Rovers boss Paul Buckle today confirmed that influential winger Mustapha Carayol is suspended for the Boxing Day clash with Plymouth Argyle after picking up five cautions. What a massive blow that is. At times this season Muzzy has looked like the only player that has that bit of quality about him, so it's really disappointing that we'll be without him for one of our biggest games of the season so far. I must admit, I'm a little less optimistic ahead of the game now than I was prior to hearing about his suspension. Yes on paper we should still have plenty about us to defeat Argyle, but as we've seen so far this season it counts for nothing unless you produce on the pitch. We've not done that and therefore we languish in 18th place in the basement division.
Cian Bolger is also suspended to add to our list of absentees and it seems that with each passing week we're losing more and more players with none of them returning very quickly. Following on from last Friday and Scott McGleish has recovered from his injury so will take a place in the squad, but Matt Gill is still a couple of weeks away.
The other major concern from the Gillingham defeat last Saturday other than the 4-1 scoreline was the injury sustained by stand-in captain Byron Anthony. Much to the relief of Gasheads everywhere the courageous Welshman has insisted he will be okay to play providing physio Phil Kite can obtain a protective face mask in time. Anthony was taken off after suffering from a second broken nose in successive games after being elbowed when attacking a corner in the first half at Priestfield and although he wanted to continue, he was advised by medical staff from Rovers and Gillingham to come off. The guy's commitment is admirable and if he does don the shirt on Monday then I hope his dedication is worthwhile with a Gas victory.
Plymouth will be a threat, make no mistake about it. Warren Feeney is a wily old fox in the box, even if his recent record suggests otherwise. The Northern Irish international attracted the interest of Rovers in the summer of 2010 but then manager Paul Trollope managed to sign Will Hoskins instead - the right move it must be said considering the 500k profit we made. He'll be dangerous up top and loanee Nick Chadwick will also be a menace to our back-line, so our defenders will have a difficult task in preventing any goals going in against us. I must admit, despite liking all 4 of our regular first choice defenders, together they seem incapable of producing clean sheets which is clearly part of our problem. I think it's an area that'll need to be seriously strengthened in January, although who will come in I have no idea at this moment in time.
At the other end and our attacking play will need to be productive, so whoever starts up top will need to be in top from the first whistle. I think Matt Harrold will partner Chris Zebroski in attack, with Joe Anyinsah and Eliot Richards providing the midfield spark down the wings. In theory these 4 players have a lot of quality at this level, so hopefully a bit of happiness over Christmas will provide the change in fortunes that we so desperately need in order to regularly score goals.
I'll go on record as predicting a 3-0 victory for us. Mad, delusional? Abso-frigging-lutely, but I can't be any other way, especially around Christmas. Come on Rovers.
Merry Christmas guys, my next blog entry will be following the game on Monday. Enjoy your festivities this weekend.