Latest update from Nathan Bees
Pre-season is ticking along just nicely and those of us who are counting down the days until August 3rd will be delighted that we only have to endure four more weeks until our footballing weekends return.
To whet our appetites for the big kick-off our friendly programme gets underway next Friday at Twerton Park against Bath City, the first of six fixtures played in July. Sure, Wimbledon has provided summer entertainment over the past fortnight and the Lions tour of Australia has been exciting but, let’s be honest, it’s not quite Rovers, is it?
Exeter City is where it all begins for the 2013/2014 season and it’s sure to be one of the hottest tickets in town. They go on sale to priority group 1 members on Monday and I’d hazard a guess they will be snapped up very quickly. It’s almost certainly going to be an away sell out and with it being a West Country derby there will be a very good home turnout at St James Park as well. The atmosphere will set the tone for the following couple of away games at Newport County and Plymouth Argyle, that’s for sure. All thoughts in the Rovers camp are now firmly on the Grecians encounter and the players are being put through their paces to ensure they are ready for the ensuing marathon that lies ahead.
John Ward, and assistant Darrell Clarke, will take the squad on a five day training camp in Lincolnshire next week to ramp up the intense fitness sessions that the squad have already faced here in Bristol. It provides the new young players with an opportunity to integrate into the first team and get to know their team mates, which can only be a good thing for morale.
There are no new signings at present who will similarly benefit from the experience but with the returns of David Clarkson, Matt Gill, Matt Harrold and Garry Kenneth after their injury lay-offs, we are in a much stronger position than we were at the end of last season. Neither Gill or Kenneth are likely to reach full fitness in time for the start of the campaign but to have them back in training will be pleasing for Ward as he looks to identify his best XI. Judging by his comments throughout this summer, however, there will be at least one position left without an occupant for the time being.
We are still in the market for a senior central midfield player and Gasheads will not need to be told who our number 1 target is. If you are someone who does require telling, where on earth have you been for the past 10 weeks?!
The man in question is of course John-Joe O’Toole, who impressed everybody at the club when on loan last season. He instantly became our talisman and led by example to guide his young team-mates through what was a critical period for the club last January. Having sailed through the challenges we faced in the new year, the team continued to look up to O’Toole to provide moments of quality in midfield and he didn’t disappoint. He made assists, scored three goals and harried numerous opponents in his three month stay and firmly established himself as one of the division’s very best midfielders. He had been bitten by the Gas bug, as his involvement in the celebrations at Cheltenham Town and Oxford United seemed to suggest, and hopefully that will be enough to bring him back to the club full-time.
You would be hard pushed to find another central midfielder of JJ’s undoubted quality who may be willing to drop to League Two, so while remaining patient is difficult, it could see us very well rewarded in the long-run. I understand the concerns from some that by waiting on JJ we may miss out on other targets but that’s the risk you face when competing for good quality players. Surely we all prefer this as opposed to plumping for the first ‘journeyman’ we can find?
JJ knows how much he is appreciated here and Gasheads can be pleased with their contribution should he decide that a permanent move to the Mem is the right one for him. Whether that seems likely to be the case I’m not sure but we’ve been locked in negotiations for over two months so we must retain a good chance of landing him. With this particular transfer, slow and steady will win the race. Keep the faith guys.
With the four week countdown to the new season beginning tomorrow, it’s time for excitement to start building. With the new stadium just a couple of years away, a manager in position who gets the best out of his players and a squad packed with talented U-18 graduates (something supporters have been craving for years), next season has the potential to be a very enjoyable one. All things considered, with the knowledge we’ll be signing at least one more player, I think a season ticket may just prove to be value for money next season.
Have a good weekend Gasheads and make the most of the good weather we’re being promised!