Sam Nicholson believes Bristol Rovers’ win in the Papa John’s Trophy against Cheltenham will “breed confidence” amongst the squad ahead of Crawley Town’s visit to the Mem on Saturday in League Two.
Through injuries, lack of fitness and the general complications of introducing so many new players into a squad, it’s been a challenging month for the Gas, who before Tuesday night’s win over Cheltenham, had just one victory from their opening six competitive games.
Most recently, the Gas secured a point on the road against Barrow but really should have come away with all three as their opponents were down to 10 men for the best part of an hour.
Although Rovers returned from Cumbria with only one point, the likes of Sam Finley, Brett Pitman, Alex Rodman and Nicholson all got more minutes in the tank on their respective roads back to full fitness.
And the latter of that quartet was a key part of Rovers impressive performance and victory against League One opposition, albeit with Michael Duff making nine changes to his team from the weekend.
“I think the most important thing is getting the win so we’re obviously delighted with that and I think the way we played was really good,” Nicholson said.
“We kept the ball in right areas, we went long and stretched them at times. It was an all-round good performance from everyone. We’re all delighted and a win is going to breed confidence.”
Just 20 minutes after the full-time whistle, Rovers announced the deadline day signings of Antony Evans, Junior Brown and Leon Clarke, after the latter two had been training at The Quarters for the past few weeks.
Having trained alongside two of the three for at least a fortnight now, Nicholson believes they are only going to help the group grow and improve.
“They’ll bring a lot of experience that’s for sure, even in training they’re talking to the boys,” Nicholson added. “Leon has been doing really well and so has Junior so it’s good to see them early doors in training and now they’ve signed it’s just going to help us grow.
“They’re experienced players, they’ll bring loads to the table and the boys are looking forward to playing with them.
“We’ve seen in training what they can do and I’m more than certain they’re going to improve the team and that’s the most important thing. I think that’s why the gaffer has brought them here.”
Tuesday’s contest was Nicholson’s second start since returning from a niggling hip injury that was aggravated in March, causing him to miss the final few months of last season’s relegation campaign and a large chunk of pre-season.
Until the Barrow game last Saturday, Nicholson had been a used substitute in the previous three encounters in an attempt to build his match fitness.
And in what was his first competitive start in five months last Saturday, Nicholson found the back of the net and followed up that goal by scoring a delightful header that broke the deadlock against Cheltenham.
Despite the two goals in the last four days that will ultimately be a boost, Nicholson feels that the gradual increase in how long he is on the field for is just as important.
“I got more minutes as well and I definitely need them at the moment,” he said. “I had a long time out. I hadn’t played in about five to six months.
“I think if I didn’t start to tire, I would have got more minutes but after a long time out, playing 60 at the weekend and then 60 minutes again tonight is only going to be good for me. I’m a bit achy but I think that’s normal.”
While success in the Papa John’s Trophy is likely to be low down on the priority list for the Gas, the competition is perfect for players coming back from injuries and getting minutes into some members of the squad on the fringes of the first team.
Connor Taylor, Jed Ward and Sion Spence all featured against Cheltenham, with Taylor and Ward looking very comfortable at the back. While Spence had a huge part to play in one of the goals, which didn’t go unnoticed by Nicholson.
“I thought Sion (Spence) played really well,” the Scotsman said. “I’ve not got the best opinion in the world but I thought he was really good.
“Obviously, he’s not had a lot of game time so it would’ve done him the world of good in terms of confidence and getting an assist.”
The performance against Oldham several weeks ago has really been the only time Rovers have truly looked like a cohesive unit both offensively and defensively.
The recent displays away to Barrow and Exeter have been dismal and abject, but this performance can be something the squad can take forward into the next few league outings to try and get into the habit of winning games, something the club has struggled with over the last eight months.
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“We’ve been thinking about the last few games and we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t knock our confidence because it’s a long season, there’s so many games to put it right and I think tonight is a step in the right direction and we just need to grow on that and take it into the weekend,” Nicholson said.
“We’ve had injuries and people not managing to play a couple of games because of Covid cases earlier on and stuff like that.
“But now everyone is getting up to scratch and we’re starting to look more like a team and we’re going to just build on that.”