Friday, October 18, 2013

Gill Moves To Exeter

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Matt Gill has today joined former club Exeter City on loan until the end of this year.

The midfielder had been advised by John Ward that he would not get the opportunity to play much first team football here and that a loan move may be a good idea. A move fell through last week with an unnamed club but Exeter have swooped for the central midfielder and he will remain with the Grecians until the end of December initially.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Packwood & Henshall Join

Birmingham City defender Will Packwood and Manchester City winger Alex Henshall have joined Rovers on initial one month loans today and go straight into the squad for Saturday's game with Wycombe Wanderers.

Will Packwood - Lifted from:
Manager John Ward has been looking to strengthen his squad this week, with the left wing having been a long-time problem area and the defence looking threadbare given Mark McChrystal's knee injury. Packwood links up with Rovers after Birmingham were eventually persuaded to let him out on loan and Henshall joins from Man City's Elite Development Squad and is originally from the West Country having joined the Premier League club from Swindon Town.

Packwood stands at 6 ft 3 and is a right footed centre half, meaning that if he partners Tom Parkes on Saturday there will be a natural balance. Born in America, the 20 year old made his breakthrough into Brum's first team early last season, before suffering a nasty leg break in an appearance early this calendar year. Lee Clark rates him very highly and was reluctant to let him out on loan but finally agreed when Rovers accepted their request not to use him in the FA Cup first round in a few weeks' time. His first interview after joining portrays him as a well-spoken, confident young man and he was by no means dismissive of enjoying an extended stay at the Mem should things go well in the first month.

Alex Henshall - Lifted from:
Henshall, on the other hand, seemed a little more reserved in his interview but was understandably delighted to move out on loan for a taste of first team football. He left Swindon at the age of 16 when City came calling and he has since impressed for their academy sides as well as their EDS team this year. He has trained alongside City's superstars in the last few months and I'm sure that he will have learnt a lot from their midfield maestros. The impressionable teenager has previously cited that Adam Johnson was who he based his game upon (before he left City for Sunderland) and that he would love to play like Gareth Bale has done for the last couple of years.

They will give everyone, both supporters and players, a huge lift ahead of the Wycombe test and I wouldn't bet against at least one of them starting the game.

Welcome lads and good luck.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mansfield Town 1-1 Bristol Rovers (League Two)

Rovers rallied and put in their finest performance of the season at Field Mill to draw 1-1 with Mansfield Town this afternoon. Lee Stevenson put the Stags in front before substitute Alefe Santos scored his first professional goal with a deflected strike 5 minutes from time and it was no less than Rovers deserved in a game they absolutely dominated.

Alefe Santos - Lifted from:
Playing in the purple and black stripes, John Ward's team started brightly on a rainy day up north and there were some early shots sent the way of goalkeeper Alan Marriott. Both Clarkson and Ryan Brunt swivelled to shoot straight down Marriott's throat while John-Joe O'Toole was driving the team forward from the middle of the park. It was an encouraging opening period of play and Mansfield were chasing shadows until 10 minutes in when they finally got hold of the ball a bit more in the centre of the park.

The ball began to stick at the feet of attacking journeyman Calvin Andrew and his pace were causing problems down the flanks. After a couple of wayward crosses it was Andrew who provided the assist for Stevenson to score. He made space out wide before playing the ball into the box for Stevenson to nod home for his first of the season. In truth he couldn't miss and there was a mini-inquest among the Rovers defence as to how he was afforded so much space but nobody had the answer. As always happens at the moment we found ourselves behind and had it all to do.

Happily Rovers continued to play with attacking intent and took the game to their hosts. Clarkson was lively and linked up very well with Brunt and it was the former who created a wonderful chance for full-back Michael Smith. Unfortunately Smudger dwelled on the ball and Marriott did well to deny him when, if we're being honest, he should have been picking the ball up out the net. Ollie Clarke, returning to make his first start of the season in place of Seanan Clucas who played for the Northern Ireland U21s yesterday, had a speculative effort saved before half-time and Rovers will have felt frustrated not to have been in front let alone not on level terms.

