By Nathan Bees
The events of last Friday evening were exciting and dramatic in equal measure for Gasheads, as unexpected transfer business took place at the Memorial Stadium.
Having announced the signing of striker Steven Gillespie 24 hours earlier, Rovers then caught everyone off guard and revealed that Exeter City playmaker Alan Gow had joined the club on loan until the end of the season.
I for one was delighted by the news as Gow is one of the best players in this division and really impressed for the Grecians at the Mem last month. Most Rovers fans said after that game that they would love to see him in the blue and white quarters as he possesses the sort of spark we’ve lacked for a long time.
However, it soon became apparent that Exeter had insisted on taking Eliot Richards on a similar loan deal to compensate for the loss of their star man. This was as unexpected as the signing of Gow himself and it left many of us wondering what on earth had just happened.
Richards had been an ever-present for us and was one of our most direct forwards so it was surprising that we were willing to forfeit his presence in the team. When you are looking to improve in that area of the pitch do you really want to lose one of your better players?
That said, what choice did the club have if Gow was the man they wanted and this was the only way Exeter would do business? I really like Richards and think he has a lot of potential but over the course of the last few years I feel he has flattered to deceive.
That may sound harsh but I think it’s true. Just when you think he has developed some consistency in his game he puts in a couple of performances that make you realise he hasn’t. He’s very stop-start in that sense and although he has been better this season he still hasn’t really done enough.
From that point of view I can understand why John Ward and Nick Higgs sanctioned the move. He doesn’t score enough goals and that’s something that Alan Gow has proven he can do.
It may not please a lot of Rovers fans because I know many are very fond of the young Welshman but I think it makes a lot of sense given the situation we currently find ourselves in.
Besides, the move may prove to be exactly what Richards needs to kickstart his stagnating career and if it does then all parties will have benefitted. A change of scenery may do him good.
After people had gotten over the initial shock at the trade, thoughts turned to what it would be like to see one of League Two’s danger men in our side the following day.
On what was a difficult surface that the ground staff did wonderfully well to make playable, Gow put in a solid display against promotion-chasing Oxford United. He didn’t have many opportunities to demonstrate his attacking flair as a result of our conservative formation but he certainly contributed to a battling team performance and our eventual equaliser.
Given that he signed 24 hours before being thrust into action I think he did very well.
We didn’t get the win we wanted but we did manage to get it against Cheltenham Town a few days later, making the U’s draw look a solid one in hindsight.
Of the home double-header our clash with Cheltenham was definitely the one John Ward will have considered most winnable. After heavy rainfall the surface was far from conducive to passing football and the game was destined to be a hard slog.
Ex-Gas favourites Jamie Cureton and Steve Elliott were doing what they could at opposite ends of the pitch to make it difficult for us but our main man John-Joe O’Toole broke the deadlock and ultimately won us the game before half-time.
The man just cannot stop scoring. Left foot, right foot, forehead… you name it, JJ will score with it! Without his goals I dread to think where we would be. He’s the fourth top scorer in League Two and if he carries on as he is then you wouldn’t put it past him to reach 20, which would be a fantastic achievement for a central midfielder.
I’d prefer to see the goals shared out so we aren’t relying on just one man but I’m not complaining. Keep it up, JJ!
Gow looked a lot more composed in this game having had a few days to settle in and he showed flashes of real quality on the ball, dictating play in the final third and even coming close to scoring himself with a long range effort.
All things considered I think the skilful Scot has started brightly and will only get better as he gains a better understanding with his new team-mates.
The 4 points picked up in the last couple of games have lifted us to 18th place in the table, 5 points off 8th place and 5 points above the relegation zone.
Tomorrow’s meeting with fellow strugglers Bury at Gigg Lane has a lot riding on it as anything other than a win puts the Shakers in a great position to overtake us with their two games in hand. Easier said than done admittedly but they have recruited several new players in January and I would feel a lot more comfortable if we didn’t leave it to chance.
The weather forecast doesn’t look good anywhere across the country over the next 24 hours so conditions won’t make for a free-flowing game I shouldn’t imagine, but we showed in midweek we are adept at rolling our sleeves up and getting stuck in.
Seanan Clucas, on his return from injury, and Chris Beardsley, on his own up front, epitomised that steeliness and mirrored performances tomorrow afternoon will stand us in good stead.
I noticed Bury’s captain Craig Jones issued the Rovers team with a warning that they will not be getting an easy game and while I’m sure he’s right I wouldn’t be all that frightened heading north tomorrow.
They do have some good players and have picked up some useful points in recent outings but we’re stronger now than we have been all season and shouldn’t be fazed by the home side’s pre-match mind games.
Our away form has been pitiful and that will give Flitcroft and has side reason to be optimistic but we should use that to our advantage and surprise them by utilising the attacking quality we now possess thanks to the signings of Gow and Gillespie.
I feel a lot more positive now, certainly a lot more so than I was after the Chesterfield defeat, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we get on in our next few games. I think that we’ll be better equipped to get points on the board away from home now but the proof will be in the pudding. Don’t disappoint me, Rovers!