our cup upset against the South London side.
With raw potential and unlimited ability, new signings will benefit from the experience of players around them – Tom Broadbent rounding off the 8 new faces will relish his chance in professional football with equal measure. Broadbent offers cover in central defence and was perhaps one of our standout players in pre-season, so much so that his displays prompted a first professional deal from Darrell Clarke. Undoubtedly new faces will take time to gel, but early signs have me dreaming we can recreate past glories.
Feature Image Credit: Bristol Rovers Fc