Mike Jay gives us the lowdown on this afternoon’s visitors, Bristol Rovers, whose manager Darrell Clarke is coming under increasing pressure following a spell of bad form.
Although you are 13th in League One, you have lost three of your last five league matches and have the second-worst defensive record in the division. What is the general feeling around the club at the moment?
MJ: The exit from two cup competitions in the space of few days to Notts County and Swindon Town has been disappointing. Two defeats to League Two sides by a 4-2 scoreline on both occasions is unacceptable. Clarke’s FA cup record is very poor with home defeats against Chesham, Barrow, Tranmere and Darlington in recent years so it came as no surprise.
Darrell Clarke says he is concerned that there is so much negativity around the club. What has changed since the summer as there was seemingly a lot of positivity around the club and he even signed a five year deal. Are off field issues playing a part in the negativity and are the fans beginning to turn on him?
MJ: Two successive promotions from and almost sneaking into the League One play offs last year means that Darrell Clarke is still well thought of by the fans. The club’s owners have stopped the new stadium development at the University of the West of England and a new training ground is making slow progress which has not helped.
Tom Broadbent was a surprise signing in the summer, following a spell in the Army, but reports suggest he has been one of your better players. How is he doing?
MJ: Broadbent shows that there are still talented players in non league willing to work hard and make a career in the professional game. He is a very capable centre back and has kept the more experienced loan signing Ryan Sweeney from Stoke City out of the side.
There have been suggestions from Bristol Rovers fans that the core of the side is quite inexperienced following the departure of a number of senior pros in the summer. Do you think there is a lack of on field leadership and if so is that contributing to the poor run of form at the moment?
MJ: We did sign some experienced League One players in Sercombe, Nicholls and the two goalkeepers Slocombe and Smith and complimented that with some young talent in Stoke City loan signings Telford and Sweeney.
Tom Lockyer, our Welsh centre back is likely to receive a full cap against Panama next week but has struggled for form and for me is not captain material. Conceding goals has been a problem and constantly changing the back four has resulted in many poor goals being conceded, particularly away from the Mem.
Our ex keeper Sam Slocombe is now with you. How is he getting on?
MJ: Sam has looked solid and competition with Adam Smith has been competitive. This season is the first time in years we have had two good goalkeepers.
Who else should we look out for in the Rovers side?
MJ: If he was fit, Billy Bodin. (Out for 6/8 weeks) He is a talented midfielder who injured himself after scoring at Northampton when Rovers remarkably won 6-0. We did not score in the next three matches he was absent. Liam Sercombe has played every game and scored some superb goals.
Have you got a prediction for us?
MJ: Scunny to win 3-0. Our confidence is shot !