By Nathan Bees
The friendly matches are coming thick and fast and that shows just how close the new season is from kicking off.
Derby County are our latest opponents tonight in the first of two pre-season games at the Mem and they are sure to provide our sternest test yet following a 1-0 win at Hereford United on Tuesday.
The Championship outfit have scored 11 goals in their previous two warm up games and will be looking to trouble the likes of Tom Parkes, Mark McChrystal and Steve Mildenhall tomorrow night in hope of adding to that tally.
Come through it unscathed though and the lads can take great encouragement as they head in to their final preparations for August 3rd.
While building fitness levels is the motivation behind competitive friendly matches we have also seen the damaging consequences that can strike as well. 2 injuries were sustained at Edgar Street earlier this week with Fabian Broghammer looking in considerable pain following a challenge early on and Jim Paterson was forced off after getting his foot caught in the turf.
Our terrible injury curse from last year has seemingly hit once again - Paterson has been ruled out for at least 6 weeks with a broken leg. It’s a massive blow to lose any player at this stage of pre-season but to lose a senior professional from a a squad of youngsters is particularly frustrating.
The extent of Broghammer’s injury has not yet been determined but he is, at the age of 23, our most experienced winger and we could do without losing another older head from our ranks.
It does feel odd to consider Broghammer as an experienced player but in relation to most of his team-mates he is and he’s only played in England for 1 season!
Ryan Brunt is another huge concern as he is experiencing discomfort in his knee. The club suspect he has a piece of bone floating around the area and he saw a specialist yesterday in a bid to ascertain whether he would require a clean-up operation. If he did, and it seems likely, he would be out of action heading into the start of the season. When will we finally get some luck?
It has to be soon because the number of injuries we’ve had to contend with in the past 12 months has been more than most clubs would experience in a 3 year spell.
It has been frightening to see so many players fall victim to such unfortunate circumstances and the only positive is that they are in good hands with physio Phil Kite.
We do have Matt Gill battling back to fitness and Garry Kenneth isn’t too far behind him either and it’s not unfeasible to hope they don the quarters before mid-September.
Of course, the club have to be careful not to rush them back but it will be a big boost to John Ward knowing that two senior players are close to a return. We need every player under contract to be fit and ready to contribute.
Elsewhere in League Two there have been plenty of busy managers in the past couple of weeks as they all attempt to add to their teams. There have been some astute signings across the division and the quality of player that some teams have brought in has been very good.
It will mean 2013-2014 will be as competitive as ever before and there will be no easy games for Rovers over the course of the campaign, not that anybody really needed telling.
Despite our inactivity there is definite reason to be optimistic given the quality of our defensive unit. Man for man each of our back five are as good, if not better, than any other defender or goalkeeper in the division.
With a solid foundation on which to build we give ourselves a great chance of winning football matches if we get it right offensively. Our forwards have proven they can score goals in the past and if John Ward can instigate some consistency from them then we should have no problem finding the back of the net.
Another striker to compliment what we have would be ideal but the club have to abide by the wage cap that is imposed on all clubs in the division. Our midfield looks less strong, admittedly, but the gaffer is still working hard to bring in a senior central midfielder to rectify that.
We have an abundance of young players in the central and wide areas of the team who need the guidance of an older head in order to flourish at first team level.
John-Joe O’Toole remains everyone’s number one choice to fill the role but it remains to be seen whether a deal can be struck with Colchester United for his services.
We are going to be reliant on youngsters to provide goals from the wings and with the pace and trickery of Ellis Harrison, Alefe Santos and Shaquille Hunter they are well equipped. Of course it’s a risk given their tender ages but their naivety and exuberance will hopefully mean they are unfazed by the prospect of playing first team football.
With the other young lads in and around the team, all of whom have impressed so far in the friendly matches at Bath City and Hereford, we have enough players chomping at the bit for the opportunity to move into the first XI.
Who the XI will be on the opening day against Exeter City will be has yet to be decided and there’s still time for someone to stake their claim for a place. They have a fortnight to prove to Ward, Darrell Clarke and Marcus Stewart that they deserve the opportunity to play in front of over 1000 travelling Gasheads at St James Park.
Following on from the sell-out at Exeter, Gasheads queued in their hundreds on Monday to snap up the entire allocation of tickets from league new boys Newport County.
We travel to Wales on the third weekend of the season and it will complete a double header of away sell-outs. For a club at the highest level selling an entire allocation of tickets is very impressive regardless of the opposition.
But for a club in the fourth tier to do it twice in succession is quite incredible and highlights the excitement we all have ahead of the new season. Tickets were snapped up within hours of going on sale solely to priority group 1 members - imagine how many we could have sold if we were given a bigger allocation. Who knows, start the season well and Plymouth Argyle in early September could make it three in a row.
We don’t have long to wait now and if you fancy quenching your thirst for football this weekend then make sure you head to the Mem for tonight’s meeting with Derby. It should be a good game and the sun will be shining... what’s not to like?
Good luck to the lads later, here’s to another good workout.