A look at tomorrow's opponentsThis weekend Bristol Rovers will attempt to get their first win in the Vanarama Conference Premier when they entertain AFC Telford at the Mem.
Like Rovers the Shropshire team have picked up just one point from their opening three games. AFC Boss Liam Watson reflected on Rovers’ position, "There will be huge pressure on them, it's only three games into the season but they wouldn't expect to be sat on one point, although we wouldn't either.
"I would prefer to play them now, when they are in this position and still unsure of themselves. Maybe that won't happen when they find their feet at the level. I would always fancy my teams to finish strong in the second-half of the season, that's what always seems to happen."
Watson saw Rovers defeat at Altrincham, "I went to watch them at Altrincham last Saturday, as we weren't playing until the Sunday, and I thought Alty deserved to win, although they did show flashes in the second-half.
"They are expected to be there or thereabouts for promotion at the end of the season, but they already have ground to make up and it's not easy, as we know from last year. We never really hit our stride until after Christmas, we had spells at the start where we won games but didn't play well, at the back end, we were really performing."
Although Rovers have never played AFC before they did once meet Telford United, the team that collapsed under mounting debt before remerging in the current form. That previous meeting took place on 20th November 1971 in a First Round FA Cup tie at Eastville when goals by Bruce Bannister (2) and Brian Godfrey secured a 3-0 victory for the Gas.
The Rovers line-up was Rick Sheppard, Phil Roberts, Lindsay Parsons, Brian Godfrey, Stuart Taylor, Frankie Prince, Kenny Stephens, Wayne Jones, Bobby Jones, Bruce Bannister and Harold Jarman with Robin Stubbs on the bench.
Telford’s line-up was Bob Irvine, Allan Harris, Geoff Croft, Ray John, Paul Cotton, Graham Carr (yes Alan Carr’s Dad!), Mike Fudge, Jeremy Own, Tony Bentley, Brioan Hart and George Jagger.
Watson was appointed as Telford manager for the start of the 2013–14 season. After a difficult start to the season, the Bucks' form picked up, including seven consecutive victories in March, to clinch the Conference North title on the final day of the season, with a 3–0 victory against Gainsborough Trinity.
Their final record read 25 wins, 10 draws and 7 defeats.
Watson admitted his side were “outclassed” by Aldershot in their last game, a 2-0 home defeat. The Shots took an early lead with just five minutes on the clock. Joe Oastler's superb left-foot strike finding its way through a crowd of players after a corner had only been only half-cleared.
Brett Williams doubled his side's lead from the penalty spot on 26 minutes, sending goalkeeper Jonathan Hedge the wrong way after Steve Akrigg had fouled Josh Scott.
“I think we were outclassed and that’s the first time I have said that it’s about the gulf about where we have been playing and where are playing now. I am not going to kid myself, it’s been an up and down start to the Conference but that’s all it has been, the first week.
“One or two people have never played at the level and it will take them time to adapt, if they are going to adapt. I am just expecting a lot more of the players who have played at the level.”
Watson admitted his tactics didn’t pay off as he dropped Charlie Barnett, Sean Cooke and Adam Farrell for back-from-suspension duo Mike Phenix and Godfrey Poku, along with Sean Clancy, “We tried to play Jordan Deacey in a position that suits him, playing in front of the two as he did for Bradford Park Avenue when we played against them.
“We never got hold of the ball enough to actually do that, they were an awful lot stronger than us early on and that probably took the game away from us. We are trying our best to get a bit of football into the team but, when it doesn’t happen, you tend to get the ball forward and threaten. I just thought they were too clever for us.”
Watson could have the option of playing with three centre-backs for the game this weekend. Chris Lever and summer signing Rod McDonald have been sidelined since before the big kick-off in the Conference Premier.
Both are close to being passed fit for the trip to the Mem, after hamstring and ankle injuries respectively. Watson is considering playing centre-back McDonald alongside captain Steve Akrigg and Neill Byrne.
Lever could return at left-back, where attacker Andy Owens has filled in, with the omitted Wes Baynes pushing Kristian Platt for a recall on the right.
Watson commented, “I know what shape I am going to play against Bristol Rovers and what the team will be, it’s just a case of getting through the week now. I haven’t had the option of playing a defence with Chris Lever in it or using a central three, so to have him and Rod available again will be good.
“We have the two games on Saturday and Monday at home to Southport, so the squad will come into effect. It’s probably shocked the players how fast the level has been but, on Sunday, I just felt that Aldershot were better than us.”
“We are going to play a lot of teams that are better than us this season, it’s not rocket science to figure that out as a promoted team. I don’t pay much attention to where we are at this stage. As always, I take stock after the first 10 fixtures.”
Written by Gerry Prewett.