Joey Barton admits he feels “shell-shocked” after Bristol Rovers’ thumping at the hands of Exeter City on Saturday, but the manager remains adamant he will lead the Gas to promotion this season.
The hopes of the 1,100 travelling fans at St James Park that Rovers could reward them with victory were buried within 24 minutes, with the Grecians romping into a 4-0 lead.
Matt Jay bagged a brace before Timothee Dieng and Harry Kite heaped more misery on Barton and his players in an abysmal first half.
Sam Finley scored a superb goal in the second half, but it was scant consolation on a woeful afternoon for Rovers and their manager.
“It was really difficult, bizarre really,” Barton said. “No team I’ve ever coached has conceded two goals or three goals in that type of period, probably barring the play-off semi-final (at Fleetwood).
“So I’m a little bit shell shocked and there was no indicator of that this week. The lads trained superbly and yesterday’s training was arguably as sharp and as crisp as it’s ever been at the club.
“We’ve got to realise no one is going to respect us. Nobody is going to care about the travelling fans that we’ve brought and the size of the club that we could potentially be.
“We are a massive target for everyone in the division because of some of the players we’ve got and we’ve got to learn and I think that the lads have learned today that you’ve got to win the physicality. It takes 50, 60, 70 minutes, whether that’s in Sunday league or Premier League.
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“You’ve got to turn up and you’ve got to establish where the contest is going to take place, credit to Exeter at every opportunity they turned our backline round, and that’s where their good play and moments came from.
“It’s very rare in a game you see six shots and four of them go in the back of your net.”
Barton apologised to supporters at full time, but despite a third defeat in the opening four League Two games of the campaign, he stayed true to his assertion that he will lead the Gas back to League One this season – though he asked for patience while his team develops.
“I apologise to the fans who paid their hard-earned cash,” he said.
“They’re going to have to stick with us and I thought they did. I thought they were superb. A couple were giving a bit of stick, which is expected. I’m a football fan, I’ve paid my money and I get that.
“But the majority understand the process. I think they’re quite smart and they understand the process and they know it’s going to take time to change what has been in many regards a very amateur setup.
“The club was in the dark ages in many departments when we came in and it takes time to change that.
“They’ve just got to stick with it, and if they do I’m absolutely convinced we can get them a football club and a football team that starts to put smiles back on faces and rewards their excellent support.
“I know we’re going to get promoted. I have no doubt about that.
“It was always going to be tricky this start. I’ve been in the game a long long time and you can’t (just) cut the cancer out of a club like we have done since we’ve been here.
“We’ve got bits to do, clearly we’re not fully in remission and recovered.”