Bristol news Defensive need, creative hole and the positions Barton wants to fill at Rovers PremierLeague-News.Com
PremierLeague-News.Com - Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton has set himself an ambitious target before the summer window comes to an end
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! Some managers like to keep their transfer expectations either silent, modest or abstract, for obvious reasons; set a demand for too many and if you haven’t hit that figure once the window passes then your recruitment is instantly deemed a failure. Joey Barton is not, as we know, some managers, given his unorthodox and brutally honest approach to everything he does and he has consistently spelled out exactly how many players he wants to see come through the doors of the Quarters before September 1. Granted, there is some leeway within his wish for “six or seven” but even the lower figure of the two is a significant target with 28 days of the window remaining - Rovers need a new signing every four and a bit days at this rate. Of course, Barton hasn’t spelled out exactly what and who he wants, but even a cursory look at the squad reveals the key areas that need addressing to make up that “six or seven” that may or may not arrive before September is upon us. Read More Related Articles AFC Wimbledon manager sends transfer message to Bristol Rovers over Luke McCormick Read More Related Articles Joey Barton explains Bristol Rovers coaching staff expansion and clarifies Glenn Whelan's role Centre-back x2 In sheer numbers right now it’s arguably the weakest department in the Gas squad. Putting the Luca Hoole experiment to one side for a moment, Barton’s only recognised and specialist centre-backs are 20-year-old James Connolly and Alfie Kilgour who’s made 10 starts since the beginning of last season due to a series of injury issues. It’s wholly trivial and irrelevant in the wider picture but for the purposes of this discussion, Nick Anderton’s cancer diagnosis has left Rovers further short in the position, adding to the loan departure - and increasingly unlikely return - of Connor Taylor. As mentioned, Hoole has been trialled for two matches and there are encouraging signs, while right-back James Gibbons can play in a three-man backline, but those options are out of need rather than necessary desire. Barton has already ruled out the prospect of either Sam Heal or Jamie Egan making the step up this season so the only way to reinforce the position is in the transfer market with the expectation that there’ll be one Taylor-type; as in a loan from a higher division, which Jake O’Brien seems to fit. Then perhaps a more experienced figure, but they are likely to be expensive and, as the manager has alluded to, he doesn’t have a huge amount of transfer resource to work with and with finances focused on first-team players in other areas, paying for a third or fourth choice centre-back isn’t particularly desirable which could mean the free agent market is explored or they secure a late pick-up in the window. Read More Related Articles FA detail reasons and express concern as Bristol Rovers are fined for pitch invasions Left-back Gibbons does come into the equation as possible cover here but there’s only so many versions of him you can get onto the field and what was something of a problem position last term, continues to be as 2022/23 has kicked off. Harry Anderson and Josh Grant filled in a lot last term but neither is a specialist there. Rovers could also, to an extent, get away with having Anderson, and his overt attacking instincts there, because down the second half of the season they were just so much better than everyone else. That just won’t be the case in League One with the standard of the opposition and the threats they pose so much higher. Grant is also probably more suited as a wing-back and, like Kilgour, has questions around his availability; exactly how many games can he be expected to play after such a long injury history? Trevor Clarke has been considered first-choice, at least in the eyes of spectators having taken to the Irishman over the course of pre-season, but Barton’s words in the wake of the Forest Green Rovers defeat indicate the manager views the 24-year-old as a secondary option, at best. So essentially, right now, Rovers have no first-choice left-back, which is a concern. Read More Related Articles Stoke City manager's Connor Taylor claim shows Bristol Rovers' huge impact on defender Centre midfield We’re into positions of want, as opposed to need here, because on the face of it Rovers are well stocked in terms of bodies, and quality, here: Grant, Paul Coutts, Sam Finley, Antony Evans, new signing Jordan Rossiter and Zain Westbrooke, albeit with Barton’s assessment of the latter still lingering in the air, and - if needed - Glenn Whelan. All offer something a little different in terms of their attributes and can be fielded in various combinations.
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. With Coutts suspended, Finley and Grant injured, Westbrooke off the pace and Rossiter not up to speed with his teammates, the Gas looked vulnerable in an area of the pitch that should be their biggest strength. Barton doesn’t want to impact Evans’ effectiveness by bringing him into a deeper role and, as a side point, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he also has something of a point to prove at League One level after inconsistent loans with Blackpool and Crewe Alexandra before he became a Rovers player. Barton ultimately wants another midfielder to be the bridge between defence and attack, in a similar vein to Finley who can graft but also provide some guile further up the field and bring more fluidity to Rovers in possession. Step forward, of course, Luke McCormick, who very much ticks all these boxes and can be plugged in as an offensive-minded No10, either replacing Evans or allowing the 23-year-old to move out to the right; likewise with a strong defensive player alongside him in the pivot, can be a box-to-box presence in the middle of the park.
Luke McCormick dribbles past Cheltenham Town's Grant Horton (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Winger x2 The title is a slight misnomer because we don’t necessarily mean old-school chalk-on-the-boots widemen but more creative players who can fill wide areas. The reason for this is very simple - whereas in 2022/23 Rovers had Luke Thomas, Sam Nicholson, Elliot Anderson and Harry Anderson occupying the right and left-sided channels to feed Aaron Collins, now they have just one - the latter of the Andersons. It’s a significant shortfall to make up; Thomas and Nicholson didn’t have outstanding individual seasons but they were still worth five goals and nine assists between them, and once you factor in Elliot Anderson’s individual haul of seven goals and six assists that really is a significant gap in the final third to fill. In terms of key passes over the campaign, Nicholson ranked third overall with 44, Elliot Anderson fifth with 39 and Thomas eighth on 23. It’s a sizeable chunk of creativity - 24 per cent of the team’s total output across last season, as it goes. We’re all coming around to the reality that Elliot Anderson is more likely to be starring on Match of the Day than the Mem, while discussions remain ongoing with Barnsley over bringing Thomas back which would fill one of the above spots, but another is also needed because that’s a huge creative load for Harry Anderson and Evans to bear on their own. Aaron Collins admittedly could come into the equation as he moves into a more withdrawn role but ideally Barton would want the Welshman on the end of passes in the final third, not consistently the man making them.
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Striker Similar to the centre midfield discussion, Collins, John Marquis, Ryan Loft and Harvey Saunders isn’t exactly a weak group of strikers to have but with the exception of the new man through the door, none are really proven League One performers. Rovers’ understandable faith in Collins is evidenced by his new contract so clearly the expectation is that he will transfer his smarts in League Two into the third tier, while Saunders has played at this level but, in Barton’s own words, Loft still has some way to go and although showed flashes here and there down the final stretch of last season, didn’t consistently convince as a Gas striker, let alone someone who can hit the ground running in League One. The ifs, buts and maybes of this position is why Marquis is so important, but his output in front of goal is intrinsically linked to and dictated by the previous section; for all his recognised quality in front of goal, without regular service, exactly how many can he be expected to score? He’s not a Collins-type who can create moments out of nothing and fashion a consistent run of chances for himself. Which is why a more mobile Collins-like option could appeal to Barton, but likewise another stand-up striker similar to Loft who has a degree of experience at this level could be suitable. You can make a case for either, and in a perfect world, Rovers would be able to sign both but, as he’s increasingly indicated, Barton doesn’t have such luxury. SIGN UP: To receive our free Rovers newsletter, bringing you the latest from the Mem READ NEXT: Rovers hero Elliot Anderson in running to start for Newcastle United in Premier League Danny's first day, Coutts the coach and Jaakkola's double time – Rovers moments missed Barton opens up on Nick Anderton's cancer diagnosis and Rovers' pledge to defender
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