By Nathan Bees
The tricky away double header I referred to last week is out of the way now and we can concentrate on a spell of 4 home games from our next 5 league encounters.
We return to the Mem fruitless from our trip to Northampton in midweek, losing cruelly just 2 minutes from time, whilst we earned a deserved point at Morecambe a week ago to respond in just the right manner to our defeat against Rotherham a few days earlier.
It’s very frustrating to lose when the performances of the team warrant more but it shows just how far we’ve come when we’re talking about being disappointed not to have at least drawn against the high-flying Cobblers on Tuesday evening.
We more than matched our hosts and made a mockery of the respective league positions of both clubs. Unfortunately the teams below us picked up points and the 1-0 loss we suffered was made to feel more damaging than it actually was.
What we need to remember is we’re still 3 points clear of the relegation zone and we’re in a much healthier position than we were in the new year.
Whilst the team have improved dramatically under the guidance of John Ward, ‘healthy’ isn’t the term I’d use to describe several key first team players at this moment in time.
We all know the squad was crippled with mounting injury problems before Christmas and it felt as if we were enjoying no luck at all during that spell.
Whilst the crisis had been adverted somewhat in early 2013 with the introduction of new players and the return to action of 1 or 2 senior pros, the spate of bad fortune that plagued the first half of our season has returned with a vengeance.
Mightily impressive central midfielder Seanan Clucas, who does the unpleasant jobs in the middle of the pitch that often go unnoticed, was ruled out for up to 9 months with a cruciate ligament injury similar to those of Garry Kenneth and Matt Harrold earlier this year.
The majority of clubs will go through a season and not see any of their players pick up such serious injuries but here at Bristol Rovers we’ve had to contend with 3 first team players being injured in such a manner.
For young Seanan there is a long road to recovery ahead of him but I was pleased to hear the club will offer him the best support possible over the next few months and beyond - we’re looking after our own, just as we should be.
He’s developed in to a mature, consistent player under Ward and he must be gutted to face such a significant spell on the sidelines when things were beginning to look good for him and the team. We are all right behind him though and hope that when he returns he can continue his good work on the pitch in the blue and white quarters.
Top goalscorer David Clarkson has also been ruled out for the rest of this season after it was announced he’d need an operation on his troublesome ankle.
Clarky took a while to get match-fit after signing last summer but eventually scored his first goal against Aldershot at the Mem and then later made a central midfield spot his own when covering for the injuries we had.
He too then picked up a knock which ruled him out for a few weeks before returning to play his part in our recent revival, notably setting up Eliot Richards’ goal at Oxford a few weeks ago. As with Seanan I’m sure we all wish him well in his recovery and look forward to seeing him return fitter than ever next season.
Fabian Broghammer is also out of action for a while with a troublesome hamstring injury, although it’s not thought to be too serious, which has meant we’ve had a lack of pace in the side in the last few games.
We’ve missed him and Ryan Brunt in the two away games this week and whilst the good news is Brunty looks set to return against Burton this weekend, Fabian continues to be sidelined. Still, it’s nice that both are on the road to recovery as we will certainly need them over the final dozen matches of the campaign.
To aid our quest to beat the drop, trialist Oumare Tounkara has signed a 2 month contract to supplement the other strikers in the squad. He is formerly of Sunderland after signing for the Premier League side from his native France and has enjoyed a couple of loan spells with League One side Oldham Athletic.
At 6ft1 he will provide a real presence for us up top and could work very well alongside the more dynamic forwards we have at our disposal like Eliot Richards and Tom Hitchcock. Welcome to Rovers, Oumare - do us proud over the next 8 weeks!
The importance of tomorrow’s game is massive given the revival of clubs below us in the table, but we still retain a cushion at the moment and aren’t too far away from the clubs hovering above us.
A positive result will see us begin to catch them and continue the progress that has recently stuttered. The quality is still there within the team, as we’ve proven with how evenly we’ve matched sides in the top half of the table, and confidence is still high. Gasheads, let’s arrive in numbers to support the lads and cheer them on to 3 points.
A repeat of the result from this fixture last season would be more than welcome... 7-1, anyone?!