Joey, first of all, Leon Clarke. It was good to see him amongst the goals midweek. Given what he’s gone through, I guess your next step is managing his return with game time and getting it right?
Yeah. He was back probably a little ahead of schedule. Lofty missing the game accelerated him into the matchday squad and it was always the plan to have him available around the Swindon and Scunthorpe games.
You’re always delighted when the substitutes impact the game and obviously, we all know Leon’s quality and what he can bring, so to get that goal… He’s played probably 50 minutes for us and he’s scored one with his head and one with his feet and it’s been worth six points.
If the season stops tomorrow, it will be worth it just on that alone and long may his goalscoring run continue because they’ve been vital for us in the Crawley game and obviously the third goal was the one that put the game beyond Scunthorpe.
Really pleased with Clarkey and really pleased with the whole group, the staff behind it. There’s been times in the past where you’ve heard me bang on about the sport science and the medical department and we’ve worked not only to improve the first team and all the surrounding structures, but there is also the support structures that are absolutely key to having a successful organisation.
It’s really pleasing when nights like Tuesday happen, and to be fair to Leon, for him to acknowledge the work done by the people in the background is a huge indictment of the culture we all want to bring to Rovers.
How’s Ryan Loft? Is he back in contention for the weekend?
It was a head injury. Obviously you’ve got to be careful with those, but you’ll want him back in as soon as you possibly can?
Yeah, it was a couple of stitches in his eye. If it would have been the FA Cup final, he wouldn’t have missed the game.
For us, it was a case of there was a deal done and we had to be mindful of that. That obviously doesn’t apply when we play Scunthorpe again further down the track, but in those moments we just felt he’d played 90 minutes in the Swindon game and it was an opportunity to go a different way.
Thankfully, we returned with three points and that decision paid off.
Ryan’s an enormous part of what we want to do here and we want everybody at full tilt to keep progressing the group.
It must be nice in the changing room and on the training pitch at the moment. You’re on a four-game unbeaten run. Does that have any effect when you’re going into this weekend’s game against a team that has lost their last four?
No, I watched the game yesterday against Bradford and Walsall were really unfortunate not to take the lead in that game.
They will be kicking themselves that they haven’t managed to take anything out of it.
It’s a tricky fixture for us again. The games you’re expected to win, in my experience, are the hardest ones. The big games and the games against the sides in and around you kind of take care of themselves.
For us, we’re back in front of our fans in our stadium. The rapport between the team and the fans is growing.
I was doing my programme notes this morning. We need everyone playing their best and that’s not just the players on the pitch, that’s everybody who comes to the stadium.
If we’re going to mount a challenge in the second half of the season, we’re going to need that 12 th man.
The Mem and our fans as they’ve shown in the last two away games with 300-odd at Scunthorpe on a Tuesday night and nearly 3,000 at Swindon on the Saturday. If they keep turning up and supporting in those numbers as they have done all season through thick and thin, this group of players will respond.
We should have at least double what we had at Swindon in our stadium on Saturday.
We want the noise and our players will respond and I think as that relationship grows, it can only be beneficial for the football club and drive us to the places we want to get to.
Are you looking up the table to the play-off places or do you not really pay attention to the table at this stage? Is it just about game by game and when you get there, you’ll get there?
No, I’m looking at everything at all times, that’s my job as the manager. I’m looking at stats and indicators, when someone concedes early, what’s their response to it? I monitor everything, that’s my job.
For me, I’m aware of all the moving parts at every given time but the only thing that is important is the next game. I know it’s cliché but it’s the only thing we control.
Yes, we’re aware of the medium and long-term structures and strategies and stats, but you’ve also got to control the here and now.
For us, we’ve got a tough fixture in our stadium on Saturday. We’re on a good run and we want to continue that.
If we lose sight of that or lose focus, we won’t achieve what we want to achieve. For us, achieving everything is absolutely imperative on taking care of the next task at hand and the next job. For us, that’s Walsall.
Matt Taylor’s a former teammate of yours at Burnley, so he’s someone you know pretty well. How do you assess him in his management career?
He’s a good friend of mine, Matt. We shared a promotion together and some good times.
As a young coach, we’ve interacted with each other quite a bit because it’s a lonely position sometimes, being a head coach or a manager.
He’s proving he is a good manager. He’s got a real test on his hands because of the run that they’re on and he’ll certainly know all good and well, he’ll be getting no leg-ups from me. I only told him that on Sunday.
