Volume 2: 23/10/2017
J: Welcome to the second edition of ‘The Rovers Report’, a weekly debate blog answering some important questions concerning our beloved Bristol Rovers. This week I am joined by fellow TFF Rovers writer Fred Welsman to discuss The Academy system, January transfer deals and candidates for ‘Player of the season’ so far.
Are we giving young players enough chances?
J: Prior to the start of this year, my answer to this question may have been very different. With the exception of talented young winger Ryan Broom, Darrell Clarke has relied largely upon experienced pros, Premier League loanees and promising lower league players in their mid-20s. The introduction of the new-look ‘Development Team’ this season however seems to be bearing fruit. Already to emerge from the reserve side are summer signings Alexis Andre Jr and Rollin Menayese. Signed from The Nike Academy and Weston respectively the duo have impressed me during their brief cameos. Whether the pair would have made their first Gas appearances without being enforced changes is a completely different question, but both have looked impressive additions during their short careers playing in blue and white. Menayese in particular to me looks a real future starter for the team, showing maturity beyond his years when unexpectedly called upon against Northampton. Moving forward I would love to see him given more chances when appropriate – and with a rare away clean sheet during his first start, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the former Cardiff lad soon.
In answer to the main question, I think we are handing out enough chances this season. A cautious yet steady introduction of younger players should certainly be the way the club integrates promising talent – especially considering the bad run of results we are experiencing currently. It would be foolish to throw players in at the deep end just to give their confidence a huge knock, yet with the ready-made talent pool the Development Team provides, there should be no shortage of potential first-team regulars emerging over the coming years.
F: I think that this is actually a very interesting question and one that is certainly worth talking about. My personal opinion is that bringing academy players through the ranks should be high ranking on DC’s priorities. If you look at the investment that has been put into the development squad, including the appointment of a well-respected coach (Chris Hargreaves), I have to say that not enough players have been given the chance. I think it is a very tricky balance however and of course results matter more. As an example of the difficulty DC faces in terms of selection take a look at the Northampton and Oxford game. Rollin Menayese had a quite sublime game and yet found himself left out of the matchday squad a week later. It is a hard one because although he played so well, Lockyer and Sweeney are proven defenders.
The simple answer is that young players have not had enough chances, yet the predicament we find ourselves in at the minute means that DC cannot take risks and cannot play these youngsters. Ryan Broom has had a sprinkling of first team action but nowhere near enough to stake a real claim. The one possible exception would be Marc Bola who has certainly played his fair share of games. The policy that Darrell appears to be taking on youth players is that he will not select them for the sake of it. If they’re good enough then they will play, and for me this is the way it should be. It certainly is a shame that we do not seem to see as many academy players coming through like we once did when Clarke, Harrison and Lockyer were all given chances week in week out.
Without any signings in January, where would you expect us to finish?
F: The current Rovers squad might just be capable of a promotion push if we can improve our consistency but realistically I can see us finishing roughly around mid to low table. Our defensive frailties are severely costing us and without Bodin firing we do seem to lack that cutting edge in the final third of the pitch. I still think DC is figuring out what his best team is so for me I do think that we will improve, as the season gets older. Saying that, there is potential for the Gas to slip down the league if the defence keeps leaking easy goals. Lockyer and Sweeney look like different players compared to last year and I think although many see our captain as ‘undroppable,’ giving him a rest may get his head back in the game and his performances will improve. I would personally like to see more of Dom Telford, paired with Ellis for a big man short man combination. It sounds simple but when we are at our best we can beat any team in the league but too often we are playing at 70 odd %. A few additions could seriously bolster the quality and allow us to kick on but I think without these we could struggle a bit. It would have to take some serious collapse for us to go down, as I believe we have too much quality across the board. If we don’t purchase anyone this January then a promotion push would be just out of our reach and mid table beckons.
J: As unrealistic as it is, I really would love to see us splash the cash in January – and with the way things are going, we might need to if we are to find any sort of saving grace from a season that has underwhelmed. I tend to see it like this, defensively, we remain essentially unchanged from last season minus the departure of Peter Hartley, so it remains a lingering question just why we are conceding so many goals. Could it perhaps be the absence of Joe Lumley? “Second Season Syndrome” for Ryan Sweeney? Or something else? It can’t be said that a lack of good offensive players is the catalyst for our downwards spiral when we are competing with the very best teams in the league in terms of goals scored. Without additions in January I expect us to be fine – relegation teams don’t score the number of goals that we do and quite frankly a mid-table finish is something I would be happy with come mid-2018 considering where we are. The only worry for me in January is the potential for departures. Billy Bodin’s form will not go unnoticed and I can only hope that we command a hefty fee if he is to leave so we can concentrate on a replacement. All in all, if we retain our current squad for the remainder of the football season, 16th to 12th place would be a rough estimate for where we will finish in my eyes.
Who has been your ‘player of the season’ far?
F: This is an easy one for me and as someone who is too often wrongly criticised it is lovely to see Ellis Harrison get the plaudits he deserves for his hard work. His attitude, which has been slammed for years, has been exceptional this year. He has been chasing defenders and lost causes non-stop this season and not only this but he is growing into a mature player who is showing how ruthless he can be in and around the penalty area. In a fairly mediocre start to the season, few have stood out as much as him. The two other contenders for me are Marc Bola and Liam Sercombe. The latter has provided consistently good performances in the centre of midfield, combining good defensive work with neat passing and his eye for a goal. Bola, who I cited pre-season as one to watch has grown as a player and gone from strength to strength. The boy has fantastic technical ability and a particular highlight is the skill he showed at Sixfields to set up Dom Telfords goal. He appears to be the perfect example of a modern day fullback, quick, powerful and equally good attacking as defending. All 3 have impressed me, but Ellis has really shone this term.
J: I couldn’t agree more with Fred here, Ellis ‘Marmite’ Harrison has been the target of plenty of frustration and unfounded accusations of laziness from the terraces for several seasons now. This campaign he has really, really kicked on however. He has ran himself silly in almost every match this year and his hold-up play is mightily impressive. Harrison isn’t the tallest or strongest of strikers but his all-round aerial play and hassling of defenders means that he is a constant threat for 90 minutes. Northampton away several weeks ago is a good summary of his season, two well taken goals and all around excellent team play that surely shut up the moaners and groaners that have been out in force. Billy Bodin is another unsurprising contender for our player of the season so far, regular spectacular strikes and a 3 game goal drought in his absence tell you all you need to know about the creativity he provides in the final third. Finally I would cite Joe Partington as someone I have been massively impressed with. Although ‘Parts’ has been less noticeable in his contributions the past few weeks, the former Eastleigh utility player arrived under the radar and has provided some key assists as well as admirable defensive contributions when called upon.
Vs MK Dons (H)
J: MK Dons are a quality side and were on an awful run, I would be happy with a 1-1 Draw.
F: Rovers will claim a 2-1 win here to end a sequence of horrible results.
Any questions you would like us to discuss? Disagree with our opinions? Tweet us at @TFFBristolRov