The second half flowed in the same vain as the first with Rovers on the front foot. Brunt and Clarkson had efforts that flew wide early on before Andy Bond, in what was likely to be his last Gas appearance,  teed up Clarke to fire inches past the post from 12 yards. With each wasted opportunity it felt like a case of 'typical Rovers' but the lads did not lose heart from their failure to equalise quickly. Mansfield's Sam Clucas was a threat for the home side and had claims for a penalty when Tom Lockyer stopped him running through on goal but they were frivolous as it was terrific defending from the young man.

The game was exciting for the neutral but a nightmare from a Rovers perspective because for all our good play we just couldn't score. Substitute Eliot Richards was denied by Marriott after beating two defenders and fellow sub Santos saw a cross well gathered by Marriott at the feet of a hopeful Brunt. Was it ever going to go in?

Thankfully all our huffing and puffing paid dividends 5 minutes from time. It was to be a magical moment for teenager Santos who picked up a short, quickly-taken corner, before drifting into the box and seeing a low strike deflect off Keiran Murtagh and hit the back of the net. Regardless of whether it was an own goal Santos ran away in delight and was piled on by almost every single one of his team-mates. It felt like it could have been the moment Rovers turned their season around and it was no less than the 400+ Gasheads deserved.

There was still time for us to go on and try to win the game but O'Toole saw a ferocious effort blocked by John Dempster when it was heading for the home goal. Mansfield began to push on in stoppage time and had a last minute free-kick 20 yards out but the effort was blocked by the wall and was cleared to safety. The referee then put whistle to mouth to bring an end to proceedings, securing Rovers their second consecutive away point.

It was incredibly frustrating not to win the game given how many chances we created but it's imperative we look at how well we performed and take it into next weekend's game with Wycombe Wanderers. It was a sterling performance away from home and warranted so much more - if we play like that more often we will have no problem scoring goals and winning games. Huge credit to young Pat Keary who played superbly on his debut alongside Tom Parkes and to Alefe Santos on his first career goal.

Onwards and upwards, Gas.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Kenneth Wants Out

Defender Garry Kenneth wants to leave Bristol Rovers and his representatives have informed the club of his intentions over the past few days.

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He has been recovering from a knee ligament injury sustained in January after a far from impressive first season with the club after signing with a big reputation last summer. Having been linked with £1 million moves to the Championship from former club Dundee United, the Scottish centre back departed Tannadice Park and signed for Rovers on a 3 year contract. After being too unfit to start the season he was thrust into action in September and was quickly made captain in the absence of Matt Gill but was part of a team that sunk to the bottom of League Two. He then got injured in the new year, a few games after John Ward had taken over.

He has been in the squad on a few occasions this season but hasn't featured from the bench which did seem odd to Rovers supporters. There was a general belief from the outside that he would come back a better player after recovering but he never looked like displacing Mark McChrystal or Tom Parkes from the central defensive berths.

There are conspiracy theories that suggest Ward has been advised by the club not to play the defender in a bid to force him out but the manager maintained that he couldn't select him as he hadn't done enough fitness work over the past few weeks. Kenneth hadn't trained for 10 days before the start of this week and while it now seems his departure is inevitable there has been a further twist.

Ward has said he may be forced to play Kenneth this weekend at Mansfield Town if it turns out McChrystal's knee problem is serious enough to keep him out of action. Bizarre, isn't it?

Whatever happens we will all look back on GK's stay with the club and say he has been a monumental waste of monumental wages in the past 15 months and be glad to see the back of him. Having said that I do think there could have been a good defender in there somewhere but it doesn't look like we will see him rediscover his Scottish form in the quarters. Hopefully his imminent departure, as well as Gill's, will free up enough wages to make a few influential loan signings in the coming days/weeks.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Bristol Rovers 1-3 Fleetwood Town (League Two)

Fleetwood Town gave Rovers a late lesson in finishing as they undeservedly won by 3 goals to 1 at the Memorial Stadium yesterday afternoon. Jamille Matt's brace and substitute Jon Parkin's stoppage time strike condemned Rovers to defeat but it should have been a victory with the number of goalscoring opportunities that were created in the second half.