He phoned me about a couple of things and we had a bit of a laugh and a joke on the phone, but it will be business as usual.
Matt’s had a superb career, he’s a very competitive lad and he’s shown that in his coaching journey so far.
We know we’ll have a tough test. His team are running hard for him, they’re not playing like a team that’s struggling for results, so we’ll need to be at our absolute best to get anything out of the match.
Finally, Joey, we’re coming towards the end of the January transfer window. Is there anything likely to happen, in or out, before the deadline?
Is there anything you can share with us?
OK. But ‘expect some business’ is the message to the fans?
Sign up for our Rovers newsletter
The League Two season is in full swing for Joey Barton and Bristol Rovers and you won’t miss a beat with our free newsletter.
All the latest news, views, interviews, gossip and analysis concerning the Gas, delivered straight to your inbox, every day at 12:00.
It’s completely free and you can sign up HERE
Afternoon, Joey. I’ll pick up straight off the back of that question. You said on Tuesday that it could happen before the Walsall game. Is that still the case, or if anything happens will it be after Walsall?
We’re trying, but things can only unfold as fast as they can. They may not unfold.
You’re obviously dealing with players and agents and clubs, and they are not the most straightforward. It’s not like going in the shop and buying a newspaper, there’s a lot of moving parts.
We’re confident we’ll certainly delve into the market before the window closes.
At what level and how many, I’m not sure. As you know, it’s not like we’re looking for a lot. It might be one or two, and it might be one or two on the exit strategy.
We’re not a million miles away from getting the balance we want in the squad and if those opportunities are at the required quality and the right deal for everybody, we’ll do them.
We’re quite close on one or two, but quite close in our game… you might as well be a million miles away. They’re never done until they’re done.
Fingers crossed, we can execute. Ideally, I don’t want to be sitting around in the madcap of a Sunday and Monday transfer deadline, watching all the yellow ties on Sky Sports.
I don’t want that, I’d rather our fans had a nice relaxing Monday, but knowing football it will go right to the wire.
We’re trying to get it wrapped up early, but it could well go into deadline day.
You mentioned exit strategies. One play that concerns is Junior Brown. We spoke about that recently and you said you were going to have discussions with him about his future. What was the result of those talks?
We just had a chat. Players want to play football.
I spoke to Jun and said about his opportunities will probably be limited if we do what we need to do.
He wants to play football. At that age, those guys don’t want to finish as a glorified cheerleader, supporting the group of players going on a good run. They want to be playing and I’ve got to respect that.
I’ve got to pose that question to them. ‘Do you want to go and play football?’ Some players aren’t able to do that via injury or whatever, but I think most players want to play on a Saturday, contrary to what you read.
There will be the odd exception to the rule who will take that contract and not want to play. Danny Mills at Man City, I remember him having two years to run on his deal and he basically took every penny out of the club.
I can kind of see that, going to train every day, but I think most normal people and players want to go out and play football and would rather earn their money on a weekend, rather than have it given to them.
I think we’re fortunate in that way. Junior wants to play. I spoke to him about how his opportunities are going to be limited here based on the way we’re going to go. He hasn’t managed to capitalise on his opportunities here.
He’s never been a moment’s bother. He hasn’t been on the grass enough for me due to a couple of knocks and niggles, but every time he’s played for us he’s given a good account of himself.
But for me, I’ve got to go and get the best option for the squad.
Obviously, Josh Grant has been superb in that position, but obviously I need a bit of insulation. We’ve got to protect Josh because he’s a player we want to build robustness and 46-game seasons into, but at this moment in time that is the process we’re following and we don’t expect him to be able to go Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday.
If he does, great, but we need to protect the squad against that not happening.
In the same position you do have Trevor Clarke, but he’s not been in the past couple of squads. What’s the situation there? Is he injured?
He’s had surgery again on his groin. He’s just come back, he had it done two days ago.
He’s probably looking at four to six weeks. It’s disrupted him again and I feel sorry for Trev, he just hasn’t had a run of fitness and form.
Trevor and Junior were brought in to compete for left-back and left wing-back, and that hasn’t transpired. You can’t take your Antony Evans and Connor Taylors and James Belshaws, not every transfer goes exactly how you would imagine it to go.
