Gas in search of firepower
Boss Mark McGhee has been handed the financial backing to boost his ranks but the Gas still look short of numbers…
Accrington ｜ Aldershot ｜ Barnet ｜ Bradford
Bristol Rovers ｜ Burton ｜ Cheltenham ｜ Chesterfield
Dagenham ｜ Exeter ｜ Fleetwood ｜ Gillingham
Morecambe ｜ Northampton ｜ Oxford ｜ Plymouth
Port Vale ｜ Rochdale ｜ Rotherham ｜ Southend
Torquay ｜ Wimbledon ｜ Wycombe ｜ York
Last summer Paul Buckle was given the licence to completely remodel the Rovers playing staff following relegation. He orchestrated a huge player turnover at the Mem but found himself unable to repeat the success he had enjoyed with Torquay. In fact, while a struggle for survival was never really on the cards, Buckle’s reign was an unmitigated disaster.
Mark McGhee returned to the English game in January after six years away, tasked with steadying the ship. Instead, he delivered a dose of reality. As the summer’s transfer business has proved, the squad was not in need of an overhaul, simply a new leader. The straight-talking McGhee masterminded something of an upturn during his 20 league matches in charge but 2011/12 was a season to forget for the Gas.
Just as Buckle was offered a sizeable budget last year, McGhee has been healthily backed by the club. Chairman Nick Higgs reckons the war chest will rival that of the division’s biggest spenders; an indication that the top brass have not been put off a policy of investing heavily in a promotion bid after last season’s failure.
The 55-year-old has secured three promotions as a manager, with three different clubs, but the last of those came eight years ago at Brighton and the Scot may still have a point to prove in the Football League after a prolonged absence. But for now he enjoys the full support of Higgs, who was fulsome in his praise for the gradual progress overseen during the run-in, as well as the fanbase, who would just appreciate a bit of stability in the top job.
Despite the financial freedom afforded to him, McGhee has not rushed into the transfer market, taking his time over new recruits. At the time of writing only three have arrived, all inexperienced teenagers. Naturally, as the likes of Fleetwood and Northampton flex their financial muscles, Gas fans have been left wondering just when the club will make their move. While the boss is broadly trusted, there is a feeling that the squad is still short of promotion-chasing potential and with time running out before the start of the campaign. After last season’s squad struggled to gel in the early weeks, supporters are wary of a similar outcome should there be a late flurry of transfer activity.
Off the pitch, the atmosphere took a significant positive turn earlier in July after the approval of plans for a new stadium at the University of the West of England. Planning permission has been granted and after numerous previous false starts, relocation now appears to be on the horizon.
Rovers possess an encouraging blend of youth and experience in their ranks, although they look short of strength in depth at this stage, particularly in comparison with their rivals. Buckle cobbled together a useful group and many of them remain but with plenty still to do to convince the fanbase of their merits. The return from injury of Adam Virgo will come as a valuable boost while 20-year-old Eliot Richards continues to push for regular inclusion after a number of impressive cameos.
With a supportive chairman, a new ground in the offing and an experienced boss at the helm, almost everything would seem to be in place to herald Pirates' success. If McGhee can attract a handful of new faces to the Mem before the start of the campaign, including a seasoned striker to support Matt Harrold, Rovers should be a potent force. But they still have work to do to justify their tag as fourth-favourites for the title.
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