I feel like this weekend’s game, against newly promoted Bristol Rovers, will be pretty fiery, writes Tom Morton.
Their manager is, of course, Joey Barton and he is just as much a “character” in management as he was a player. He is so irritating, not quite Steve Evans territory, but definitely annoying enough. Paging Matt Rhead for a cameo in the technical area?
Anyway, leaving that aside The Gas have had an iffy start to their first season in League One and they come into the weekend’s game beset by injuries. Sadly we won’t get to see ex-Imp (and one of my recent favourites) Harry Anderson because it looks like he has broken a toe. Defensively Barton is on the ropes with injuries and suspensions massively reducing his choice. This week those woes seemed to have eased a bit when Alfie Kilgour’s straight red from last weekend was overturned, rightly so it should be said. However, it does leave them short about four of their first-team defensive lineup with several backup players (including Anderson) doubtful.
In terms of results, Bristol are sat at the tail end of the table (although at this stage of the season admittedly there isn’t much in it) having failed to win since August. Their fans might feel disappointed – The Gas are scoring pretty freely, especially at home. Their xG is 1.35 and they’ve scored 1.25, managing to net in all home games. But they’ve walked away with just one win in four having failed to hold the lead.
Does this bode well for us? Not necessarily. Our away performance is surprisingly poor compared to recent seasons. Our xG is 0.56, meaning statistically Bristol may be in for a chance. However, it’s so early in the season the stats are still in flux and our resurgent performance on Saturday suggests more promise.
I can’t predict how Bristol will line up at the weekend; Barton has used just about every formation this season (including the rather pleasing looking 3-3-3-1) and with so many players potentially unavailable he may have to be creative again. I gave it a go, with some guesses on who might replace those out. It seems unlikely they will go for three at the back but who drops in to make the four I am not sure.
At the back, it will be very makeshift, which naturally will be a target. Barton claims our approach will be to probe with long balls. Of course, we’ve seen a lot more “route one” play this season but I suspect Kennedy will be looking for a smarter approach. In particular Bristol, even with their first-choice defence, play a loose back line which often gets caught out on the break. Equally, they seem very slow to come out, especially after set pieces. On highlights, they’ve conceded a couple of goals largely by being slow to reset the line. I can see Diamond and House having a field day in the box chasing down and harrying players.
Going forward they, as you’d expect for a team featuring Harry Anderson, try to hit you wide and at pace. They are OK at it, with some good accurate crossing. In fact they also quite like a shot outside the box to make the keeper do some work. However, it all seems pretty normal stuff – no standout player (especially with Anderson out) or threat. Given Rushworth’s increasingly authoritative performances in the box you would hope for it to be manageable. Whilst their left side has a full complement, the reduced defense and absence of Anderson seriously weakens the right wing. Hoole, a regular right back, may have to play more centrally (or at least as a back three).
Whether or not Anderson makes an appearance, we will see a familiar face. John Marquis of course played 20 games for us last season, scoring 5 goals, on a short-term contract. Since signing for Bristol he’s appeared in every league game, sometimes off the bench, scoring one goal.
Head to Head
We’ve run into Bristol a fair amount over the years but most minds will cast back to the 2007 play-off semi-finals where they thrashed us 7-4 over two legs, including a miserable 5-2 drubbing at the bank. We caught them a couple of times in recent years before their relegation from the third tier in 20/21 season. Overall our record, since first meeting in 1953, is 17 wins, 9 draws and 19 losses.
I am probably being overconfident here but; Bristol look a very manageable team. If we can break up their back line and create some confusion it will blunt their attack. Mind you, I say down at the weekend against Derby expecting a thrashing and see what happened… If the same team turn up it will be a great game. However, the ghosts of Cambridge are still hanging around.