By Nathan Bees
Despite suffering two defeats in our first three fixtures of the new season, Gasheads will have been encouraged by what they have witnessed on the pitch so far.
That’s testament to the general feel-good factor that exists around the club these days and highlights the belief everyone has in John Ward and his group of players.
A disappointing 2-1 defeat to Exeter City was followed by a 3-1 loss to Watford in the first round of the Capital One Cup. but the back-to-back defeats have not disheartened supporters.
We have a depleted squad due to injury and are relying heavily on young players in offensive positions to come in and make an impact at first team level. Nobody can expect them to start and provide match-winning performances straight away, even though they’re probably capable. Instead of additional pressure from the terraces they need our support and that’s exactly what they’ve received so far.
All the U18 graduates, Tom Lockyer, Alefe Santos, Shaquille Hunter and Mitch Harding, have performed admirably in their appearances so far and while that’s a positive sign football is a results business and as a team we haven’t shown enough tenacity in forward areas to score goals.
The goalless draw with an experienced Scunthorpe United side last weekend, however, will send out a message to our League Two rivals that no matter what XI Bristol Rovers field we are more than capable of picking up points.
I don’t know about anybody else but that excites me. The fact we kept a clean sheet against a very strong Scunthorpe side gives me confidence that we could go on to become a formidable opponent for any team when our injured players return to action.
It seems as though the recovery period for a few of those in the treatment room is nearing an end and a return to the first team squad for 3 players could be in the offing within the next 8 days. Hallelujah!
Scottish defender Garry Kenneth came through a behind-closed-doors match with Exeter on Tuesday unscathed and is likely to be included in the party that makes the trip across the bridge to play Newport County tomorrow.
This is a huge boost as not only is Kenneth an experienced professional but he is also a very good player and is now, hopefully, fit enough to prove it.
Striker Ryan Brunt hopes to join him on the trip to Wales but the game is likely to have come a week too soon and John Ward is likely to hold him back. We’ve certainly missed his quality and energy up top in the past fortnight so it will be a massive relief to have him involved again.
Matt Gill is another player who is itching for a return after a slight muscle problem and, like Brunt, his comeback is likely to come next weekend against York City. He’s an influential character off the pitch and having finally overcome the niggling knee problems he has suffered with for 2 years he could establish himself as a vital cog in our midfield this season.
Matt Harrold and Ollie Clarke seem likely to follow in the following weeks and that will, thankfully, see our devastating injury crisis begin to ease - touch wood.
Tomorrow’s clash with Newport will be the strongest test of character that our young team will have faced so far given the derby-feel the match possesses. The likely sell-out at Rodney Parade will ensure a terrific atmosphere in South Wales and the locals will not make it an easy place for Rovers to come and play football.
Individually the players will need to have the mental toughness to cope with the hostility and focus on doing their jobs. They will be more than aware of the type of support they will receive from the 1000+ Rovers fans making the trip and the desire will be to give us something to celebrate.
This is exactly the type of fixture I’ve missed in recent seasons and I would hope it’s the sort of match that our players get excited by. There is pride at stake and everyone at the game of a blue and white persuasion will want to ensure that it’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ being sung loudly at full-time.
There can be no doubt that Newport will provide a stern test given their tremendous start to the new season and they will fancy their chances.
Following on from their play-off final promotion in May, County smashed Accrington Stanley on the opening day before defeating Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion and the AMEX Stadium in the Capital One Cup.
Those results will buoy them after defeat to Northampton Town last time out and, if anything, that loss will make them an even tougher proposition as they will want to bounce back straight away against their near neighbours.
There will also be players wanting to prove Rovers wrong after being let go by the club in recent years. The ex-Gas players plying their trade under Justin Edinburgh include Chris Zebroski, David Pipe and Andy Sandell.
All 3 are likely to play a part tomorrow but former fans favourite Byron Anthony is out after breaking his leg in the victory over Brighton. Anthony, I’m sure, would have received a good reception from the travelling Gasheads. The others? Not so much.
A victory away from home will be difficult but it is most certainly possible. After all, what better place to kickstart our campaign than at Newport? It will take a disciplined performance like we saw against Scunthorpe and the type of attacking intent we showed early in the second half against Watford if we’re to come out on top.
Combine the two and the 3 points could easily end up back in Bristol with the team tomorrow evening.
Up the Gas.