By Nathan Bees
As I’ve mentioned a few times in recent weeks, echoing the sentiments of manager John Ward, Bristol Rovers are very much a club pulling ‘together’ right now.
That applies to everybody involved with the club, from the players and management, to the directors and of course the supporters. There’s no fragmentation anymore and it genuinely feels as though we are united once again.
That doesn’t only make it a much better experience for us when we stand on the terraces, it also makes a massive difference to the team knowing they have several thousand Gasheads cheering them on.
What I’ve noticed more in the past couple of games is the importance of having experienced pros in what is a very young side. In defeat, like at Chesterfield last Saturday, it was vital that the lads didn’t get carried away with the fact we’d not played well.
Similarly, it takes the more seasoned individuals within our ranks to keep people’s feet on the ground in the middle of a run of form at the Mem that has seen us defeat Burton, Exeter and now Port Vale without conceding.
It’s very easy at a young age to believe the criticism you receive from others and get carried away with praise, so the likes of Steve Mildenhall and Mark McChrystal are important to have off the pitch as well as on it.
They have both ‘been there and done that’, if you’ll excuse the expression, and are calming influences within the changing room. There is a hype about Rovers at the moment and we are no longer an easy fixture for other sides.
With this in mind, the 11 men who walk out on the pitch need to make sure they reach a certain level of performance and not just expect to defeat their opponents. They’ve got to continue to work hard and follow the guidance of the elder statesmen in the squad if they are to keep enjoying victories.
I’m sure we’ve all seen Mark McChrystal, for example, geeing up the lads at every available opportunity during a match. His presence is an undoubted benefit to the relatively inexperienced back four that we field and he goes about his duties with minimal fuss and maximum effort.
There are no weak points in our side any more and a lot of that is down to the organisation and leadership qualities that the spine of our team possesses.
I think the roles of McChrystal and Mildenhall have been evident ever since they signed but it was typified by a situation we all witnessed in the second half of Tuesday’s game against the Valiants, when there was a pause in play due to Ashley Vincent’s nasty injury.
Mildenhall, who speedily requested medical attention for Vincent after watching the awkward way in which he fell, had the presence of mind to gather his team-mates for a group huddle to reiterate the need for concentration when play resumed.
He was encouraging them to keep their heads on the game and I’m sure he was reminding them of his desire to keep a clean sheet as well!
Still, whatever motivational talk he conducted paid dividends as we saw out the rest of the match with relative ease and recorded an impressive 2-0 win. It got the Gasheads around me in the Blackthorn End clapping and chanting his name in appreciation.
I think we could all recognise how crucial it is to have personalities like him leading the side, even if they don’t necessarily have the responsibility of being captain. It shows it comes naturally and that’s not a skill you can just learn.
I’m sure it has been a huge help to captain Tom Parkes too. He’s merely 21 years of age and he’s already captaining our football club, something he said he is very proud of. He could, however, be forgiven for finding it all a very daunting prospect.
He hasn’t though, not in any way, shape or form. He has led by example with his performances and has the respect of all his team-mates. Despite this, and it is not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination, he probably wouldn’t have had the idea to initiate a huddle in the break in play against Vale.
He would have been busy concentrating on his own performance, which is where the expertise of Steve and Mark will continue to help him enormously. It will also enable him to hone his own leadership skills and, hopefully, flourish in to the commanding central defender we all anticipate him becoming.
As I said earlier, Bristol Rovers is a united club these days but we’ve also got influential personnel in our squad who ensure that the mindset of the team is to work hard and not become complacent. These are two absolutely essential ingredients if we are to be successful.
I can’t be the only one who feels great pride when I remember this?