Before we look at the game, could you give us a memory from previous games against the Gas?
All my best trips to Roverzzz have involved lots of drinking on the Gloucester Road afterwards to drown out some forgettable performances!
How has your season been going so far?
A mixed bag.
The consensus is that we’re a weaker side than last season, having lost key players over the summer (Josh Sheehan to Bolton, Joss Labadie to Walsall) and the replacements taking time to bed in.
Coupled with all not being well behind the scenes and reported tension between Michael Flynn and our Director of Football, our league form has held up okay, but Flynn left at the end of September having apparently served out a notice period which began after our play-off final defeat.
The new appointment, James Rowberry, will take charge for the first time against Bristol Rovers, having previously been in the coaching setup at Cardiff City and being seen as one of Wales’ brightest coaching prospects.
And what would you say your ambitions are for the rest of the campaign?
Given that we lost key players from last year’s squad, a second promotion campaign always felt like a bit of a stretch – but if Rowberry can reinvigorate the squad and give a new lease of life to players like Ryan Haynes and Robbie Wilmott who have gone off the boil in the last year, a playoff bid wouldn’t be out of the question.
How is your form coming into the game?
Since Flynn’s departure, we’ve been unbeaten under his assistant Wayne Hatswell. We comfortably saw off Scunthorpe, who were by some distance the worst Football League side I’ve seen in years – but tougher tests against Exeter (a) and Carlisle (H) saw a pair of 2-2 draws, the latter despite us being down to nine men by the end.
There’s definite character in the side and goals as well – but we’re more than capable of making basic mistakes to give opponents a chance.
How do you think you’ll setup for our game?
Who knows, with a new manager at the helm. He may well stick initially to a 5-3-2, with wingbacks Ryan Haynes and Cameron Norman storming down the left and right wings respectively, with loanee Ollie Cooper providing midfield creativity. But it really is anyone’s guess at the start of the new era.
Any weak links in your side?
Given the experience and ability of our back line, it’s hard to put a finger on why we’re shipping so many goals. Our back three of Matty Dolan, Mickey Demetriou and James Clarke are excellent, and are complemented by solid wing-backs and an experienced goalie in Joe Day.
The weakness probably comes from a lack of bite in midfield leaving the centre-halves and a slight lack of pace exposed.
Who are your standout players?
Ollie Cooper, on loan from Swansea, has been superb – setting up and scoring goals and showing a real attacking intent.
A word too for our front line of Dom Telford and Courtney Baker-Richardson who look like a traditional Big Man / Little Man partnership but have a lot more strings to their bow.
I’ll say we’ll have a new manager bounce and win 2-1.
Where do you think you’ll be come the end of the season?
My heart says playoffs, my head says ninth! If Rowberry can tighten us up at the back, there’s no reason we can’t be in the mix – but a lack of defensive depth has me worried.