With 5 games now behind Bristol Rovers, fans are beginning to get an insight into what the season ahead holds. In this article, I am going to touch upon some of the lessons learnt in the opening fixtures.
Billy Bodin is essential to Rovers’ success.
Billy Bodin has started the season in the form that Rovers fans have grown to expect. Four goals in five games including two braces shows the attacking flair which saw him net 13 times last season is still very much present. It is also clear to see that when he plays well, Rovers usually win, evidence of this comes in the form of our league triumph over Bury, where he produced a man of the match performance. What is so dazzling about the forward is his complete unpredictability. It is always a challenge to start the season where you left off from last and the fact that he is off and running is a hugely positive sign for the team as he is a vital piece in any Rovers team who hope to challenge for promotion in the 2017/18 campaign.
Despite much excitement surrounding signings, our defence has shown some frailties.
Through past seasons, Rovers issues have often come in the attacking department, but one clear statistic that stands out from the opening five games is that eight goals have been conceded, including a defensive disaster at home to Peterborough where four goals were let in. This is something Darrell Clarke has cited as a real issue and it is certainly alarming. What I have gathered from the opening fixtures is that one, Rovers fans should not panic, Peterborough was a one off for me and two, small adjustments may be necessary. One particular move I would like to see is Marc Bola for Lee Brown. Any fans at the Fulham game would have seen a quite brilliant display from the young loanee. Any fans who were at the Peterborough and Charlton would have seen a lacklustre performance by Lee Brown. Now, by no means am I calling for his head, but I would like to see Bola given a shot as it has been a topic raised by many a fan now as to whether Brown is ‘past it.’ Arguably the signing of the summer for the Gas was the capture of Ryan Sweeney for one year. He showed a solid display against League 2 Cambridge but any defender who concedes four has to be looked at and he was at fault in this game for two goals. I will reiterate the fact that it is early days, but it is still worth noting that a Rovers team who pride themselves upon their defensive ability, have had a shaky start.
4-3-3 appears to be Rovers adopted formation for the season.
Out of the five games Pirates fans have watched, four of these have seen a 4-3-3 lineup. There are a few points to make regarding this formation that is not wholly new to the team but has had some adjustments. Firstly, what has become clear is that Darrell Clarke’s front three is fairly fluid. The gaffer’s preference appears to be Tom Nichols, Billy Bodin and Ellis Harrison and when they play, it is common to see Harrison play through the middle whilst Bodin runs the wide channels. It is also common within the same game for them to swap roles for a period of time. The effect this has is that Rovers play style has become much more creative and has a certain slickness to it, shown with nine goals in five games. Another feature of this formation is two attacking midfielders. With Lines and Sercombe bombing forward it means that defensive cover is needed. In my opinion, our best performance of the season came at Bury where DC played two defensive full backs in the form of Partington and Brown. This 4-3-3 allows quick free flowing football whilst also requiring a solid back
Darrell Clarke has successfully created a squad with great depth.
Rovers’ opening games have seen 19 different starters which is without question a testament to the depth of the squad DC has assembled. Starting the season with no established goalkeepers, Rovers now have two first team level keepers and one talented youngster in the form of Andre Alexis who has already featured in the matchday squad. Defensively and going forward, Rovers have fantastic depth. With cover across all positions in defence, perhaps the only guaranteed starter is captain Tom Lockyer. Ryan Sweeney and Tom Broadbent offer fantastic options at centre back whilst we have an abundance of wing backs to suit three, four or five at the back formations. Similarly, the attacking options are vast. Out and out strikers options come in the form of Tom Nichols, Ellis Harrison and Rory Gaffney who all offer something unique, Nichols being more agile and quick whilst the latter two are traditional strong tall strikers who will offer options in the air. As touched upon earlier, Rovers have a real threat in Billy Bodin, identified by Doug Shields in a season preview, and is like Lockyer a guaranteed starter. One addition which could be made is another winger to take the strain off of Bodin as Byron Moore is not consistent enough
Some Rovers fans are complete belters!
The majority of Gasheads are completely fine, but due to our poor start to the season some rash comments were made by a small minority of supporters. Calls for Darrell clarke to be sacked were frankly laughable whilst one fan wrote that the Charlton game was ‘exactly why he thinks we will go down this year.’ Fans would do well to remember the league campaign has only just begun and as DC stresses it is a long season. Although there is a serious side to some of my comments it is worth noting that 99% of Rovers fans are brilliant and find the negative comments equally amusing. Remember, it is early days and the Gas never start well!
All in all, it has been a relatively successful start for the Gas, however, fans will be looking for much improvement, especially within the league campaign. As the new players begin to gel I feel that good things are to come for Bristol Rovers.