Preview: Bristol Rovers

Registering four goals in victory on Tuesday night was just the response needed after last Saturday’s frustrating blank against Bolton Wanderers’ kids. It may not have been a perfect performance, but to get three strikers on the scoresheet is hopefully the confidence boost in front of goal that this team needs right now.

Getting a second league win of the season in this upcoming fixture would begin to cast the start of the season in a positive light. However, the nascent confidence in attack is likely to be put under the microscope against a Bristol Rovers side who were miserly in defence last season – particularly away from home – and will be desperate for a first league win of the new campaign.

Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

With Matt Godden looking sharp on Tuesday night and Gervane Kastaneer able to come off from the bench, the squad is looking much stronger than it was two weeks ago – with there being a possibility that Jamie Allen may be fit enough to be involved in some capacity for this game too.

Compared to Tuesday night’s team, expect Kyle McFadzean, Brandon Mason and Marko Maroši to come back into the defensive unit after their alternates were among the weaker performers against Exeter City. McFadzean’s place in the side is probably most at risk, but his leadership qualities and presence at set-pieces counterbalance some of the wayward passing we’ve seen from him thus far.

Given Jamie Allen, even if available, is likely to be short of fitness, the central midfield trio of Liam Kelly, Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke is almost certain to remain in place. Of the three, Westbrooke is in need of a big performance after struggling over the past two games (an assist on Tuesday night aside). With the transfer window still open, if Westbrooke and/or Shipley continue to struggle to provide the creativity we appear to be missing in midfield, they could be a long way down the pecking order come September.

In attack, Matt Godden looks a shoe-in for a start after scoring one and playing a major part in setting up another on Tuesday night. He is likely to have a harder time playing as a lone striker against a higher quality of defence in this game, which makes the service we can provide for him especially important for this game.

Elsewhere, Gervane Kastaneer’s return to fitness probably puts Wesley Jobello’s starting place most at risk, although probably not for this game. Based on the very little I’ve seen from Kastaneer, he is potentially that additional attacking spark who could make this side more of a constant threat than we’ve seen thus far.

Last Time We Met

The Bristol Rovers home game back in March was similar to what felt like the majority of games at the Ricoh last season Against a side determined to hold onto a clean sheet, we were dominant for most of the 90 minutes but looked increasingly unlikely to score as the minutes wore on.

The two most notable things about the game were Amadou Bakayoko somehow escaping one of the most obvious red cards ever seen at the Ricoh Arena, and Tom Bayliss making what was to be his final appearance in a competitive Coventry City game.

The Opposition

Manager – Graham Coughlan

Having provided the kick up the arse that an underperforming Bristol Rovers side need last season to survive, this campaign is an important one for former caretaker manager, Graham Coughlan, to demonstrate that he has the attributes to manage a team over a longer period.

Although there have been many improvements since Coughlan stepped into the managerial hotseat back in December, there are a few grumbles that he is perhaps a touch too cautious in his approach to games and a sense that he is still to figure out his strongest starting XI and preferred formation. Winless in their opening two league games, and without scoring, Coughlan will he hoping that Tuesday night’s convincing League Cup win over Cheltenham Town provides the platform for victory in this game.

Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For?

If there is one clear danger-man for Bristol Rovers, it is former Sky Blues striker Jonson Clarke-Harris. After notching 11 in just 16 appearances for Rovers last season, the onus is on Clarke-Harris to prove his form since February was more than a flash in the pan – which his better spells in his career thus far have often been.

The main man in attack for Bristol Rovers, Clarke-Harris also has an important role to play in facilitating the promising young loan signings of pacey forwards Tyler Smith and Victor Adeboyejo finding form at League One level. There are reasons to believe that either or both could be very shrewd additions, Smith having scored twice on Tuesday night, Adeboyejo having started last year in excellent form from the bench for Barnsley. With Smith notching a brace on Tuesday night with two poacher’s efforts, he is likely to get the nod for this game.

Bristol Rovers’ array of central midfield options is pretty impressive for this level of football. With Ed Upson a key presence at the base of midfield knitting things together with and without the ball, it frees the more attack-minded Liam Sercombe and Ollie Clarke to push forward, while in another former Sky Blue, Abu Ogogo, Graham Coughlan can add a level of physicality to close things down if needed.

In adding two very attack-minded full-back options over the summer in former Bristol City star Mark Little at right-back and ex-Walsall man, Luke Leahy, at left-back, Graham Coughlan will be hoping that his team now has greater width beyond the one natural winger in their squad, Alex Rodman.

Areas To Exploit

The alluded to lack of natural width in this Bristol Rovers side is likely to mean that Fankaty Dabo and Brandon Mason will be key players for us in this game. With Mason having started the campaign impressively and Dabo demonstrating a level of quality and composure on Tuesday night that hadn’t been seen before, we should be looking to overload Bristol Rovers down the flanks as a route to opening up gaps further forward.

Although new goalkeeper, Anssi Jaakkola, is an excellent shot-stopper who has been solid at Championship level, the evidence from the opening few games is that the Finn is not the most commanding presence over crosses. That makes the quality of deliveries into the box and putting pressure on Bristol Rovers’ keeper especially important.

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