Bristol Rovers boss John Ward makes quick start in January recruitment drive
Bristol Rovers manager John Ward has started his survival recruitment drive by completing month-long loan deals for Colchester United midfielder John-Joe O'Toole and QPR striker Tom Hitchcock.
Both players reported for training at Rovers' Cribbs Causeway HQ this morning and Ward is now facing a race against time to ratify both signings with the Football League so the duo can be considered for selection ahead of tomorrow's clash with Plymouth Argyle at the Memorial Stadium (1pm).
O'Toole, 24, a former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international, has made over 100 league appearances since debuting for Watford in 2007 – but has been hampered by injury over the last couple of seasons and has arrived get games under his belt in a bid to force himself back into contention at Colchetser.
Hitchcock, 20, meanwhile, has yet to feature for QPR, but played eight games for Plymouth in a short loan spell at the start of last season and has been scoring freely in the Under-21 Development League in recent months.
Ward said: "I'm pleased to have been able to get these two boys in on short-term loan deals. John-Joe is a midfielder from Colchester, who I know pretty well, and Tom is a young striker from QPR.
"We're hoping to get the paperwork ratified in time so that both players will be available for selection tomorrow. John is a really strong midfield player with good experience.
"He's played to a good level in the Championship for Watford and will give you 35 or 40 games consistently every season. He's been injured recently, but has got himself back in and around the group at Colchester and wants to get his career going again.
"He'll get an opportunity to do that over the next few weeks here and I'm pleased to be able to add a very strong front-running midfielder player to our group. It gives us a little bit of added strength in the midfield area and I hope we can make that work.
On Hitchcock, Ward added: "Tom has scored plenty of goals for Queens Park Rangers at Under-21 level, which is no mean feat. That is a good level of football, but it is not quite the same as a game against Plymouth Argyle in front of a few thousand people.
"It is a big test for him, but he is a hard-working player, who certainly has a goal or two in him. They are two good lads with the right attitude to come and join the cause we are fighting for."
Ward is unlikely to add further new faces before tomorrow's game, but he added: "There will be more to come, but we have to be careful because we can only play five loans at any one time.
"There is no point in me getting seven people in on loan and then not be able to play all of them. We need to balance it out by getting players we already have here back and out of the treatment room."
The pitch at the Memorial Stadium, meanwhile, is playable this morning – although further rain is expected throughout the day.
"The weather has been a bit of a shame really, because the players' attitude has been spot-on and we'd have liked to have played more games over this little period," said Ward, who has only managed to take charge of one game due to recent postponements.
"The amount of rain we have had is something that is out of my control and, for me, all I can focus on is preparing the players and we will be ready if the game goes ahead tomorrow.
"I was disappointed that the Rotherham game was postponed and I am excited for what is my first game in charge at the Memorial Stadium. I know our supporters will applaud us on to the pitch and we have to make sure that they are applauding us off at the final whistle.
"It is a big one for us and one we certainly need to try and win. There is a bit of pressure on us because we only have 34 hours of football over 16 weeks left to save ourselves.
"It really is all hands to the pump now and we have to be prepared to give it everything we have got between now and the end of the season."
Defender Danny Woodards has returned to training after illness, but David Clarkson (ankle), Jim Paterson (hamstring) and Garry Kenneth (suspension) all miss out.
Midfielder Matt Lund, defender Cian Bolger and goalkeeper Sam Walker all play the last games of their respective loan spells and Ward is hoping to confirm whether or not all or some will be saying in the next few days.