I’m disappointed for the lads because they’re good lads, but at the end of the day this is a business and I’ve got to do the best thing for the team and I’ve got to get every single pound that we invest in the team helping us on a matchday, and at this moment in time Trev and Junior aren’t in a position because of their injury to be able to do that.
Harvey Saunders was with you on Tuesday. Is he there or thereabouts to play?
Yeah, we had to get the sign-off from the surgeon with his hand injury.
He’s obviously chomping at the bit to get involved. He travelled with the squad and was 19 th man on Tuesday, just to get him back in the feel of it.
He was fuming that he wasn’t in the matchday squad, which is classic Harvey. He’s a great kid.
After the game, he was like ‘I would’ve scored a hat-trick there’, and I can’t say he wouldn’t have. He’s a nuisance and that last 20 minutes of the game when big Leon came on, Harvey’s pace would have been a real asset for us.
Thankfully he’s got the OK from the surgeon now to be back in full contact and full training, so he comes back into the squad, as does Alex Rodman, who’s back on the periphery of it.
Really pleased. We’ve got some bodies and key components coming back to fitness.
Sam Finley was an injury concern in that game. Is he going to be OK? And is Glenn Whelan going to be back involved this weekend?
Yeah, Whelo had a family bereavement last week and he’s gone back to Ireland. We gave him a lot of time to go back and be with his family.
He phoned me this morning and he said he’s going to be back tomorrow, so he should be in the matchday squad.
I’m not sure what time his flight is in but he’ll come back into consideration.
Sam is going for a scan this afternoon. We don’t think it’s too major and we took him off as a precaution.
He’s 50/50 at the moment for Saturday’s game, but because we go Saturday to Saturday from the Walsall fixture, he’s hopeful for the one after that.
We’re hoping there’s good news on the scan today and we don’t have to rule him out, but I won’t know until the medical guys have had their way with him.
Finally, some quotes were published yesterday in Swindon from Ben Garner on the way your team went about the game as a team. He was talking about “repeated fouls” and the referee not managing it. What is your reaction to that take on that game?
I didn’t see that type of game. I thought our players were treated a little unfairly by the referee.
I thought it was a good, honest contest and they were as guilty of fouling as we were. Both teams were trying to win.
I didn’t see that. I considered myself quite a physical player who played quite physical, and no disrespect to Ben but he didn’t actually play football.
Maybe if you’ve never played football, the game on Saturday might feel a bit aggressive, but to people who have played the game and played the game at a good level, that was just a good game of football.
Disappointed to hear that, but I see that as a badge of honour. If our team are physical and putting it about for the shirt, that’s the minimum we can do.
We’ve got a big away following going into a local derby against a team that’s above us in the table and beat us at home. I’m really proud that he said my players competed hard and I look forward, if we do manage to face them again a season, we can’t wait to get our hands on Swindon Town again.
You’re actually the most fouled team in League Two. Why do you think that is? Is it because you’ve got some quite cute players who are good at winning fouls?
Is that right? Has he complained we’re foulers, and we’ve been the most fouled team?
According to WhoScored, you’re the most fouled team.
I don’t know (why). It’s because we try to play football and pass it and take chances underneath the ball.
We’ve got wingers and midfielders who are capable of going past people.
I’ve not really thought we’re harshly treated or harshly fouled and teams have been aggressive towards us. I just see it that football is a contact sport and people who’ve played the game – not read about it in a book or watched a coaching seminar – and been in the arena, we know the elements of football.
It’s not just the technical or tactical stuff, it’s about the physicality and the distance you run and the power you can produce in those moments.
I think it’s been a good competitive season and I’ve really enjoyed League Two. It’s a lot more competitive than League One in terms of its physicality, so you’re going to have to accept there is going to be physicality in there and if you’re not used to that I don’t think you’ll be successful in League Two.
It seems every team has got something to prove and wants to try their utmost to get a result and certainly against us – and I know people use this as a quote – we’ve kind of been everyone’s cup final.
We’ve got the best pitch in the league, the best playing surface, with a big crowd and every time somebody has come they have improved their game for us.
I see that as a badge of honour. We want to face the best of everybody. I want them at their absolute best because you’ve got to be at your best to turn them over and beat them.
In the early part of the season, a lot of teams were better than us because they were rising to the challenge and the occasion, and certainly in recent weeks and months, our boys have grown and started to show that real desire to be big players at a big club and long may it continue.