By Nathan Bees
There is a real consistency about our away results so far but it’s not something to write home about. In every one of our matches away from the Memorial Stadium we have lost by the odd goal in tight affairs.
We may not have played particularly well in any of the games but none of our opponents can claim with any justification that they have outplayed us.
In truth we have not looked very creative or posed much of a threat in front of goal but we have always remained solid and difficult to break down. I would dispute any claims that we have been dominated on our travels because we haven’t, we’ve just been less inventive and clinical than our hosts on each occasion.
This should give us some confidence, even if no points have been accrued, as we’ve clearly got a very good defensive base in which to build on. If we can get things right going forwards then our single goal defeats could become score draws or potentially even victories.
In fact, if we can pose more of a threat offensively and retain the ball higher up the pitch then it means we spend less time having to defend, which could mean we end up keeping more clean sheets. As cliched as it sounds attack is most definitely the best form of defence.
As Ward quite rightly says, it must be remembered that all four of our senior strikers have suffered from injury at some stage in the past few months. Therefore it can be no surprise that it is taking them time to find their feet again at first team level.
It shouldn’t mean we doubt them as they have all proven their worth in their Gas careers to date. David Clarkson displayed his quality in the home victory over York City by scoring a brace and Eliot Richards netted at Exeter City and at home to Watford to prove he can be a goal-getter for us too.
Throw in our two physical forwards Matt Harrold and Ryan Brunt, who have both shown they can find the back of the net for us, and we seem to have a good pool of striking talent.
The thing that Ward will need to decide upon, however, is what combination he believes is going to provide us with the most goals. I’ve heard a number of discussions on the terraces, in the pub and on Twitter recently debating this very subject and everyone had a different opinion as to who our strike pairing should be.
Personally I like the look of Brunt playing as our target man as he has a bit of pace about him and doesn’t tend to give cheap free-kicks away. I would like to see him given a run of games alongside Clarkson, who proved his natural position is as a forward alongside a menacing target man in the victories over York and Northampton Town.
Richards could also be incorporated into the team (in a traditional 4-4-2) as I think he would provide a threat from out wide with his direct style and shoot-on-sight policy. It would divert pressure away from our young wingers and that can only be a good thing given the lack of creativity Rovers have shown on the flanks so far.
Coaxing consistency out of Richards is a difficult job but hopefully he will begin to display his quality more often now he faces real competition for a starting berth.
Mr. Harrold has large support on Twitter and many Gasheads think he should be given the nod to start, leaving the other three to battle it out amongst themselves to join him up front.
In the 2011-2012 season his goalscoring record was very impressive for a target man so I guess that’s what people are basing their opinions on. I wouldn’t be disappointed if he was selected to start tomorrow’s game at Dagenham & Redbridge but I just feel that Brunt offers us something a little bit different.
That’s the beauty of football though, we all have differing perspectives and it doesn’t half make it more interesting.
For a strikeforce to score goals, however, they require a slick supply line. Unfortunately we have been unable to send enough quality crosses into the box from wide areas and that has been our main problem.
You only need to look at Tom Lockyer’s superb headed goal against Northampton to see what can happen if you send a good delivery into the penalty area and that’s what we have to work on.
There have been some encouraging signs in the performances of Ellis Harrison and Alefe Santos in the last month or so but as they are still just teenagers they will need more time to truly find their way at first team level.
Making an instant impact is difficult and they require patience from their team-mates, coaching staff and us if they are to continue improving.
Still, in my opinion it is encouraging that we have players in the team who have graduated through our youth system. I think it is something that should make us proud.
It sends a great message to talented youngsters across the region that Bristol Rovers is a club that can help them to progress and give them the platform to become professional players if they have the right attitude.
Central midfield is another area of the pitch that can provide assists and perhaps that played a part in John Ward’s decision to sign Andy Bond on loan from his former club Colchester United.
Nicknamed ‘Forrest Gump’ for his energetic displays in the middle of the park, Bond is likely to be reunited with his former team-mate John-Joe O’Toole this weekend. He is known to have an eye for goal as an attack-minded midfielder and he could be the ideal partner for O’Toole as things stand.
Having said that Ollie Clarke and Seanan Clucas will return to fitness over the coming weeks and that should bring the best out of everyone competing for a place.
Welcome aboard, Andy. Best of luck tomorrow if you are given your debut!
Dagenham will be difficult opponents on their own patch but it’s as good a place as any to rectify our goalscoring deficiencies. We scored 4 at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium in April and a repeat of that tomorrow would go down very well indeed.
Let’s do it, Gas!