The concept of a six-point shot is probably overstating things a bit, but this game is certainly important, both for Bristol Rovers and Oxford United but, more pertinently, for Joey Barton and Karl Robinson.
There has always been a bit of extra needle to games between Rovers and Oxford, with or without Matty Taylor, hence the early start, but for Robinson he received a vote of confidence this week from the club’s hierarchy, albeit with a message that the results should improve. quickly.
There is no such pressure around Barton’s position, but a strange aura is developing around the Gas at the moment, as optimism is waning and, for the first time in probably a year, questions about the manager are pouring in. everywhere within reach.
Results are the determining factor and three points would go a long way to quell any discontent or disappointment and just give everyone a chance to breathe after a spell of rather challenging form, with 7th January being the last time Rovers were victorious in a game.
Before the game at Kassam Stadium, this is how we think Gas will line up…
The James Belshaw debate isn’t going away anytime soon, but for Ellery Balcombe at least, the chances of those chants are dwindled by the prospect of playing away from home. You’d like to think that after very clear evidence that it’s not doing anyone, the player or the team, probably not even Belshaw, any favours, hopefully they won’t resurface at Oxford.
Balcombe is likely to be Rovers’ number 1 again after a mixed bag against Burton Albion last week in which his propensity to strike was highly lit – in a negative sense. Oxford is keeping him on deck a bit longer so there may not be the same consistency of aerial threat, but the Brentford loan could use a performance just to calm everyone down. Less than anything because of his own confidence, but as it stands, his coach has kept hers in the 23-year-old.
As for the back line, throughout this slump it could be argued that James Gibbons has been among the most consistent individuals on the Gases and if Barton opts for a four-man defense, as anticipated, then he should line up as Right side. ahead of Luca Hoole.
The left-back role is a straight-up fight between Calum Macdonald, who made his debut last week, and Lewis Gordon, and it’s a position where Barton seems unsure of his best option and therefore is open to interpretation of who is the best. it will most likely boot. Did Macdonald do enough to win the jersey? Probably not, but it would still be a bit instinctive to take him out after one game and bring Gordon back. On the other hand, given the need for a result, the coach may feel more secure with a player he knows more about than the slight uncertainty of the arrival of January.
That leaves the center positions and with Lewis Gibson all but certain to start his first game since January 1, we’re left with either Jarell Quansah or James Connolly. In truth, it doesn’t look like much of a competition, as the latter was taken out of the firing line late in Burton’s game and appears to be out of his mind for a few weeks. Unless Barton wants to play three back, it’s hard to see how he fares in the starting XI, and even then Barton may favor Gibbons on the right of the trio.
Assuming there are four at the back, then there are three in the middle or, as a variation, two holding midfielders and then a more forward midfielder.
One name that will make an instant return to the side is Sam Finley; His energy, leadership, tenacity and consistency of performance have been sorely missed in these last three games and he brings presence and character to the base midfield, plus he can play a bit.
Against the talented Oxford engine room of Cameron Brannagan and Lewis Bate, winning the midfield battle will be instrumental in deciding the fate of the contest and having Finley there not only increases his team’s chances but also improves his teammates. .
As for his partner, minus Jordan Rossiter, it appears to be either Captain Paul Coutts or Grant Ward, as playing with all three would take a lot of creativity out of the Gases. Coutts hasn’t started the last three games, but he replaced Ward against Burton, so we’re in Gordon/Macdonald territory.
Barton may feel Coutts’ common sense and guiding hand is required, plus he maintains that Rovers pass the ball better when he’s in the wing, but his ball movement when playing lately seems a little slower and heavier. That might give a reason to keep Ward on the sidelines, who though hasn’t done anything wrong since he arrived.
Lamare Bogarde should also be a part of this conversation, but his chances are hampered by the return of Finley and he may have to be content with a place on the bench. Also Luke McCormick, who should have recovered from the illness that prevented him from playing against Buton.
That of course leaves Antony Evans to play as the more advanced midfielder and he was one of the best players for Gas last weekend.
Aaron Collins will start as a given, although the goals and assists have dried up for the Welshman, just one goal in seven games, which could be a cause or result of the way Rovers have been playing of late.
If we’re being honest, Josh Coburn hasn’t looked good for a few weeks now, whether it’s due to fatigue, due to the sheer number of minutes he’s played in what is his first senior season, some kind of lingering injury, confidence, or the illness that forced him to be on the bench last week, or probably a combination of the previous ones.
Either way, it would be a surprise to see him return to the lineup, especially given John Marquis’ scoring turnaround last week and the striker deserves another side run in the middle of attack.
With one spot remaining, it sits between Harry Anderson and Scott Sinclair at forward and it could be another 50/50 decision here because while the former provides consistency, the latter ultimately has the x-factor and the highest ceiling that can decide a game. like this. Barton has predicted a penalty shootout in this one and therefore it makes sense to have a combination of his best and fittest strikers on the pitch.
Bristol Rovers (4-3-3): Ellery Balcombe; James Gibbons, Jarell Quansah, Lewis Gibson, Lewis Gordon; Grant Ward, Sam Finley, Antony Evans; Scott Sinclair, John Marquis, Aaron Collins
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