By Daniel JonesManager Darrell Clarke says that Friday nights’ clash against Gateshead will provide the perfect platform to spring back from Saturday’s disappointing 0-2 defeat at home to Bath City in the FA Trophy first round, in what he describes as potentially the “toughest game of the season”.
Gateshead currently sit four points, and four places, behind Rovers in seventh, and Clarke is relishing the challenge: “Friday night it’s a different ball game, we play Gateshead who lost in the play-off final last year, a very good side, it’ll be a very, very tough game for us, but it’s a good chance to be able to bounce-back.
“Friday night could be our toughest game of the season, they like to play good football, they’ve got some really good experienced players. We need to get our supporters on side after Saturday, that could be key.”
Clarke apologised to the fans for Saturday’s performance, a game in which he felt the side did not create anywhere near enough chances: “Very disappointing, for all of us really, we never really got going. We certainly got enough deliveries in the box but we haven’t tested their keeper anywhere near enough and we gave two really bad goals away.
“Going back to the start of the campaign, we knew there were going to be setbacks and we’ve had a big setback as we wanted to do well in the trophy, however now our concentration goes onto the league, we’ve apologised for the below par performance, now it’s a case of building the bridges again getting our fans going for a massive game on Friday night.”
With two injured goalkeepers and a few other concerns, Clarke has called upon his experienced players to guide the team through a busy festive period, in which Rovers have four games in just less than two weeks, including Torquay United twice:
“We’ve got four games to play over the Christmas period, a big 15 points to play for, and then we’re kicking in to when the transfer window opens in January. It’s a time we look forward to, we’re in a good position, a challenging position.
“It’s important we don’t lose that experience, the mentally strong players over a tough Christmas period, so it’s about me being able to manage it right.”
Clarke will be looking to strengthen and expand the squad when the transfer window comes around, to give the team more depth if more injuries were to hit: “We’ve got a lot of loan players going back soon, we’ve got the opportunity to freshen it up a bit, to strengthen when those players go back, I know in my mind where we need to strengthen, and get in players who are going to improve the squad.
“We haven’t got a big squad, we’ve only got 16 contracted senior players, with four first year pros and four in on loan at the minute, and a non-contract player, so I wouldn’t say we were a big squad by any strength of the imagination. We need to get the improvements right when the window opens in January.”