Home Sports Barton’s gamble, Gas’ new hotshot, officials stay warm – Bristol Rovers moments...

Barton’s gamble, Gas’ new hotshot, officials stay warm – Bristol Rovers moments missed


Bristol Rovers’ habit of shooting themselves in the foot made another unwanted appearance on Tuesday night as the Gas’ shocking disciplinary record cost them dearly against Port Vale at the Mem.

For the fifth time this season, Rovers ended proceedings with fewer than 11 players on the pitch, and perhaps more worryingly, went down to nine men for the second time in just under two months.

After just 15 minutes Sam Finley was given his marching orders for what was deemed a violent conduct incident following an off the ball incident with Vale captain Tom Conlon.

The visitors then took significant advantage of the sending off with Ben Garrity netting twice in the space of two minutes just after the half-hour mark.

Aaron Collins’ deflected effort brought the Gas back to life on 52 minutes, but a potential second-half fight back was pushed further out of reach when Cian Harries was sent off 13 minutes from time meaning Darrell Clarke’s return to North Bristol as Port Vale manager saw them leave with the points.

Here are a few moments you may have missed from Tuesday night …

The un-miss able moment that changed the game

Ironically every single one of the 6,071 in attendance would know that Sam Finley’s 15th minute red card was exactly when the game flipped, but it was the following 15 minutes which ultimately decided the game.

In the system currently deployed by Barton, with wing-back availability at a minimum, Finley is arguably the most important player in blue and white quarters with his effortless turns and passes often linking the midfield pivot to the attacking triplet seamlessly.

His sending off may well be unfortunate but he’s experienced enough to know to not get himself in those positions and his early departure created a significant problem for the Gas, one they recovered from too late.

With the front three free to roam round the top end of the pitch, Finley’s job of supporting them and also assisting Paul Coutts and Glenn Whelan defensively was crucial, but without him, a massive gap would’ve been left for Vale to exploit.

This quite clearly meant a change was needed and this involved Collins being left up top by himself with Sam Nicholson and Antony Evans deployed out wide to just cope with the likely Vale onslaught that was coming.

The scoreboard at the Mem with Cian Harries and Sam Finley sent off (Will Cooper/JMP)

Weirdly though the Gas fashioned the best two chances after the sending off. Harry Anderson just missed the target while Connor Taylor headed over from close-range.

The visitors soon hit the front though, taking advantage of Nicholson’s and Evans’ uncertainty over whether to push forward and assist Collins or hold firm and see through the oncoming barrage.

Vale attacked relentlessly down the flanks including some overlapping centre-back runs from Lewis Cass which led directly to the second goal.

Evans’ unfamiliarity tracking off the ball runs out wide saw Cass sneak in behind the Rovers backline and cross unchallenged for Garrity to simply tap in.

Sensing this problem was likely to continue, Barton took a gamble on taking off his most creative player in Evans to give the team more balance and match up Vale for the second 45, which worked to great effect.

Subtle to significant new warm-up routine

For nearly two months, the Gas kept their warm-ups almost identical each week, but having now added the team huddle before heading in for a final brief, changes are beginning to happen far more often.

At first it was a miniscule difference in the usual passing drill that Kevin Bond took part in ahead of the game against Forest Green a few weeks ago, with the squares set up now leaning towards being more landscape than portrait with the gaps between each cone tighter as well.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Gas have seemingly added two new drills to the very beginning and end of their preparation.

Now it seems their arrival is greeted by two circles of rondo with two players in the middle, while just before the final rallying call in the huddle from Paul Coutts, Rovers undertake several different ways of advancing, moving through and avoiding cones set up by sports scientist Tom Short.

Striker problem solved?

It’s pretty evident to most that the Gas are in desperate need of a striker and will likely enquire about several in January, but they may actually have one already on the books they weren’t aware of.

During the goalkeeping warm-ups, James Belshaw was on target twice against Jed Ward following some crosses from goalkeeping coach Tony Ward that were aimed at Ward for catching practice but instead fell perfectly to the right boot of Belshaw.

His first goal was a slightly skewed hit that Ward likely allowed to nestle in the bottom corner, but his second goal has Puskas-potential.

The former Harrogate man quickly adjusted his body, swivelled his hips and launched an absolute rocket into the top corner, a shot that even he would have had trouble saving.

Unfortunately for the Gas, Belshaw is far too important protecting the goal at the other end, but if he is ever sent up for a corner in the dying embers of a game, don’t be too surprised if he picks out the top corner.

Sarll in the stands, again

Many recognisable faces have been seated at the Mem for Bristol Rovers games this season, with former Premier League footballer Mile Jedinak the most notable and Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff totalling four appearances, two of which were from the dugout.

For the defeat to Port Vale though it was Yeovil Town manager Darren Sarll in the stands, making his second appearance in the complimentary seating at the Mem after last watching the Gas lose their opening home league game of the season to Stevenage.

Sarll’s Yeovil were also in the draw for the third round of the FA Cup after beating Stevenage on Saturday evening, and for overcoming League Two opposition, the Glovers were rewarded with an exciting home tie against high-flying Championship outfit Bournemouth.

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An unfamiliar sight

December often see’s the gloves, Under Armours and long sleeves come out for many footballers, but in every game of football I’ve watched, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a linesman don a pair of gloves, until now.

The assistant in front of the press box in the first half or perhaps more easily identifiable as the linesmen not involved in the dismissal of Sam Finley was geared up in the usual official attire, except for the plain black gloves on his hands.

But in all honesty who can blame him, the temperature is plummeting and on a cold night where the potential for standing still for a significant period of time is high, I’m amazed I haven’t seen it more often before.

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