By Nathan Bees
Tomorrow’s clash with Torquay United is as big a game as we have had all season.
It may not possess the rivalry our meetings with Newport County had, for example, or induce excitement like Portsmouth away next weekend, but in terms of our fight for survival it is absolutely massive.
In truth it looks to be the most winnable game we have left to play and we simply cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to register 3 points.
That’s not to say I think it will be easy or that I think we’ll run riot because, let’s face it, we don’t score many goals and as a team we have been heavily reliant on midfielder John-Joe O’Toole to find the back of the net.
That’s all well and good when chances fall his way but it has been 6 games since he last scored and that is a cause for concern.
Torquay are rock bottom for a reason though so there’s no better opportunity for our forwards to rediscover their finishing touch.
Our visitors look destined to be competing in the Skrill Premier next season and defensively there are areas we can exploit if we are brave enough to go for it.
If we don’t wish to occupy the other relegation spot we’ll have to be prepared to take the game to them and put them under pressure instead of waiting for something to happen.
Our home form is good and we have beaten better teams than the Gulls over the last few months so we should be confident that we can pick up the points we need.
Darrell Clarke has had his first full week of training with the players and that time on the training ground should mean there is more fluidity to the system we use.
Whether it be 4-4-2 or the more experimental 3-5-2 we dabbled with at Bury and AFC Wimbledon, the team will have had a free week to get to grips with the tactics we will employ at 3pm tomorrow.
It’s easy to write off Torquay given how far adrift they are at the foot of the table but it would be unprofessional and naive to underestimate them. While it is still mathematically possible for them to survive they will be fighting for points as ferociously as we will and that is what makes the game a potential banana-skin.
Although they would need to win all 5 of their final fixtures to have any chance of staying up, Chris Hargreaves’ side, in many ways, head to the Memorial Stadium with nothing to lose. I get the impression a good proportion of their supporters have resigned themselves to non-league football next season and that may actually work to their team’s advantage.
In contrast, Rovers fans will turn up expectant. While we have every right to expect a good performance and good result from the team it would be hugely beneficial to our chances if we don’t let frustration get the better of us.
The last thing we need is groans if the ball gets passed backwards or roars of disapproval if a player elects to shoot instead of playing a killer pass, because it will only have a detrimental effect on our performance.
We all want the same thing and given the importance of a positive result we may need to be patient at times, as difficult as that is in the heat of battle.
The good news as we head into the run-in is that Fabian Broghammer is fit enough to return to the match day squad, increasing the number of attacking players Darrell Clarke has at his disposal.
The German winger has been injured since pre-season after agreeing to a second year in English football and he will, I’m sure, be chomping at the bit to get back out on the Memorial Stadium pitch.
His first season in League Two was inconsistent but he now has a chance to prove himself and work his way into Clarke’s plans ahead of the summer break.
After Torquay, Fabian and the team can look forward to a trip to Fratton Park, where around 2500 Gasheads will pack out the away end in the hope of seeing Rovers record away league victory number two.
Portsmouth fans have been quick to buy tickets for the game too and that should make for a terrific atmosphere on the day.
I’m sure Goodnight Irene and Play Up Pompey will be sung a good few times over the 90 minutes but I hope it’s the former that rings around the ground at full-time. How good would it be to win there and all but ensure our Football League status?
To give ourselves a chance of making that happen we need to keep the 3 points in Bristol tomorrow afternoon to prevent Torquay, but more importantly Northampton Town, from gaining any ground on us.
Hopefully we are treated to some good weather and a positive performance from the lads.
Up the Gas.