Bristol Rovers boss Mark McGhee is already planning for next season
MARK McGhee has already started planning for next season as he looks to shape a Bristol Rovers squad capable of mounting a sustained challenge for promotion.
The Pirates head into tomorrow’s home game with Macclesfield boosted by a marked turnaround in form since the departure of previous boss Paul Buckle.
Now 12 points clear of the drop zone, after only one defeat in their last eight games, McGhee is well on the way to achieving the primary task presented him when he took over in January – keeping the side in the Football League.
But the manager is already looking beyond the rest of this season and pondering the futures of the squad he has inherited – although he has ruled out another summer of wholesale changes.
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One player went through the exit door yesterday with experienced striker Scott McGleish rejoining his former club Barnet for an initial month-long loan.
“It’s to be fair to him because he’s not been involved,” said McGhee.
“He’s out of contract in the summer, he’s a London lad who lives down that way and it’s right that he should have the opportunity – not just for this season but for next season.
“With Joe Anyinsah, Matt Harrold, Eliot Richards and Chris Zebroski, we have plenty of cover.”
McGleish is one of 14 Rovers players whose deals expire at the end of the season.
The others are Byron Anthony, Michael Boateng, Wayne Brown, Ollie Clarke, Charlie Clough, Lance Cronin, Darren Jefferies, Kayne McLaggon, Lamar Powell, Charlie Reece, Eliot Richards, Gary Sawyer and Danny Woodards.
“We are looking at the situation with the contracts of the present squad and I had a meeting with the chairman after training yesterday to chat over a few things,” said McGhee, pictured.
“We are already preparing for pre-season and we have to do that because we want to be ahead of the game.
“The theory is that it can make the summer a bit easier, but the reality is that we are still likely to be scrambling around because people don’t want to make decisions.
“For instance, agents always want players to defer decisions because they think there is something better for them around the corner, so their attitude is to keep you waiting and see what happens because they already have an offer on the table.
“I’d love to go off after the last game of the season knowing that the squad for next season is already in place, so we know exactly who is going to be here when we come back for pre-season on July 9, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that.
“I’m quite sure that just before the first game of the season, we will still be running around trying to make a signing or two.”
Buckle brought in 19 new faces during his time with the club, as the Pirates underwent a massive transition following last season’s relegation.
“I don’t see wholesale changes for next season,” said McGhee. “There will be one or two players coming out of contract that we will look to keep, and one or two others who we will allow to leave in order to make some space.
“We have to leave ourselves a little bit of scope to make some space to bring in some fresh blood, and some of that can be achieved by what you might call a natural cull with people out of contract.”
McGhee again signalled his interest in offering central defender Aaron Downes a future at the Memorial Stadium.
The on-loan Chesterfield player put in a string of impressive performances before suffering a knee injury.
“Aaron is a great professional and he was doing well for the team before he was injured,” said McGhee.
“His contract at Chesterfield is up this summer and I’ll be looking at the possibility (of signing him) – although he still has to prove his fitness.
“But I’m hoping there will be time for him to still play some games for us before the end of this season.”
Former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler, 36, is training with Blackpool with a view to joining the npower Championship club.
The 36-year-old has played in Australia and Thailand since leaving English football in 2008, following a brief spell with Blackburn.