By Nathan BeesLast weekend's defeat to the hands of Eastleigh was bitterly disappointing, as it was our first league defeat in well over four months.
Our visitors started much stronger than we did and while their first goal may have been hugely fortuitous given the uncharacteristic error made by goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall, their 2-1 victory was deserved.
Richard Hill's men used every trick in the book once they got their noses in front and it disrupted our game completely - not that it was firing on all cylinders in the first place.
Matty Taylor scored a superb goal from outside the box to give us hope in the final 10 minutes, but we hadn't looked like scoring all afternoon and an equaliser was always going to be unlikely.
It is hard to put your finger on what exactly went wrong, because if we are being honest we were poor all over the park. Defensively we looked surprisingly fragile and going forward we lacked creativity, energy and bravery; our balls forward were aimless and borne out of desperation, not out of belief that we could actually go on to score goals from them.
What we needed was someone with drive from midfield, a player able to dictate play and make things happen. Thankfully after the game, Darrell Clarke assured us he would secure a loan signing who could bring those qualities to the team.
Cue numerous rumours over the rest of the weekend as to who we may be bringing in. One name mentioned fit the bill of playmaker perfectly, but I was sceptical about its likelihood as he was a League One player who I imagined would be unwilling to play in the Conference.
Normally I think I would have been right, however this man's connections with Rovers meant we were able to persuade him to sign and help us in our fight for promotion back to the Football League. Lifelong Gashead Chris Lines accepted the offer to return to the club earlier this week and signed a loan deal until the end of the season from Port Vale.
On paper, it is a terrific signing. Lines joined Sheffield Wednesday when he left us four years ago following our relegation to League Two, and he established himself as a fan favourite with The Owls as they earned promotion to the Championship. He was a consistent performer and contributed so much to the team that he featured in every game during that campaign.
Whilst his career went on an upward curve, our fortunes continued to decline and we ultimately suffered relegation to the Conference after three years of disappointing fourth tier performances. Watching on from afar, Lines must have had no regrets about leaving his boyhood club back in 2011, no matter how sad he may have been at the time.
Now, though, with Rovers looking to win the league and Lines out of favour at Vale Park, a loan move back home made sense for both parties. He gets first team football and a chance to earn a second Rovers promotion of his career, whilst Darrell Clarke gets a man who could easily be a class above at this level during the run-in.
It should be a win-win, but this is Rovers, so let's not get too excited just yet. We need to prove why we are top of the league and ensure our title-charge is not derailed as a result of the slip-up against Eastleigh.
To do that, we need to prevail in what looks set to be a hard-fought game with FC Halifax Town at The Shay tomorrow afternoon. Results went our way last weekend, which was something of a let-off, and we need to take full advantage of that and reassert our grip on top spot.
Having altered our game in recent weeks to grind out results, it sounds like we may need to perform similarly again given the state of Halifax's pitch. Lee Mansell has this week called for Rovers to get back to playing the football that got us into promotion contention in the first place, but we may have no choice if the playing surface is not conducive to keeping the ball on the deck.
In general, though, Manse is absolutely right. Perhaps we lost sight of what made us successful mid-season and focussed more on grinding out results as opposed to showing our true quality. It clearly hasn't done us much harm, but we have not reached the level of performance that we were showing regularly during December and it is making games very tight and noticeably edgy.
We give ourselves a much better chance of accumulating the points required to win promotion if we can rediscover the quality we showed a couple of months ago.
As I have said before, the pressure is now on to keep ourselves in position at the top and the only way we will do that is by winning games. Barnet couldn't handle it and were leapfrogged by ourselves, but if we aren't careful one of three teams could do exactly the same to us.
I am confident we have the mental toughness to cope with being up there and it would be great if we can record another away victory tomorrow to prove it. There are many more twists and turns to come in the weeks ahead and while it is hard not to look closely at what is going on elsewhere, let's focus purely on Rovers and supporting the lads as best we can.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!