And just like that, Rovers were back. Blue and white quarters, red hot heat and a game of association football.
It had been 151 days since our last fixture – not that I was counting or anything – and I was glad the wait was over. Our opponents were non-league legends, Bristol Manor Farm, who boast a charming ground on the Portway; train line *tick*, river *tick*, the smell of fried onions *tick*. The Creek is close to the Mem and also the bedsheet emporium of BS3, so attracts Gas and Teds alike.
The Creek is visited by a passing train pre-match
Being the superstars that we are, there was a gantry erected for the GasCast commentary team of Max Alderson and I – but my dreams of Screen Soccer emulation was dashed due to what can only be described as DISCRIMINATION: “Duke, one slight issue… you need to climb a ladder to access the gantry.” Due to recently acquiring a dead mans cartilage for my knee (cheers whoever you are) I was in no fit state to climb that rickety ladder – I will be in touch with the SC’s lawyers to sue. However I was obvs ready if the gaffer needed someone to do a job up top. I left my colleague, friend and confidant to make the perilous journey up top and I ended up sitting in the stand with the entire Rovers squad where I was in a socially distanced sandwich with Jayden Mitchell-Lawson and a Welsh physio type bloke.
Max all set to provide the commentary
As many would have heard on the match stream, Mr Ben ‘Talks Well, But Doesn’t Shout Enough’ Garner, was audible for all to hear. In a move more befitting a P.E teacher *ahem* Garner opted to call every player by his full name, but fell short at middle names. Disappointing. Some of his go to shouts were “keep it”, “on his touch” and “VOICE MODULATION, LADS!”
I spose this is the part of the blog where I have to talk about the game of football. As many who listen to the podcast are probably aware, I enjoy the stuff that is associated with the beautiful game; pies, pints and crushing disappointment. Rovers had a strong squad for the first game of pre-season and whilst the formation is often open to interpretation this pie enthusiast reckons a 3-4-3 was deployed but there was fluidity for sure.
The (really) warm up
We started off with Alfie on the right of the three, Ehmer central and Kelly on the left. Hare wide right and Nicholson wide left. Mehew and Upson middle for diddle. Zain ‘Wally’ Walker on the left of the top three, Jono as the central focal point and Jimmy Daly pon de right hand side. Jaakola started between the sticks.
Let’s start with our new boys then, Max Ehmer, phroaw. He oozes class, is calm and commanded everything that came at him aerially. I know we were playing against part-time farmers but he looked seriously good. Give him the armband imo.
Sam Nicholson put in one helluva shift. I had him down as potentially being a bit of a luxury player, who can produce up top but is lacking defensively. I have to say his work-rate, tenacity and tracking back were the stand out features of his game – all of this despite him reporting to Garner: “I feel like I’m playing with a truck on my back”. I have no issues that he will be able to deliver the goods in an attacking sense so it was pleasing to see such a well-rounded player out there.
Signed in January of this year (2020 in case you’ve forgotten) James ‘Jimmy’ Daly was a player that was highly rated at Crystal Palace but only featured three times before Covid put us out of our misery. He was on the right of the top three and due to being left footed was deployed as an inverted winger. In short, he was anonymous. I’m not sure why he hasn’t hit the ground running during his short time with us, but he’s only 20 (until he’s 21) so perhaps one for the future based on this performance.
Swap over to the other side and we had an 18-year old who was arguably pick of the bunch of a strong senior side. Step forward Zain, WALLY WALLY WALLY, WALLY WALLY WALLY, WALLY WALKER *credit Michael Willett*. Two goals and neat link up play, job’s a good’un! He looked tricky, composed and tenacious. The way he dispatched his two goals was seriously impressive and it took him no time at all to find the back of the net when the opportunity arose. One to watch.
Another youngster who featured was Tommy Mehew. The 19-year old held his own and broke up the Manor Farm attack effectively and generally looked tidy. He also showed immense quality with an inch perfect pass for Zain Walker’s second.
Jono, Jono, Jono, oh what an interesting bloke you are. He had his moody swagger on show but was focused on the task in hand. There have been reports that he has let himself go during lockdown but he looked trim and in good nick. He was classic JCH to be honest and it was great to see him out there. My hope would be that he signs a one-year extension which sees us have another season of the prolific bagsman, but means we can cash in next summer if we don’t reach the Championship (can’t believe I’m typing that, calm down son). I think in this team he will score a hatful so one more season may be wise for both parties. I would also love him to stay as I love chatting with him – he was the only player to ask about my knee injury and was genuinely interested to chat to me about it. If you’re reading this; call me.