JJ grabbed the Rovers goal - Lifted from:
It was an even game in terms of possession throughout the entire 90 minutes. Rovers matched their visitors, who are flying high in the play-offs places right now, and looked the most likely to get their noses in front when the scores were level. It was a goalless first half where both sides had moments of good play but it was a period where both sides were weighing each other up. Returning Jeff Hughes wasn't the threat we all feared he would be on the left flank but Matt was looking a handful up front even though he was their lone forward. He combines pace, mobility and strength and certainly provided Mark McChrystal with an aerial test as long Fleetwood balls were pumped forward. While Macca had his hands full it did allow Tom Parkes to get his foot on the ball a bit more than usual and look for a pass, which he did well on occasions, but there was still a concerning lack of quality in midfield and out wide. This forced our back-line to go long again and it simply didn't play into our hands often enough as Ryan Brunt was isolated up front.

Fortunately the second half exploded into life and it was a much better game. Rovers came out firing and were carving through Fleetwood's defence with confidence. A few shots drew crucial blocks from Ryan Cresswell before a golden opportunity fell the way of loanee Andy Bond. The midfielder was played through with a defence-splitting through ball and baring down on goal he looked up before skying his side-footed effort over the bar when he seemed destined to score. There were gasps around the ground as the reality of the situation hit everyone who were praying for the net to bulge and we had to go again. Still, it offered us confidence that we had the ability to create chances and we continued to enjoy a great deal of possession in the final third.

Fleetwood still had their moments though and Antoni Sarcevic was instrumental in most of their play in the centre of the pitch. He was being kept quiet by the returning Seanan Clucas, who had a great game, but he drifted out wide to find space and it proved beneficial. Our visitors began to send in telling crosses from the flanks but it didn't provide them with a breakthrough, although they did find themselves in front just past the hour. Sarcevic got past Lee Brown down the left hand side and played a low cross towards the front post where Matt flicked home past Steve Mildenhall. It was a real blow as the boys didn't deserve to fall behind and it was going to prove a real test of character given our disgustingly bad record at coming back from losing positions.

It took just 3 minutes for Rovers to find an equaliser though and it came after some terrific play. Brunt played a ball into the path of Bond with the outside of his boot and the Colchester United man delivered a perfectly weighted cross for John-Joe O'Toole to head home. 1-1 and the goal was no less than our play warranted. Surely we could flourish and go on to find a winner?

The team most certainly tried. No more than 5 minutes had passed after the restart when a right wing cross was played in towards Gas scorer O'Toole who saw a header blocked on the line by a Fleetwood body. There were half-hearted appeals for a penalty but the referee waved away the cries and the game continued. Rovers kept up the pressure and Brunt headed against the post from a Brown corner before firing wide after turning 18 yards out. We were coming oh so close to getting our noses in front but you just got a nagging sense that, as always, it wasn't going to happen for us.

While people may have felt resigned to watching us draw the game I'm adamant nobody would have even considered us losing the game. There was no reason to, we were playing so well and nullified most of Fleetwood's attacking players. They had no response until Matt was able to shake off the attentions of McChrystal a little more. Like a dagger through the heart the striker found himself through on goal after playing a one-two with Sarcevic and coolly swept home to win the game after 87 minutes. It killed the atmosphere around the ground and everyone of a Gas persuasion was gobsmacked. It was a cruel twist to a game Rovers had the better of.

If that goal wasn't bad enough Fleetwood sent on Parkin and the big forward saw a cross come his way in stoppage time and simply waited for the ball to fall on to his right foot before venomously striking across Mildenhall into the bottom corner. 3-1. The scoreline was deceptively harsh and, in my opinion, could easily have been the exact opposite if we had luck on our side. We didn't and we can only blame ourselves as we had the chances, we just couldn't take them.

It's better than we have witnessed this season but it's still bot good enough because we aren't picking up wins. I don't care that Fleetwood have good players, we more than matched them and still couldn't score. Something clearly still isn't right in the camp and it needs to be sorted imminently because we are now 20th in the League Two table. 10 league games into the season and John Ward's record is WORSE than both Paul Buckle's and Mark McGhee's 10 game records in the last 2 seasons and that is simply not acceptable.

I feel deflated, annoyed and angry at the same time. I hate being a Gashead sometimes.