Gasheads on the up: Bristol Rovers Season Preview

bristol roversConfidence is an often underestimated part of football. Before their heart-breaking Football League exit in 2014, Bristol Rovers had been stuck in mid-table in League Two for the previous two seasons, despite their relative size at that level. It may have helped them arriving into League Two last term off the back of a promotion, rather than with the sense of having failed the previous year.

They had not made many signings last summer and the relatively modest turnaround of players means the Gasheads retain a core of stalwarts. That term could even befit 21-year-old Tom Lockyer, who was outstanding for the West Country side last year and is capable of playing in a multitude of defensive positions.

Lockyer is among the key men they have been able to keep hold of. Striker Matty Taylor had attracted reported interest from Championship clubs after his fine goalscoring form last season, providing good work rate, movement and link-up play to boot. Even young manager Darrell Clarke has underlined his belief in the club’s potential, signing a three-year deal in spite of interest from Leeds United.

There are concerns over the goalkeeping position. Four different stoppers were used last season and with Steve Mildenhall now 38, Clarke has shown interest in Brad Jones and a return for Lee Nicholls, but has not been able to do a deal. Other question marks lie in the middle of the park, with no central midfielder starting more than 30 league games last season, though Chris Lines and Lee Mansell have signed new deals.

Only nine goals were scored by midfielders last season, if Billy Bodin is counted as a versatile forward. New winger Byron Moore was criticized at Crewe for not scoring enough, so the pressure will very much be on Taylor and Peterborough loanee Luke James to put chances away. A tight midfield may in fact help the team in a higher league, so Wimbledon’s low budget and the exit of key men from Oxford and Northampton arguably puts them in the best position of the promoted clubs. A play-off push could be on for Bristol Rovers, with money and momentum thrust behind them.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 9th