A Christmas changing of the guards at Coventry City has seen Mark Venus shuffle back upstairs to make way for Russell Slade. Appointing an experienced manager who tends to focus on the defence is either going to be just this inexperienced, team that can’t defend needs, or the exact opposite.
With Slade tending to prefer hard-working and committed players over the fleet-footed creative types that Tony Mowbray attempted to build this squad around, expect to see some former favourites marginalised. Ruben Lameiras in particular looks like he’ll need to impress the new manager over the next couple of games to ensure his continued stay at the club, although Jodi Jones and maybe even someone like Gael Bigirimana could find surprisingly find themselves struggling to get into the team.
However, the arrival of a new manager also tends to provide an opportunity for some of the fringe players in the squad to jump up the pecking order. It’s hard to tell who exactly that might be but I can see Slade giving Marcus Tudgay and Kyel Reid more regular football over the next couple of months and this could maybe be the time that the likes of George Thomas and Ryan Haynes finally establish themselves in the starting 11.
In terms of team selection for this game, there is only so much that Russell Slade can change right now. The biggest decision is probably which keeper he sees as his number one, there isn’t a great deal to pick between either Lee Burge or Reice Charles-Cook. Aside from that, he can’t really change the defence, Ben Stevenson is available again in midfield and it’s a complete guess what kind of attacking line-up he goes for.
Last Time We Met
As tends to happen every season, we come up against a team that we haven’t met in a competitive match in a few generations. Our last meeting against Bristol Rovers came in 1964 in the old Third Division (League One nowadays) at Bristol Rovers’ old Eastville Stadium. A single goal from Ken Hale decided the contest which came during the run-in for our Third Division title-winning campaign under Jimmy Hill.
How Are They Doing?
It’s been an eventful past few seasons for Bristol Rovers, especially for their manager Darrell Clarke. When he stepped into the job towards the end of the 2013/14 season, Bristol Rovers had looked to have done enough to survive in League Two for another season only for a final-day defeat to Mansfield Town and a victory for Wycombe Wanderers to send Rovers to non-league. The then-inexperienced manager Darrell Clarke was seen crying on the pitch, probably contemplating whether he was cut-out for this management business.
A slow start to their National League campaign the following season didn’t augur well for Clarke, only for his side to develop a defensive resilience to mount a long unbeaten-run that took the title race against Barnet to the final day. Although Rovers lost out on automatic promotion by one point, they triumphed on penalties in the play-offs to secure an immediate return to the Football League. The momentum from that promotion carried over into last season which saw Bristol Rovers finally come out on top in a final-day dog-fight to win promotion from League Two.
Darrell Clarke’s man management and tactical skills have been key for the past few years for Bristol Rovers as he’s developed an amazing team spirit at the club while also making them one of the toughest teams to suss out due to his tendency to make big personnel and tactical alterations from game to game. It was a formula that had seen Rovers start this season in the third-tier in form good enough to challenge the play-offs, but they have hit the buffers slightly over the past month or so, with Clarke admitting that some of the stalwarts from their National League days are probably not quite good enough for this level of football.
The biggest issue Bristol Rovers have at the moment is in goal, where former PSV and Nuneaton goalkeeper (yes, you read that right) Kelle Roos, on loan from Derby, has made some really costly errors at times this season and his replacement, Will Puddy, is even worse. Trying to put whoever Darrell Clarke opts for in goal under the slightest modicum of pressure looks like being a good approach here.
It’s tough to predict what shape or personnel Bristol Rovers will use, however star striker Matty Taylor is probably the only certain pick in the side. After an okay season with Rovers in the National League, Taylor caught fire in front of goal in League Two last season and is currently the division’s second top-scorer. Taylor is nippy striker with plenty of pace to his game who comes to life in the penalty area.
Chris Lines in midfield the other main crucial player, due to his set-piece delivery and leadership in the centre of the park. Chelsea loanee Charlie Colkett has caught the eye as an attacking-midfielder at times this season but has perhaps lacked consistency. While centre-back, Peter Hartley, has proved a useful source of goals from set-pieces this season.
It’s hard to see how much difference Russell Slade could possibly make without the opportunity of the transfer window, or even that much time on the training pitch. I imagine that he’ll attempt to play for a clean sheet and hope that we nick something on the counter-attack as he looks to put the building blocks in place for the survival battle ahead. This game will be all about our defence can be trusted to keep a clean sheet, which seems doubtful.
I can see this being a 2-0 defeat and a fairly turgid performance, Merry Christmas everyone.