December 30, 2014
Bristol Rovers analysis by James McNamara:
Rovers rebuilding well after their darkest day
(This article written by the Bristol Post sports journalist, James McNamara, is an excellent and balanced review of 2014. To read the full article you will need to access the Bristol Post of 30th January 2014.)
THERE can be no doubting that 2014 will go down as one of the darkest years in the history of Bristol Rovers Football Club. The short period of silence that followed the final whistle at the Memorial Stadium back in May as Rovers were served with prospect of life outside of the Football League for the first time since their inclusion some 94 years earlier will be an enduring memory.
The picture of Mansfield midfielder Colin Daniel wrapping his foot around the ball before executing the killer blow – comically wearing a Bristol Rovers away shirt from the previous season – will forever be etched inside the minds of those who were their the day and the many others who would have been following events from afar.
Of course, the inevitable pitch invasion followed; the shell-shocked faces; the angry screams aimed in the direction of the infamous ‘Box 1′; the sheer feelings of disbelief on a day that had started with the odds firmly stacked in Rovers’ favour.
The weeks and months that followed were tricky; the sacking of John Ward; John-Joe O’Toole’s decision to activate a get-out-of- jail-free-card; the ‘top-to-bottom’ review that concluded that relegation had merely been the result of a failure to find a free-scoring striker, all did little to satisfy agitated supporters in their search for answers.
It is somewhat surprising then, with all that going on, that, on the pitch at least, the situation at the Memorial Stadium, some six months or so on, is beginning to stabilise, and, for that, manager Darrell Clarke, who has had to work with a reduced budget and sometimes in the face of hostility from the terraces, deserves plenty of credit
Of course, there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way as the new-look Rovers squad, assembled by Clarke over the summer, took time to adapt to not only life in the Vanarama Conference, but also to life at a club the size of which should never have been contemplating non-League football.
There is evidence of late, however, that those who struggled with that particular problem in the early stages of the season are coming to terms with that particular ‘pressure’, ending the year with an impressive three-game winning sequence that included a 4-0 trouncing of Macclesfield at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
At the final whistle only a few would not concede that Clarke is doing a good, if not spectacular, job by guiding Rovers to second-place in the Vanarama Conference table, and as Andy Monkhouse put it, “breathing down the necks of Barnet”.
All that said, what is that saying they’re always going on about in football? You’re only as good as your last game? With that in mind then, what has gone before is in the past and the important thing to focus on now is what happens from here.
The obvious question to ask is: Will Rovers get promoted? Those who watch Rovers regularly will know that is probably the hardest question to answer.
On their day, Rovers, who have lost only one of their last 22 league games, could quite comfortably beat any side in the Conference, but, on the other hand, when they have an off day they can be pretty bad, too.
They’ve certainly had more of the good days than bad this season, but, you would suppose that how Rovers ultimately fare will be dependent on how many more of the good they can have between now and the end of the season.
What happens during the transfer window during January will also probably be a pivotal, as will the month of February, which will be spent mostly on the road attempting to maintain their promotion charge with tricky trips to the far-flung northern outposts of Grimsby and Gateshead.