Bristol Rovers struggle to find the consistency needed
YOU have to credit Mark McGhee for finding some positives to pick out from what can only be described as another miserable afternoon for Bristol Rovers at Spotland on Saturday.
Not that the manager was having any talk of misery when asked to dissect his side's latest performance in which David Clarkson, one of the few remaining influential players in the squad that isn't keeping phyiso Phil Kite busy, was injured before two others got sent off to make what was an eighth league defeat of the season that much harder to swallow.
"We lost the game, but I don't think miserable would be the right word to describe it," the manager said.
Perhaps. 'Miserable' was, however, possibly the right word to describe how Bristol Rovers supporters would have been feeling on their long trip home from the North after seeing their side fail to build on the much-needed victory they secured over Chesterfield last weekend.
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Perhaps those same supporters would have at least been cheered by the manager's talk of the "effort", "spirit" and "hard work" shown by his players as reasons to be optimistic ahead of what is arguably a more difficult task when Rovers continue their efforts to resurrect a difficult season at Port Vale tomorrow night.
The worrying thing, however, was that the biggest positive, was probably the performance of on-loan goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. Is that really a positive, though? That your goalkeeper is your best player week-in-week out is probably more of a disturbing trend.
McGhee was right to accentuate the few positives that came out of Saturday's game in an attempt to bolster the fragile confidence of his struggling players – but he was also duty-bound to talk about the negatives.
While Rochdale's equalising goal off the boot of midfielder Alan Tutte from a well-worked corner routine, was easy on the eye – it could and should have been avoided.
Particularly as McGhee had seen John Coleman's side work the exact same routine just days earlier in an FA Cup tie against Morecambe when on a reconnaissance mission.
The players had worked on it in training, talked about it in their video analysis session on Friday night and been reminded of in the changing room before kick-off. A matter of 27 minutes later all that hard work had gone to waste. "Disappointing," was McGhee's assessment. You can say that again.
Rochdale's second goal on the hour mark, however, did have an element of fortune about it as Bobby Grant's shot from the corner of the penalty area would probably have been easily dealt with by Etheridge had it's trajectory not been altered after skimming off the head of Tom Parkes.
Perhaps this was the 'rub of the green' McGhee suggested his side were failing to experience when asked for his thoughts at the final whistle – although Rovers had arguably had some of their own when Clarkson was offered a chance to open the scoring from the spot after what can only be labelled as a dubious foul on Wayne Brown in the 14th minute. There was nothing dubious about the foul Garry Kenneth committed to pick up a second yellow card 20 minutes from time, however.
"Petulant", "lazy" and "unprofessional" were the words used by McGhee to describe that particular episode. Quite.
Eliot Richards' sending off in stoppage time for an awfully-mistimed lunge on striker Ashley Grimes, topped off what was a terrible afternoon for McGhee and his side, who are now only three points off the foot of the table.
Does anyone actually think, however, that this side are in danger of relegation? Looking at the squad on paper, you'd have to say 'no' – but what is that old cliche that is forever being wheeled out? Nobody's too good to go down? Something like that.
Questions about poor early season form have always been met with answers along the lines of 'it's still early yet' or 'there's still 40-odd games to go.'
Well 40 games is now less than 30 and yet here we are approaching the halfway point of the season and now entertaining the possibility of getting embroiled in a relegation battle – a position even the most pessimistic of Rovers supporter would have struggled to predict at the start of the campaign.
Maybe, things will improve with the gradual return of key players. The return of last season's player of the year, Danny Woodards, after a six-month absence was certainly welcomed by the manager. The imminent returns of skipper Matt Gill and on-loan defender Cian Bolger can't come quick enough.
Perhaps, then, everyone would be better served to reserve judgement on whether or not McGhee and his players are realistic contenders to fall out of the Football League until the manager finally has a full compliment of players to choose from.
For now, though, inconsistency and under achievement means Rovers continue to flounder around in a long dark tunnel. The next four weeks or so, which should see the manager able to choose from an almost fully-fit squad, will probably be crucial in determining whether or not there is any light at the end of it.