Bristol Rovers face MK Dons this week with The Gas rapidly running out of opportunities to mount a survival challenge.
Rovers lost 1-0 at home to fourth place Lincoln at the weekend and with relegation rivals winning, it means that Rovers will need two wins from their final four games at the very least with the more likely necessary target being three or even winning all four of their remaining fixtures.
Rovers found themselves with a mountain to climb at the weekend after Anthony Scully gave Lincoln the lead. That was soon followed by a contentious red card for midfielder Ed Upson which meant Rovers had to play the majority of the match with 10 men.
The result, accompanied by wins for Wimbledon, Wigan and Rochdale means Rovers languish in 23rd place, six points off safety and manager Joey Barton has had his say on why teams around them are being more successful at climbing out of the bottom four.
“Momentum, fitness. We’ve got players who aren’t fit in April and that can’t happen,” Barton told BristolLive.
“It can be traced back to pre-season and there’s never usually one individual, it’s usually a collective and I always believe in football that you win and lose together.
“The finger-pointing because that doesn’t solve anything, we could be here all day saying I think it’s his fault.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure we absolutely unite the club, that includes the fanbase and I know there are some people out there who don’t want them to be the manager of the football club, I get that, but also I’m going to get them down to the stadium and have a frank, open conversation with them.
“Because we need every single Rovers fan pulling for this team if we’re going to be successful.
“My aim is to put this club in the Championship, I might have to take a step backwards before I move forwards but that’s what I’ve come here to do.
“I’ve come here to move on in my managerial career to what I did at Fleetwood. That was almost putting a side with a 3,000 average attendance in the Championship.”
Judging by Barton’s response to Upson’s red card on Saturday, Rovers will be no doubt lodging an appeal against the dismissal which means the midfielder may be in contention to return to the side. If no appeal is made, Pablo Martinez will be set to continue his role in the starting XI. Alex Rodman is a doubt for the match whilst Josh Grant is out.
MK Dons go into the game being one of the few sides in the third tier with little to play for, seven points off the play offs with four left to play meaning that they will need to win all their remaining games to have any chance of a place in the top six.
MK did respond from a 4-0 thrashing by Lincoln last Tuesday with a 1-0 win over play off chasing Portsmouth at the weekend and manager Russell Martin praised his side for their response to the humbling the game before.
“It’s a brilliant reaction from Tuesday night,” Martin told the club’s website.
“That was a horrible scoreline for all of us but we bounced back brilliantly.
“If you look at the games we’ve just had, all of them have been around the play-off spots so it was always going to be a tough ask. If you’d had offered four points from these three games, obviously we’d have wanted more, but we’d have said it was a fair return.
“When you’re in and around midtable, it can be difficult to find the same intensity and motivation but I think we’ve found that. I’m really pleased with the intensity we showed.
“The disappointing thing for me was not scoring more goals. We got in their box a lot and hit the woodwork. Scott (Fraser) had a great chance and Griggy (Will Grigg) had two cleared off the line.
Midfielder Ben Gladwin, who was one of the scorers in the reverse fixture is out of the match and the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Daniel Harvie is a doubt for the match but may be fit enough for a place on the bench. MK boss Martin may opt to play the same side that beat Portsmouth last time out.
Bristol Rovers Predicted XI (3-4-1-2):
MK Dons Predicted XI (3-5-1-1): Fisher (GK), Lewington, Jules, Darling, Kasumu, Laird, Surman, O’Riley, Sorinola, Fraser, Grigg.
Max: The Gas 1-1 MK Dons
Harley: The Gas 1-0 MK Dons
Simon: The Gas 2-1 MK Dons