Bristol Rovers' inexperience is exploited by the Gills
ONE can only guess what Gillingham boss Martin Allen's motives were for casually revealing that at one time in the past he had 'begged' Bristol Rovers chairman Nick Higgs to hand him the vacant manager's job at the Memorial Stadium.
After seeing a hard-working and street-wise Gillingham side extend their lead at the top of League Two by securing a 2-0 success over a Bristol Rovers team that can only be described as wet behind the ears and inexperienced, however, Allen was probably thinking in his own mind that he may well have dodged a bullet.
It's hard to predict whether or not Rovers would be in their current position – bottom of League Two and fearing for their Football League existence – had Allen been welcomed with open arms rather than on the end of what he seemed to perceive as some sort of snub.
It's probably fair to assume, however, that it would be unlikely if the evidence presented on the pitch at the Memorial Stadium is anything to go by. Allen's team, built with players primed and ready for the scrap associated with the muck and bullets of League Two, proved too wily for a Rovers side that is currently made-up of those with promise for the future, perhaps, but, as a collective, probably not quite ready to achieve the task of keeping Rovers in the Football League between now and the end of the season.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
"We have a unity of men here," Allen said when asked for his thoughts on his team's performance after the game. The fact that Allen's starting line-up had the benefit of experience gleaned from almost 2,500 league games between them against a Rovers team with just over half that total – with almost 500 of those attributed to recently-recruited goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall alone – certainly served to reinforce the words that fell from the Gillingham manager's mouth.
To Rovers credit, however, the attitude and determination that has been shown by a young group of players – boys being asked to do a man's job essentially – since manager John Ward arrived last month can't be questioned.
That much was evident when fears that the banks would burst and an avalanche of goals would follow were not realised once Chris Whelpdale opened the scoring for Gillingham with a crisp shot in the third minute.
Indeed, Rovers were the better team throughout the majority of the opening period in which they were desperately unlucky not to score themselves when John-Joe O'Toole's side-footed effort hit the inside of a post before eventually rolling away to safety. Gillingham did not look that particular gift horse in the mouth so when Deon Burton executed a sublime piece of skill to create an opportunity to execute a powerful volley past Steve Mildenhall to double the advantage a couple of minutes before the break it was essentially game over.
Rovers boss John Ward immediately tinkered with his tactics by introducing young forward Tom Hitchcock from the bench to form a two-man strike partnership with Eliot Richards after Joe Anyinsah, who retired at half-time with a hamstring complaint, had been asked to plough a lone furrow throughout the opening period. It failed to have the desired effect, regardless of how hard Rovers tried. Spirit and desire, it seems, will only get you so far.
Ward, at least, is not deluding himself about the size of the unenviable task ahead of him – an assignment that is not being made any easier by the recent resurgences enjoyed by relegation rivals AFC Wimbledon and Barnet.
Nor does the manager seem uncertain of the areas in which Rovers are critically lacking at this time. "I can sleep soundly tonight because my players worked hard and gave me everything," Ward said, before admitting: "The quality we needed to win it, however, was not quite there, particularly in the final third."
To that end, further signings are expected this week – with a striker still top of Ward's most wanted list after revealing that recently-released Aldershot forward Guy Madjo will not be signing a deal following a short training spell at the end of last week. Filling that void, however, is certainly not as easy as it sounds. The manager himself revealed that one particular target had fallen by the wayside last week after demanding too much money to join 'the cause'.
Supporters, at least, can be assured that if and when Ward does get his man, or men, those who arrive are likely to be the sort more than capable of providing a useful contribution. Of those that have joined 'the cause' thus far, goalkeeper Mildenhall and midfielder O'Toole have served to offer Rovers some much-needed backbone to the spine of a team that, at times, has appeared spineless this season.
Defender Mark McChrystal also produced a steady, if unspectacular, debut at the heart of defence to suggest that he may well go on to be another astute acquisition.
Let's hope those who follow will offer similar quality.
Enthusiasm and a willingness to sweat blood for 'the cause' are the basic ingredients required from the players if Ward is to realise his short-term ambitions between now and the end of the season.