Opposition Focus: Bristol Rovers

Ahead of Saturday’s clash between Town and Bristol Rovers, we spoke with Gascast Podcast Bristol Rovers (@GasCastPodcast) to get the lowdown on Bristol Rovers.

Bristol Rovers currently sit fifth in the league, how would you describe your season so far?

Surprising, in all honesty. Coughlan did a fantastic job in keeping us up, but the football hasn’t been the most appealing to watch, and most fans were expecting another season flirting with relegation. To be 5th in the league in December is a huge achievement, and something I think very few Gasheads expected.

Graham Coughlan has been in charge for virtually a year now, what is his style of play like?

Coughlan prioritises defensive solidarity over attacking prowess. He’s made us a side that are very hard to score against, and with the introduction of wingbacks over the summer, has made us a dangerous side to play against when we deploy our 3-5-2 away from home. The side he has built is incredibly hard-working, full of leaders and characters, and what they lack in ability they make up for in desire – in recent weeks we’ve come back from losing positions to win points we may not have last season.

You started the season well, had a little dip then have come back strong, the form coincided with the injury for Jonson Clarke Harris… would it be fair to draw that conclusion?

That’s a very fair assessment. Jonson is instrumental to this side, he’s both the focal point to build our attacks and play around, but also often the player who finishes the chances we create. That isn’t to say that we aren’t capable without him, we picked up some good results whilst he was out injured, but we are a much more potent force with him in the starting eleven, not just because of his goals but in how he holds up the ball and allows the play to transition effectively.

Who else have been your key players so far this season?

Other than Jonson, I have to mention the defence. Alfie Kilgour and Tony Craig in paricular have started nearly every game for us, and that combination of young raw talent next to rugged experience has really kept us solid at the back and won us a lot of points. Anssi Jaakkola between the sticks has also been crucial in winning us points on the road, pulling off some fantastic saves away at Rochdale and Wimbledon recently. In the midfield, Abu Ogogo has stepped up and proven a constant thorn in the side of opposition sides with his high tempo pressing.

Away from home you’ve played eight, won four, lost four, do you think you should be adopting a ‘safer’ style of play on the road?

Absolutely not. We’re averaging 1.5 points per game away from home, which is a fantastic return so far, and might not be the case if we played safer and looked to draw more games. The way we set up seems to suit playing on the counter-attack against sides who are expected to put us under pressure, and so long as people continue to underestimate us we should pick up points.

As we now approach the half way mark in the season what would be deemed as a successful season?

Avoiding relegation was always the aim. The club is stagnant, forever waiting for off-field news of a new stadium and/or training ground to bring us into the 21st Century and allow us to sustainably compete at the next level. Until then, League One is our organic ceiling, so remaining in this division, whilst also developing some young talent into the first team, would be a great result.

Which teams have impressed you so far this campaign?

Coventry look both organised and yet also play with freedom and creativity in attack, and have done very well so far this season. I would be surprised if they didn’t finish in the Playoffs come May. Blackpool also looked very good on the opening day of the season, when they beat us 2-0. I have to say Wycombe and Oxford were underwhelming when they came to BS7, but their league positions speak for themselves.

What are your thoughts on Ipswich ahead of the game?

It seems like Ipswich rotate their squad a lot from game to game, and maybe they need to become a little more settled in order to gather more momentum. There’s some fantastic talent in the squad, James Norwood being a player who Rovers fans have seen perform throughout the different leagues, but also in young rising stars such as Woolfenden and Dozzell. The ability is there, and the manager is of a high calibre, but this is a tough league and maybe Ipswich are still finding their feet.

Teamnews ahead of Saturday’s clash?

Centre-half Tom Davies has been out for around a month now, with no news regarding when he will return. Rollin Menayese is set to return from a one game suspension, and should slot in at CB in place of Mark Little, who may move over to RWB. With Clarke-Harris back fit, the only real uncertainty in the lineup will be the midfield, with Coughlan playing around with 3-5-2, 3-4-2-1, and 4-4-2 diamond formations in recent weeks. (Expected lineup (3-4-2-1): Jaakola; Kilgour, Craig, Menayese; Leahy, Upson, Ogogo, Little; Sercombe, Clarke; Clarke-Harris)

Matchday Prediction?

We’ve won 5 of our last 6 away games, and go into this game in good spirits. We’ve got plenty of goals in us lately, with 8 goals in our last 2 league outings, but we’ve also leaked more goals than usual. I have a feeling this may be our first point on the road, I’m going with 2-2.

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