By Nathan BeesIt is difficult to describe the embarrassment and despair I felt last week watching us fall to a 2-1 defeat at Altrincham. It was the first time the harsh realities of non-league football hit home and the looks on people’s faces at full-time was horrible to see.
When relegation sunk in over the summer I prayed things wouldn’t get any worse. It couldn’t, surely? Well it seems as though it could and we may not yet have experienced the last or the worst of the pain. If we continue to produce inept performances we will feel as low and depressed as we did this week on a regular basis.
That’s not to say we should write this season off yet though. It would be a complete overreaction when you consider this is a new team and there are 43 matches remaining.
As frustrating as it is to be patient while the new players settle in and get used to different surroundings, we have to give them time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a successful team. It is inevitable when you bring in several new faces that there will be a period of transition and that is exactly what’s happening now.
Anything can happen in the coming weeks and months and we may find our feet soon enough to compete at the top-end of the league.
I won’t make any bold predictions because there are no guarantees, but I saw some encouraging signs in the Grimsby Town game that leads me to believe we have the ability to win matches.
I’ve read various postings on Twitter in recent days that rightly say Luton Town had a bad start to last season and yet still went on to win the title, so that should give us all some hope heading into the AFC Telford match tomorrow afternoon.
We NEED a win and a positive performance to lift spirits; it won’t be an altogether pleasant atmosphere post-match if we don’t. It has been a difficult week for everyone and I sincerely hope a line will be drawn under it with 6 points from our big double header this Bank Holiday weekend.
Telford and Forest Green Rovers will be equally tough opponents but it’s fair to say that it will be for very different reasons.
Telford, led by manager Liam Watson, are in a similar position to ourselves in that they are still searching for their first victory of the campaign. They were promoted as champions of the Conference North in April and will therefore want to prove they are able to compete at this level.
I would hazard a guess that they would settle for a point if offered one here and now but that’s not to say they’ll arrive at the men with 11 men behind the ball. I think the chances are they will play on the counter attack but until the game kicks off you can never be sure.
A lot of the time we are likely to face long balls and it will be a good test of whether our defence have improved on their failings from Moss Lane last Saturday. We were caught out by long punts forward time and time again against Alty and they were happy to take advantage of it, which cost us the game.
It’s something we need to address very quickly because direct football is something we will face in 90% of matches in the Conference and if we are not able to deal with it we will be in serious trouble.
As a style it’s not particularly attractive but as far as I’m concerned that doesn’t matter if it brings about positive results. I mean, I would happily watch Rovers play hoofball if we were winning more than we were losing. Some may say differently but for me the result is all that matters.
It’s not something I think we should be employing as a tactic right now, however, as it simply doesn’t suit the players we have at the club.
Matty Taylor and Jamie White do not have the aerial presence up top to retain high balls pumped forward from the back and whilst Ryan Brunt is a threat with his height he’d much prefer to have the ball to his feet.
Given how frustrated Darrell Clarke looked on the touchline at Altrincham, I am convinced he wants his team to keep the ball down and play out from the back. Hopefully confidence is the only issue here and once it starts to grow within the squad we will see individuals taking responsibility in possession.
I think all it might require is us taking the lead in a game for everyone to relax a little and play the way we saw in patches during pre-season and against Grimsby.
Should that happen tomorrow and we are able to overcome Telford, it sets us up nicely for the clash with Forest Green on Monday. The Nailsworth side have started the season in terrific form and they could well have a 100% record still in tact when we kick off in 72 hours time.
Their squad is littered with experienced players and after another summer of significant investment they look well equipped to have a right good go at promotion this time around.
With the game being shown live on BT Sport it gives the hosts a chance to show the watching nation that they are serious contenders for the league title. Until now they have not been taken seriously by other clubs in the division but you can be sure they will all sit up and take notice should they beat us, the so-called ‘big fish’.
As always Gasheads will turn up in huge numbers to cheer on their side and it’s about time we are given something back. We have sold out near enough our entire allocation of tickets and the players will receive tremendous backing, which will hopefully inspire them to victory. It could well be a defining moment for our season.
All in all this is a huge weekend for Bristol Rovers. Get it wrong and things will continue to look very, very bleak but get it right and things will start to look a hell of a lot healthier.
Very few teams need a victory as much as our club do right now and it would be absolutely fantastic if we are able to secure our first one tomorrow afternoon.
Come on Gas, let’s get our season up and running.