By Nathan BeesIt has been a quiet few days at Rovers - and that is exactly what the doctor ordered if you ask me.
The last two or three weeks have been hectic with some long away trips and damaging injury blows to contend with, so it has been nice to see things calm down for a short period of time.
I am sure Darrell Clarke agrees, although after the goalless draw at Welling United last weekend I wouldn’t be surprised if he half wanted a midweek game to try and get us back to winning ways. It could have been oh so different had we been able to take one of the chances we fashioned in the 90 minutes, but a combination of weak finishing and great defending cost us.
The number of times we broke forward, created an opening but fluffed our lines in front of goal was unbelievable. Jake Gosling spurned a couple of great opportunities and Bradley Goldberg, on his first start, also neglected to take a golden chance early in the second half.
On those occasions we didn’t do enough to score, but there were also two further moments where our efforts on goal were good but the defending was even better. Tom Lockyer rose well to head a corner towards the bottom corner, only for a defender to clear off the line - with some Gasheads already off their seats thinking it was in. Alex Wall also went close to breaking the deadlock with a well-struck free kick, but the goalkeeper somehow managed to claw it away from the top left corner.
With that in mind, I don’t think we can lay blame solely at the feet of our attackers. Yes, we should have been clinical in the box, but Lockyer and Wall couldn’t have done any more with their opportunities. Unfortunately for us a defender was able to poke the ball off the line to deny the former and their goalie was in inspired form to stop the latter. I genuinely believe on another day they would have flown in.
We undoubtedly need to do more ourselves, of that there is no question. However, I think it is fair to say we aren’t getting much in the way of fortune in the penalty area either.
Still, despite the disappointment of drawing at Welling, we currently sit in third place after the majority of midweek results went our way. That really isn’t a bad position to be in with Christmas just around the corner, especially when many were saying in the summer: ’Rovers have no chance of making the top half this season’.
Clarke and his charges have proved their doubters wrong and while there is still plenty of improvements that can be made, we are doing really well. I understand the frustration of some, because we could be even better off than we are, but for me, the fact we haven’t hit top form yet and still sit in third place is hugely encouraging.
The games come thick and fast over the festive season and it is a chance for us to try and eat away at the points cushion that separates Barnet from the chasing pack. Our next league game, though, isn’t until we meet Gateshead at The Mem next Friday evening, so our immediate attention turns to an FA Trophy fixture at home to Bath City.
I am not quite sure how I feel about this particular cup really. On one hand it is a cup competition we have a realistic chance of doing well in, so we shouldn’t be arrogant and turn our noses up at it. I am sure every player in the squad would love the chance to play at Wembley in a few months’ time.
On the other hand, however, it does feel like something of an unnecessary distraction from the league, which is undoubtedly our main priority this season. We have already picked up a few injuries in recent weeks and the last thing we want is to lose further key men in a cup competition that won’t define our season.
What does DC do? Play a strong XI with the intention of maintaining a winning attitude within the squad, or rest a few players and potentially go crashing out to a lower league side and damage confidence levels? It is something of a catch-22.
I am starting to think that because we have 6 days until our next fixture we can afford to field a strong line-up and I think that will ultimately be the deciding factor in Clarke’s thinking. If we can win the match then we set ourselves up nicely for our Christmas meetings with Gateshead, Torquay United (twice) and Macclesfield Town.
Elsewhere, it was with both pride and concern that I read about Hartlepool United’s reported interest in our manager earlier this week. It is clearly a good thing that other club’s think highly of Clarke as it means we must be doing well, but I was slightly worried because I don’t want him to move on.
He is doing a good job after a summer of upheaval and budget cuts and I absolutely believe we are heading in the right direction on the pitch. Okay, he has made a couple of mistakes along the way but tell me a manager who hasn’t? The team is progressing and the chance is there for us to enjoy a successful season - can the same be said for Hartlepool?
I was therefore reassured after Clarke’s comments to the press yesterday, where he explained he has “unfinished business” and is “very, very happy” at Rovers. I think the majority of people can see we are progressing with a young, ambitious manager in place and I hope that remains the case long-term.
Right, on to Bath.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!