By Nathan BeesHappy New Year, everybody! I hope you all had a great Christmas break and are enjoying the first days of 2016.
It is fair to say Rovers did their bit to ensure we had something to smile about over the festive period with a series of terrific results that saw us pick up 10 points from a possible 12. A win at Dagenham & Redbridge was followed by a hard-fought draw at AFC Wimbledon and back-to-back home victories over Leyton Orient and Luton Town. The unbeaten run propelled us to fifth in the League Two table and within striking distance of the much-fancied Portsmouth in fourth.
I think we all would have taken that before the festive fixtures kicked off, wouldn’t we?
The most pleasing aspect of the results, in my opinion, has been the performances. We have been strong defensively and clinical at the top of the pitch and that is what won us the games, but we have also been comfortable in all four matches as well. In possession we have kept the ball really well and, particularly in the last two games, it has allowed us to control and dictate proceedings.
When you have the ability to do that you can grind teams down, something that Lee Mansell alluded to in a recent interview. We lacked that composure in the early stages of the campaign, especially at home, and that saw us come unstuck a little, but we have found our rhythm now and are reaping the rewards.
The main man from the last two victories has of course been Rory Gaffney, who netted two braces and endeared himself to Gasheads everywhere in the process. The physical and hard-working striker has brought a different dimension to our front-line over the last few weeks and he has provided us with some memorable goals, particularly the second one he notched against Orient with his left foot.
Unfortunately he was only on a one-month loan deal from League Two rivals Cambridge United and, having seen the way he performed in the quarters, U’s manager Shaun Derry has decided not to let us sign him on a permanent basis. It has been revealed that a verbal agreement was in place to allow him to sign for us full time, but Derry and Cambridge have changed their mind — as they have the right to do.
It appears to me their stance has shifted because they can’t keep hold of their own loan striker Ben Williamson. Journalists in Cambridge are reporting that a deal will not materialise now, but I don’t think it is over just yet. Rovers still want to make it happen as Darrell Clarke has made clear and Gaffney himself told supporters after the Luton triumph that he hoped to be back ‘next week’, so hopefully there is still a chance of a positive solution.
Regardless of what happens on that front, however, we will have to focus on the strikers we do have available for the time being.
Jermaine Easter and Matty Taylor have both played well over Christmas and should they be the pairing that gets the nod to start at Barnet tomorrow I fancy them to continue in the same vain. Of course, Ellis Harrison will be in contention as well. The Wales U21 international will be itching for a start after a prolonged stay on the subs bench recently, and Clarke may choose to unleash him at The Hive tomorrow.
The transfer window is now open and we have already made our first signing — and it is one that our manager believes to be a “real coup”. Shrewsbury Town club captain Liam Lawrence, who has played for Stoke City and Sunderland in the Premier League, has joined on a permanent basis until the end of the season and brings a wealth of experience to our relatively young squad.
He achieved promotion from League Two with the Shrews last season and even at the age of 34 is still a very good footballer — and you can never have too many of them. Lawrence is a ball-playing midfield player and has established a reputation for being a set-piece specialist. Like everybody, I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing what impact he can have on the team in the weeks ahead.
Welcome to Rovers, Liam!
It has been a case of one in and one out this week, though, as striker Nathan Blissett has departed after just over a year with the club. He played his part in our promotion last term with some important goals but has struggled to adjust to life in the Football League this year.
As disappointing as it is for Bliss he will definitely be remembered fondly by Gasheads for his involvement in 2014-2015, and I am sure everyone wishes him well for the future.
We have an opportunity to close the gap on the top three and put pressure on all the sides around us with a successful result at Barnet tomorrow. If we can add another 3 points to our total whilst a lot of sides are in FA Cup action that would represent a very good weekend.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!