Leroy Rosenior: It's becoming more and more difficult to defend McGhee
THIS time last week the pressure was on Bristol City manager Derek McInnes – seven days on and the focus switches to the other side of the divide.
It seems a victory over Chesterfield almost a fortnight ago served only to offer Bristol Rovers manager Mark McGhee a brief period of respite. Two defeats later and the pressure is back on Mark ahead of another tricky-looking game against Bradford City at the Memorial Stadium tomorrow.
Let's be honest – who really expected Rovers to come away from Port Vale on Tuesday night nursing anything other than a defeat? Even though Port Vale have been suffering a small blip of sorts after failing to win in their last five games, it was certainly a case of fingers crossed. Rovers supporters who made the trip probably went there more in hope than expectation. When people start thinking in that manner, it is certainly a cause for concern.
You have to feel a certain sympathy for Mark because injuries to David Clarkson and Joe Anyinsah saw him make the trip with a squad that was already under-strength because of the suspensions to Garry Kenneth, Eliot Richards and Oliver Norburn.
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I heard Mark saying the other day that he felt his squad was as capable as most others in League Two, which I wouldn't necessarily disagree with.
What I would say, however, is that, at the moment, they haven't got a team on the pitch that is as capable as a lot of the others in League Two. Yes, there are reasons behind the poor run of form, but some of the Rovers supporters I've spoken to since Tuesday night have said there was an element of embarrassment surrounding, in particular, the players' first-half performance at Vale Park. They are also embarrassed about the position their team resides in the league table – the third lowest in the whole of the Football League. I still think a lot of supporters actually like Mark and want him to succeed – but they need to see something that will offer them the opportunity to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
It is a difficult situation, but supporters need to hear what is being done to rectify the situation rather than a constant reminder of the reasons behind it. The supporters will continue to get behind the team when things are not going well for a period of time – but its not limitless. There needs to be a significant upturn in results or, at the very least, performance levels if supporters are not to start voting with their feet.
I want to defend Mark McGhee, I want to defend Bristol Rovers as a club, but it's very difficult to do that at this moment in time because I'm starting to lose a little bit of belief as well. The best way to get fans back on side would be to get some positive results – but with all the injuries and suspensions on top of a poor run of recent form that is certainly not a given. The bottom line at this moment in time is that Mark has to do more to get more out of the players at his disposal.
The injury to Tom Parkes the other night – although not as bad as first feared – makes things even more difficult for Mark as does the return to Fulham of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who has without question been Rovers' best player in recent weeks.
Mark has ventured into the loan market to try and turn things around after signing experienced central defender Guy Branston last night – loan deals are not always the answer to your problems, but they certainly won't make the situation any worse. The short-term signings of Neil Danns and Matthew Bates certainly offered Bristol City boss Derek McInnes and his team a lift ahead of last weekend's game against Blackpool at Ashton Gate.
It was a big game for City and one they couldn't afford to lose. Some people were disappointed that Blackpool grabbed an equaliser in injury-time – but really they had deserved it hadn't they.
Michael Appleton would certainly have felt aggrieved had his side left Ashton Gate with nothing to show for their efforts. They were the better side in general. So, City had to settle for a draw – but the spirit, determination and effort they showed under the circumstances was certainly a positive Derek and many of the supporters would have taken away from the game. To end a seven-game losing streak is one brick in the wall and a foundation from which Derek and his players can move forward.
They face a difficult-looking trip away at Middlesbrough. They will probably spend long periods without the ball and will have to show the same level of effort and resilience they showed at times last weekend to come away with anything other than a defeat.
City fans revelled in the amount of goals their team were scoring at the start of the season – it's all about going back-to-basics now. A clean sheet would do wonders for the confidence around the place.