Optimism was at a high in north Bristol ahead of the 2021/22 season. A complete squad overhaul had occurred, fans were back in stadiums and Rovers were early-season promotion favourites.
Fast-forward a fortnight and that optimism has taken a dent.
Many Gasheads will have seen Chris Lines score decisive goals at the Mem over the years and they witnessed another one this past weekend, unfortunately for them it was in an opposition shirt.
The Rovers hero volleyed home from a corner two minutes from the end, and Luke Norris compounded the defeat by adding a second deep into added time.
While the obvious lack of a number nine was exposed for Rovers at the weekend and the quality of their former player was telling, here are a few moments you may have missed from Saturday’s action…
Lines’ Mem-orable return
With 88 minutes on the clock, it seemed inevitable the contest between Stevenage and Bristol Rovers was going to end goalless, until one man known very well in this part of the country stepped up to the plate.
However, his day back at the Mem was much more than just the superb 90 minutes he put in for Stevenage.
Lines arrived at the ground by himself, taking the long way round to the players entrance which included walking past hundreds of Gasheads enjoying a pre-match pint, some of whom exchanged pleasantries with the midfielder, who in turn responded, just showcasing his time for the football club where over a decade of his career had been spent.
When both sets of players came out onto the pitch for their warm-ups, Lines received a similar ovation to that of the current Rovers squad and cheers echoed throughout the terraces whenever his name was read out on the PA system.
For the walkout onto the pitch, Stevenage had two extra bodies in their line as Lines was accompanied by his daughters, one stood either side of him and Lines told Bristol Live after the game that the club had made it possible for his family to come and watch.
On the grass, experience was telling, as Lines along with Jake Taylor ran the midfield show and helped Stevenage run out deserved winners.
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Following the full-time whistle, Lines was one of the last players down the tunnel after going to every corner of the stadium to show his appreciation for the many Gasheads still left in the ground.
After what had been an extremely long afternoon for Lines which included some post-match interviews from reporters covering both clubs, the 35-year-old still took the time to sign some young Gasheads’ shirts, autograph books and even phone cases before heading home with his family and three points.
Pitman and Coutts unavailable but still involved
While there were significant returns for the likes off Sam Nicholson, Alex Rodman and Sam Collins, two players who were still absent from the matchday squad for Rovers was Brett Pitman and Paul Coutts.
The latter was sent off in the game at Mansfield following some handbags, while Pitman picked up a slight injury in Rovers 3-2 pre-season win over Oxford.
But rather than sitting in the stands to watch the game, both 33-year-olds could be seen making the walk from the tunnel to the bench.
And with Barton’s coaching department down a man for the game, following the absence and eventual confirmed departure of Clint Hill, an extra two minds with plenty of football league experience could definitely help what was a predominantly youthful Rovers team.
However, Barton could’ve done with both on the pitch, with Rovers underwhelming in midfield and without a focal point up front.
While it is useful having the likes of Pitman and Coutts in the dressing room, their services are far more useful on the pitch, but it’s likely going to be a while yet before both are playing in blue and white at the same time.
Coutts needs to serve one more match of his three-game ban while Barton revealed in his post-match press conference that Pitman is not in contention for Tuesday’s clash with Oldham Athletic.
Stevenage coach offers Gasheads a moment to enjoy
It’s fair to say that minus the wondergoal Cian Harries scored at Mansfield, enjoyment has been at a premium for Gasheads so far this season, but there was something that would’ve definitely put a smile on a few faces inside the Mem on Saturday.
Stevenage assistant manager Dean Wilkins was very animated on the touchline in the first half, often giving instructions to several visiting players and at points clearly leaving his technical area.
Many eagle-eyed fans in the lower terrace of the East Stand spotted this and began shouting at fourth official James Vallance to make him aware of Wilkins leaving his technical area.
At first Wilkins was simply instructed by Vallance to remain in the technical area, but every time he went up to hand out more instructions, he would practically be on the pitch.
And every time it happened more and more fans would make themselves heard until eventually Wilkins was told to sit back down which was met by the loudest cheer from Rovers fans of the day, with even Wilkins turning round to give a wry smile to those who had caught him out.
Barton’s quick arrival and departure
With the dugouts and tunnel at opposite ends of the pitch, it usually means a slow, leisurely walk for the substitutes and staff.
But instead of calmly making his way over to where he would spend the next 90 minutes, Barton deployed a quick jog across the field while accepting the applause from hundreds of Gasheads in the Thatchers terrace.
Early on in the contest, the same section who had applauded Barton when making his way to the dugout broke out into a “Joey, Joey give us a wave” chant, but unfortunately this time were left disappointed as the manager was firmly focused on the battle ongoing in front of him.
While the fans were loud in their support throughout the 90 minutes, the final-whistle boos were a clear message of frustration in Barton’s direction, who made for the exit while thanking the fans despite the jeers in reverberating around the ground.
Many Gasheads are losing patience, maybe not with Barton alone but the club as a whole after a frankly woeful 18-month spell on the pitch.
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Darren Sarll watching on
Rovers’ start to the season has been far from ideal with injuries and suspensions causing Barton to at times play younger members of his squad and while it is far from ideal, there will be one man very grateful for that.
Of the 7,000-plus spectators inside the stadium on Saturday afternoon, one was Yeovil Town manager Darren Sarll who was seated at the very top of the east stand.
With the National League season set to kick off a few weeks behind the EFL campaign and the rest of non-league on August 28, Sarll will be looking to finalise his squad and was in attendance to potentially look at some loan acquisitions.
And with Yeovil not too far down the road it could be a good place for some less experienced players on the books of Rovers to earn valuable first-team minutes at National League level.
Sarll was in attendance for the Carabao Cup tie against Cheltenham Town last Tuesday, too. Watch this space…