By Nathan BeesThe sheer contrast in performances from Saturday’s superb 3-2 victory over Torquay United to Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat against AFC Wimbledon is incredible.
We outplayed a Torquay side who are annual play-off contenders in League Two, whilst we succumbed to a disappointing defeat away to a team who are lower than ourselves in the table.
If you were a neutral who had watched both games you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Rovers team on Tuesday were the inferior reserves to those who played on Saturday. The reality is that, bar a couple of changes, it was predominantly the same eleven players.
We have a young squad and a lot of them are learning about the rigours of professional football as we go along. There were always going to be occasions when changes would be needed to keep things fresh and to ensure nobody becomes complacent, but that hasn’t been able to happen because of the startling number of injuries we’ve had.
Our substitute’s bench had a very inexperienced feel to it on Tuesday evening and at half-time, when it was clear a shake-up and change of tactics was needed, Mark McGhee was restricted in what he could do.
We didn’t want the scoreline to worsen as that would have been detrimental to our already poor goal difference, so he was in an unenviable position in the dressing room. Who could he have brought on to strengthen us?
We can’t judge our squad or our manager until we have everybody fit and competing for first team places but we’ve not had that luxury so far this season. It’s seemed like whenever a couple of players have returned to action there’s someone else who suffers an injury.
That cycle seemed to continue against the Wombles. Lee Brown and Adam Virgo were fit enough to be a part of the matchday squad after niggling injuries but we lost the services of Tom Parkes through suspension and potentially Garry Kenneth too.
There was slightly more positive news yesterday as McGhee believed our influential Scottish captain should be fit to play against Accrington tomorrow, but he’ll be without a recognised centre half alongside him.
With Parkes missing and Virgo aggravating his injury there are no out-and-out central defenders left to call upon having lost Cian Bolger after just a handful of appearances in September.
Another reshuffle will be required and Jim Paterson seems the most likely person to deputise. There is no doubt this will be causing McGhee something of a selection headache at the moment. Who’d be a football manager, hey?
Offensively and there’s better news for McGhee ahead of our trip north. Striker Derek Riordan will be available after 3 weeks out and he isn’t returning a moment too soon.
Signing with a lot of expectation, Gasheads have yet to see the best of the SPL’s third all-time leading goalscorer, but he can begin to show his quality with an extended run in the team. If he’s to start he’ll partner the very impressive Tom Eaves who has found his goalscoring touch since joining the club.
He added to his previous 3 goals with a stunning strike against AFC Wimbledon and he’ll fancy his chances against a Stanley side who have lost their manager Paul Cook to Chesterfield recently.
Winger Fabian Broghammer is also set to return this weekend after recovering from concussion and the German’s direct approach will certainly cause problems. Here’s hoping that his restoration to the team will help Rovers rediscover their usual balance of discipline and adventure that saw positive results picked up at Exeter and Burton.
I don’t think Gasheads can have any doubts as to the capabilities of this team when they perform to something like their best. We’ve more than matched some of the teams who are currently competing at the top end of League Two and that has to encourage everybody.
It will be another difficult test tomorrow afternoon but if we can recapture the style, quality and confidence that we displayed 7 days ago we have enough about us to come back with 3 points. A win would be more enjoyable than usual for me as October 27th is my birthday - do it for me lads!
Up the Gas!