Bristol Rovers' boss John Ward plays mind games with his players over survival
BRISTOL Rovers' boss John Ward says his players have received a useful psychological boost in their bid to successfully complete their survival bid after lifting themselves out of the bottom six for the first time this season on Saturday.
A solitary 35th-minute strike from Rovers striker Ryan Brunt was enough to secure a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers at the Memorial Stadium to increase the gap between Ward's in-form side and the relegation zone to seven points.
"It gives the players a real lift," said Ward. "We saw the other results on the TV in the changing room after the game and I think that, for the first time, the players are starting to look above themselves instead of behind them.
"This group of lads have been floundering around in the bottom six for so long and my question to them when I first came in was: "Why on Earth are you in this position?
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"The last couple of months have been a challenge, but the players have responded to what we have asked them to do and we're now seven points clear of the relegation zone.
"We still need a little bit more before we can start thinking that we may be safe, but there is a belief and togetherness amongst this group now that can hopefully see us push on and make some progress upwards."
Ward, meanwhile, was quick to praise his defenders for another resolute display to keep what a fourth clean sheet of the season.
"I'm very proud of the boys," said Ward. "That is as good a win as any that we've had because we really had to dig in.
"We had to keep our shape and our discipline for long spells and it was a performance that epitomised everything we have tried to do here since I arrived. The back five has been terrific and has been one area of the team that has been very consistent. There is a pride amongst those guys if they keep a clean sheet on a Thursday morning in training.
"You can see they have that determination and desire in them to let nothing past them when it really matters on a Saturday afternoon.
"Wycombe probably had more of the ball between the boxes, but we defended them very well. It was a bit of an away performance in that we had to dig in and work hard to get a result.
"There are different ways to win games and at this moment in time it doesn't matter how the victories come."
Brunt, meanwhile, scored his second goal in five games since joining on a permanent deal from Stoke City during the January transfer window. Ryan has made a good start to his career with us," said Ward. "We need to work from a solid base to get results because we are not confident enough to go out and play open football at the minute.
"Ryan has been a key part in that by holding the ball up and tirelessly working the channels for us."
Rovers return to action with a game against Rotherham United at the Memorial Stadium tomorrow night (7.45pm) and Ward added: "We have a lot of games to come over the next few weeks so our time to enjoy wins is limited before we have to start thinking about and preparing for the next match."