If I was being paid per word I would include the rest of the starting 11, but I am not, so in short the rest were all SOLID and played as you would expect them to play – the So Solid Crew were; Jaakola, Kelly, Hare and Upson. Romeo done.
“Substitutions for Bristol Rovers, every single fucker”
Second half drinks break
Looking at both team sheets I’d say we’ve got some real strength in depth, strength in depth we’ve not seen for a few seasons – some genuinely different options and competition for places. The second 45 XI – not sure they teach using an alphabetical number, a number number and a roman numeral to describe three different numbers at journalism school, but hey ho, fuck the system. Talking about systems it appeared to be 3-4-3 again. Due to the fluidity up top one could argue it was 3-5-2, 3-4-2-1 etc. but it’s splitting hairs to be honest, though, it was definitely 3-4-3.
Back three wise, we had Little Mark on the right, Big Harries in the middle and Jackie Baldwin pon de left hand side (herewith ends my use of patois). We then had Rodders wide right and scapegoat Leahy (tricky afternoon for him against the farmers) wide left. In the middle of midfield we had Josh Grant and Cam Hargreaves. Up top was a three-man prong (I’m not one to judge) with Barrett the beast on the left and Lucas Tomlinson on the right – though both looked more fluid and swapped positions more than Walker and Daly, especially Barrett who dropped in the number 10 position quite often. No Wael in attendance today but Jonah still turned up and spearheaded the attack. JVS was in between the sticks.
JVS had little to do (as in small not Mark) but what he did, he did well.
The back three boys were assured and I was particularly impressed by Harries. Though he’s one of the younger first team players (23) he seemed to have an air of authority about him and he would well and truly lose his shit if a player lost the ball, “TAKE CARE” was his squeaky cry.
Didn’t see much from Baldwin but looked ok, will need to see him in a game where he is tested a bit more.
Mark Little had a more difficult afternoon as he was tasked with marking Bristol Manor Farm’s secret weapon – their livewire of a left winger was seriously good. Little is unlikely to feature in the back three come the start of the new season but could be utilised there if needs be. He also acted as a big brother figure to Lucas Tomlinson, who it seems needs a bit of a rollocking every now and then.
Rodders on the wide right was classic Rodman and was cute in his play with setting up Tomlinson for his goal. A wiley campaigner and perhaps underrated by many.
The (scape) goat, Luke Leahy, is undeniably best as a wing back and looked decent in this 3-4-3 set up. He got into a great position to supply the cross which resulted in the Tomlinson goal.
Cam Hargreaves is one of the young crop that we’ve seen quite a bit of and you already know what you get from him. Bags of energy and a big heart to match. He perhaps could have done with someone more creative next to him but you can’t fault his performance.
Josh Grant had a quiet afternoon but like a few of the other defensive minded players it’s hard to judge them accurately when the opposition don’t pose much of a threat. Though it’s fair to say he was quiet and could have done more.
Left of our front-three was Barrett. Without wishing to fat shame, it would appear that Mr Barrett is still carrying a bit of timber and wasn’t particularly mobile. However, I do believe there is a player there and he possesses a touch of class. If his audacious chip had gone in the Gas faithful would have been salivating – much like Barrett does when he sees a chip… sorry. He was wasteful at times when a simpler pass was on but certainly offers something different. It was a shame to see him go off with 10 minutes to go with a hamstring strain. A full pre-season I feel would have been vital for Barrett this season, both fitness and form wise.
On the right was Tomlinson who has had good reviews over the years in the development side. Whilst on the slight side he managed to use his body to turn the meaty Manor Farm defenders. He took his goal well and showed fantastic composure like his teammate Walker. Only criticism is that he was careless with the ball at times, which big brother Mark let him know about!
Jonah, Jonah, Jonah, you sound like Jono, you look a bit like Jono and you play a bit like Jono. A really impressive debut for the big man. He linked the play well, his movement was smart and got in goal scoring positions on numerous occasions – he should have really had two or three goals to show for his efforts. With his impressive goal tally last season, I have no doubts that he will start to find the net.
Post-match Max attended the presser on GasCast’s behalf… I did hop over briefly but had to sit down to preserve my newly acquired cartilage. Garner – who has a cracking eye for a player – saw that I may have a bit about me so asked about the injury and I said I will feature in his plans for next season, so that’s nice.
So that was the football and how nice it was to be present. Do get down to The Creek if you want to experience a friendly local non-league club, they will need all the pounds sterling they can get when crowds are allowed back. If you like trains as well as football, you may be flying full mast for most of the game.
GasCast are hopefully going to commentate on some more games this pre-season so keep your eyes peeled for that and UP. THE. GAS.