Bristol Rovers were among England’s form teams in the second half of last season and, after winning promotion from League Two in dramatic circumstances, they have taken that momentum into League One.
The Gas won 17 of their final 26 games in 2021-22 and it’s looking good for them after the step up to the third tier.
With two wins in three – a 1-0 opening day loss to Forest Green was followed by a 4-0 thumping of Burton Albion then a 1-0 victory over Oxford United – Joey Barton’s side sit third in the standings.
Max Alderson from GasCast Podcast says he’s “largely positive” about the first three performances.
“With some bad injury luck in the summer, we started the first game with a makeshift midfield that FGR comfortably overpowered, and we struggled to gain any control of the match.
“I thought we held out tremendously and it took a special goal for the visitors to take all three points.
“The Burton game we were much more ourselves, with Sam Finley back in the starting eleven, and a natural left-back in Lewis Gordon adding needed balance to the side.
“We attacked with intent and seemed to continue the attractive brand of football we saw at the tail end of the last campaign, with Aaron Collins and Antony Evans at the heart of everything.
“We then took that into the Oxford game, which was a very physical and intense matchup, capitalising on our chances and shutting the game down in the second half.
“I feel like the first three games have been a good litmus test for how we will fare, having put a weak team to the sword, before showing our grit against a talented Oxford United side.”
Finley’s two starts have led to two wins for the Gas, leading some to claim the former Accrington Stanley midfielder takes on more importance to Rovers than any League One player does to their team – Max agrees.
“He’s integral to the way we want to play. His pressing and ball-winning skills are often overlooked.
“I believe he’s our best player in both the attacking and defensive transition, both breaking down counter attacks and launching them when the ball is won.
“On top of that, his long-range passing is superb, spotting balls that no one else can in our team.
“I’m surprised a player of his ability hasn’t played at Championship level, and if he continues playing as well as he is, I’m sure he may garner some interest.”
Despite Finley’s brilliance in a great collective start, Joey Barton may still be looking to add to the squad.
The Gas are allowed to make up to five more loan signings between now and the end of the window, with only Everton defender Lewis Gibson arriving in that market, but Max says sustainability is key.
“It’s a case-by-case basis I think. Tying down James Connolly after a successful loan shows we are looking to develop some loans into prospects of our own.
“Generally, it seems that Barton likes to use the loan market as a final flourish to his transfer business, after he’s assembled a strong core of permanent players.
“I think they’re very much the icing on the cake, rather than key ingredients of the system we’re building – that was the case last season with Connolly and Anderson.
“ I’m expecting one or two exciting prospects to come in at the tail end of the window who can add some quality to our squad.”
The right finishing touches will help the BS7 club achieve their ambitions, although the definition of them can vary, depending on the Gashead asked.
“Whilst survivial and stability are important,” Max says, “our sights have to be set further, I think.”
“We have unfinished business in this division after doing very little in our previous five-year stint.
“The aim is not just to take part in the division, but to compete in it, and make teams fear playing us. We have the potential to do that, with some great attacking and creative options in the side.
“With the momentum from promotion and the confidence we have, at the very least I think Rovers want to stamp a mark on the division and turn some heads.”
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