Scout File: Bristol Rovers (H)

Credit Graham Burrell

A bumper crowd is expected this weekend as Bristol Rovers visit Sincil Bank with, I suspect, some trepidation, writes Tom Morton.

The Gas have had a very mixed season, but it’s safe to say the second half has not been the most positive for them. Admittedly they sit in 11th, just two placed behind us. But that is a gap of eight points – they are closer to 16th (6 points difference) than to us.

A visit from Bristol used to be mildly interesting. On the one hand, it was always nice to see former Imp Harry Anderson take to the pitch again. And on the other, it was a good moment to remind ourselves of the time Joey Barton got turned over by Matt Rhead—a lovely delicious piece of club history.

All that has gone now. Anderson left in the summer, unable to agree terms, and Barton was sacked in October. As much as we don’t like him, he did a competent job taking Rovers straight back up after relegation and landing them as a mid-table league one side. However, it looks like the club’s new owner (who took a controlling interest over the summer) felt that was Barton’s limit.

Credit Graham Burrell

Initially, new manager Matt Taylor had a flying start – earning Manager of the Month for December. He might have been hit with the curse because, since the New Year, they’ve lost eight of fourteen games and won just five. 

The only remaining “Imps Interest” are James Wilson and John Marquis. We won’t see Wilson (a forgettable defender for us who has played just nine times for the Gas) but we might see Marquis, who came and did a job for us at the end of the 21/22 season, scoring five in twenty appearances. He joined Bristol after leaving us and has scored thirteen in sixty-seven appearances. Not incredible numbers but a solid performance.

Others to watch include Striker Chris Martin. The 35-year-old Scot has put away fifteen goals for them this season and, most importantly, is on-form – winning player of the month in January for his five goals in four games. I also like the look of defender Elkan Baggot who is on loan from Ipswich. He’s impressed since joining and is highly rated as a centre-back.

Bristol H lineup 23/24

Tactically, in highlights, you can see that Bristol look more drilled and less chaotic than when we’ve seen them previously. I suspect they will line up with five at the back against us, and as a defensive outfit, they seem OK. Yes, a little slow on line speed and certainly still not quite there from a communication point of view. I think they will struggle to come out against our high press and in clips you can see players getting drawn in and backed into corners. 

I expect to see some lofted balls forward, which I equally expect us to deal with well. They are not bad in attack, and this is where you can see they are drilling a bit more. A few neat passing moves got them in behind Fleetwood in the week, and Martin is always pushing the offside trap.

Head to head things skew in our favour. Yes, back in 2019 we lost both games to the Gas. But since then three wins and a draw have put us back on top. Last time out was a 1-1 draw, but don’t forget we smashed them 6-3 away from home in 2022 in what can only be described as a madcap game.

We have to be favourites going into the game today. With four home wins in five and just a single goal conceded we are on top form at the Bank. Fleetwood’s goal in February is the only one we’ve seen at home since the New Year and on the flip side, we’ve seen twelve Imps goals.