PREVIEW: Oxford United vs Bristol Rovers
BRSITOL Rovers defender Tom Parkes believes the added responsibility of being handed the captain's armband is helping him mature into a more rounded and disciplined player.
Manager John Ward was quick to hand Parkes the captaincy after Garry Kenneth was ruled out for the remainder of the season at the start of January prior to a run of games during which Rovers have been unbeaten.
Parkes, pictured, however, has had to work hard on improving his on-pitch discipline after picking up six yellow cards before a further two warranted a sending-off and a subsequent suspension at AFC Wimbledon on October 23.
The defender has since picked up only one booking in 14 games since and he said: "I've already said that I enjoy the responsibility of being the skipper and I had to improve my disciplinary record if I was to be the leader on the pitch.
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"I had a really bad run at the start of the season when I was diving into tackles and mistiming them. I got sent off against AFC Wimbledon and that was a turning point for me.
"I spoke to (Premier League referee) Lee Probert after that and he told me what I was doing wrong. I also spoke to (former manager) Mark McGhee and I feel I have learned my lesson. You have to learn from your mistakes. I looked at all the yellow cards I had picked up at the start of the season and I looked at how I might approach things differently. I have cut out the diving into challenges and am learning to stand my ground a bit more and it is starting to pay off."
Parkes, meanwhile, paid tribute to team-mate Oliver Norburn for the wonder goal in stoppage-time that helped Rovers claim a point at Cheltenham Town on Tuesday night.
Norburn has forced his way into manager Ward's thoughts after a spell on the bench in the early days of his reign and Parkes said: "Wow!" What else can you say about a goal like that?"
He added: "I remember the ball going to Ollie and just thinking what a wonderful strike it was when it flew into the top corner.
"Ollie is a good player, but he doesn't really shoot as much as he should. He's still a young lad learning the game like a lot of us in the squad. Sometimes we do the wrong thing, but we are learning how to become better players all the time.
"Ollie has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few games and has got on the ball and kept things ticking over for us in the middle of the park. He is a good prospect who will become a very good player."
Norburn's last-gasp effort sparked scenes of wild celebrations among players and supporters alike to ensure Rovers will go into the next stage of the survival bid in good spirits at Oxford United tomorrow.
"You can't moan about the fact that 1,500 supporters turned out to come and watch us at Cheltenham on a Tuesday night and you could see how much that goal meant to them," said Parkes.
"There is a real togetherness between us and the supporters at the moment and we are working hard to try and keep that going until the end of the season. We know that Oxford presents us with another very big challenge, but we will be ready for it because the management team are spot on with how they prepare us. They have been amazing."