Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wimbledon Await Gas

It's the first of two tricky away trips for Bristol Rovers this evening as the lads take on Neal Ardley's AFC Wimbledon at the Cherry Red Records stadium (7.45pm KO). The Wombles lie below Rovers in the League Two table but a victory would put them on the same number of points as us following their respectable 1-1 draw at Fleetwood on Saturday.

The Gas go in to the game in high spirits having seen off the challenge of Torquay United at the weekend and have registered a victory (Exeter) and a draw (Burton) in their last two away trips. Despite the increased confidence levels around the club there may be an element of wariness this evening. Not because we fear AFC Wimbledon, the belief is still there that we can defeat them, but because of the staggering number of injuries we have. Our squad has yet again been decimated by casualties with an incredible 11 first team squad players being unavailable for this evening's game. Manager Mark McGhee was quick to point out that the players currently in Phil Kite's treatment room could be a half-decent team if thrown together. From back to front we could field an injured 11 of; Scott Bevan, Danny Woodards, Cian Bolger, Adam Virgo, Lee Brown, Shaquille Hunter, Fabian Broghammer, Matt Gill, Michael Smith, Matt Harrold and Derek Riordan. That team wouldn't struggle in League Two, that's for sure. You'd have to say though that only 3 or 4 could be genuinely considered options for our first team at this moment in time so we aren't necessarily depleted in terms of our first eleven, but certainly our lack of options on the bench is a concern. McGhee reckoned around 60% of our wage budget was occupied by players who are currently injured or on their way back to fitness which is, by anyones standard, a ridiculous amount. We've been unlucky on that front all season so far and it will only be when we're given a fair wind that we can see just how strong a squad we can be.

Wayne Brown could come in to the starting line-up
Still, there is certainly still plenty of reason to be optimistic tonight. Other than the absence of Broghammer we can field the same team that began the game against Torquay and we showed more than enough against the Gulls to win the game. There will need to be a shuffle though in order to accommodate our lack of options on the substitutes bench. One possible way mix could see David Clarkson move back up front, Eliot Richards drop in to left wing and Wayne Brown come in to play central midfield. If Wayne Brown was not deemed a suitable partner for Oliver Norburn and McGhee wanted to try something different, young Seanan Clucas may receive a call-up. We won't be afforded the luxurious option of having a substitute who could come on and change the game should we need to. We'd have a young bench and whilst the academy graduates and development squad players are highly rated there is no guarantee they are ready to perform at first team level - it's a big risk. McGhee recognises this and admitted to the press that we may have to go about winning the game with the team that starts the game as there is nobody proven who can come on and make an impact.

We need to be bold but brave against last year's football league new boys. They will be looking at their improvement under Ardley and think that they can win their home game tonight, regardless of the fact it's against us. We'll need to be disciplined and organised at the back without forfeiting any of the attacking prowess we've shown in recent weeks. When chances come along we need to be able to take them if we want to come away with 3 points tonight because they aren't going to be readily forthcoming. It's important Garry Kenneth and Tom Parkes are solid and prepared to put their foot in to prevent Byron Harrison and Jack Midson from creating goalscoring opportunities, otherwise the frontmen may have a field day. Not that the superb Neil Etheridge will be an easy goalkeeper to beat, he'll be hoping to maintain his great run of form with a clean sheet this evening after the disappointing goals we conceded in the last two games.

I have absolute faith that we can get a result tonight but I urge Gasheads not to get too carried away and predict a hammering of Wimbledon. Whilst we are more than capable of springing that sort of result it'll be a more patient approach that we adopt in the hope of coming away victorious. This is typically where Rovers will disappoint everybody by crumbling in a game that we all expect them to do well in. It's the way Bristol Rovers and football works unfortunately! I have genuine confidence from what I've witnessed over the past 6 weeks that we can be a force in this division but we can't underestimate any of our opponents otherwise we'll come unstuck.

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