League One Match Preview: Bristol Rovers (H)
It has been a worrying few days for fans of football clubs across the country as restrictions tighten again, jeopardising the very future of the sport. Matches continue despite this and although we will all have to watch via iFollow again this weekend, there is a game to sink our teeth into as Doncaster Rovers look to secure their first home win of the season against Bristol Rovers.
Lokilo To Step In?
Manager Darren Moore touted his “horses for courses” approach to team selection following the opening day draw with MK Dons yet stuck to his guns and named an unchanged XI for the trip to Charlton, a call which paid off handsomely as goals from Madger Gomes, Tyreece John-Jules and an own goal sealed a 3-1 win. Saturday’s visitors to the Keepmoat Bristol Rovers represent another entirely different challenge to the Addicks but Moore would be wise to keep faith with the players who proved themselves at The Valley.
One enforced change however will see Rayhaan Tulloch replaced having gone off injured early in that game. Tulloch has a hamstring strain and will be out for a couple of weeks, meaning Jason Lokilo figures to earn his first league start for Rovers having impressed in fits and starts against Charlton. The winger instigated the opening goal with an interception and was the intended target of Ben Whiteman’s pass turned in for an own goal, and a start against Bristol Rovers may give him the confidence to let loose and show the talents he clearly possesses.
This game represents the first time this season that Rovers’ opponents will come looking to soak up pressure so Moore will have to implement a game-plan that can puncture holes in the Gas defence, and Lokilo will have an important role to play in unlocking the door if given the nod.
New-Look Bristol Finding Their Feet
Plenty of discussion around League One in the summer centred on the busy recruitment of just a couple of clubs, chiefly Blackpool and Bristol Rovers. The Gas added nine new players before the season got underway, including Coventry midfielder Zain Westbrooke and Sunderland defender Jack Baldwin, and have since added two more exciting players to their ranks in the form of Gillingham striker Brandon Hanlan and, arriving this week on loan from Chelsea, highly-rated young midfielder Luke McCormick.
Hanlan looks to be the man tasked with replacing the goals of Jonson Clarke-Harris, which will be a tall order, whilst McCormick bolsters a talented-looking midfield. Rookie manager Ben Garner is yet to find his real rhythm in the dugout mind and has deployed a conservative 3-4-3 formation in each of Bristol’s games this season without managing a win, utilising Hanlan as a lone striker and relying on wing-backs for width.
Veteran midfielder Ed Upson anchors the middle of the park in a set-up that has used no less than seven defensive-minded players in matches with Sunderland and Ipswich in 2020/21 so far.
Bristol Rovers’ creative spark should come through the attacking midfield players, which could be any two of Westbrooke, Sam Nicholson or Derby loanee Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, or even new signing McCormick. The pair support the central striker as a fluid triumvirate which will keep Rovers’ centre halves busy and might mean Ben Whiteman having to perform more of a defensive role at times in the game. Whiteman excelled in all areas against Charlton, earning ITEN’s Man of the Match award for his efforts, so will hopefully be able to meet this challenge capably.
Whiteman’s burden may also mean that Madger Gomes has to step up his defensive duties. The Spaniard has scored three excellent goals already this season but his ability to compete in the centre of the park is lacking at times, even if his willingness to get stuck into the tackle is good. Darren Moore must ensure his players are able to move the ball quickly through midfield to get on the front foot or else risk being bogged down by a restrictive Bristol defensive unit.
Gas fans may grimace when they look at the fact they face Doncaster Rovers this weekend, as the Reds are something of a “bogey team” for them. In the last eleven meetings going back to 2003, Rovers have beaten Bristol ten times including a pair of 2-0 wins last season. The most notable of these ten victories is the 2007 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at the Millennium Stadium, in which Graeme Lee’s extra time header won the day for Sean O’Driscoll’s side.
Bristol Rovers’ sole win in this run came in January 2018 when they won 3-1 at the Keepmoat thanks to goals from Ryan Sweeney, Rory Gaffney and Ellis Harrison. John Marquis had given Rovers an early lead but that was as good as it got for the home side, although only four players from the squad that afternoon survive at the club to this day: Joe Wright, Ben Whiteman, Danny Amos and, who else, James Coppinger.