TEAM PREVIEW: Bristol Rovers – Trevor Challis optimistic his former side have a strong group

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Last Season: Conference (2nd)

Manager: Darrell Clarke

 

Squad

GKs: Steve Mildenhall, Will Puddy
DFs: Daniel Leadbitter, Lee Brown, Tom Lockyer, Mark McChrystal, Tom Parkes, Pierce Mitchell, James Clarke, Tyler Lyttle
MFs: Lee Mansell, Ollie Clarke, Jake Gosling, Dominic Thomas, Stuart Sinclair, Chris Lines, Cristian Montano, Ryan Broom, Jay Malpas
FWs: Matty Taylor, Jermaine Easter, Ellis Harrison, Jamie Lucas, Aaron Ward-Baptiste, Nathan Blissett, Danny Greenslade

 

Transfers

In: James Clarke (Woking), Chris Lines (Port Vale), Cristian Montano (Unattached)

Out: Kieran Preston (Redditch – Loan), Neal Trotman (Released), Abdulai Bell-Baggie (Stockport County), Andy Monkhouse (Grimsby Town), Angelo Balanta (Carlisle United)

 

First Six: Northampton Town (H), Yeovil Town (A), Luton Town (A), Barnet (H), Leyton Orient (A), Oxford United (H)

Likely Lineup: (4-4-2) Puddy – Lockyer, McChrystal, Parkes, Brown – Gosling, Lines, Mansell, Montano – Taylor, Harrison

 

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A word from…Trevor Challis

On his arrival at Bristol Rovers I’m very grateful to Ian (Holloway) as I had had 18-19 months out after five injuries in the same area of my knee and I’d started to feel like a bit of a forgotten man. He invited me down and I jumped at the chance. I think I repaid his confidence, especially in the two years, and it turned out a good move for us both. We had quite a group, especially under the leadership of Andy Tillson who was definitely missed after he left. But what a group of players I played with, Cureton, Ellington, Roberts and Hayles to name a few. We also had a young Bobby Zamora, some of the staff felt he lacked pace but he was the best receiver of a ball I worked with. I still keep in touch with Bobby.

Losing Andy’s leadership was irreplaceable and after the good times we lost about 25% of the squad and, to be honest, the players we brought in weren’t of the same quality. Being exiled in Bath obviously didn’t help but we had so many managers, Gary Thompson, Gary Penrice, Gerry Francis and Ray Graydon all tried to turn things around but there was too much change. We changed our style of football but we didn’t have the right breed of players to fit Division 3. Not enough strong characters and too much chopping and changing.

On the current Rovers side Darrell’s been fantastic with the current group. His stock is bound to have risen after getting them up last season. I got to know Darrell as I was doing my A Licence with him last summer and his approach to management has been first class. The way he handled, for instance, Ellis Harrison; putting him on the transfer list, but then bringing him back; getting the best out of him was top man management. His recruitment was first class. The pivotal move was getting (Chris) Lines in as that galvanised the side, he also added more fire-power and that made all the difference. He told me he was always going to sub Mildenhall in during the (Grimsby) penalty shoot-out, just to gain an extra advantage. It obviously worked!

I think, like a lot of promoted teams, they already have the nucleus of a strong group, very similar to Bristol City’s situation. They’ve got the winning mentality and spirit and that should carry them a long way. Perhaps they may need to add to the spine of the team – a centre-back, centre-midfielder and striker but they’ll recruit well again I’m sure.

It’ll be an interesting year for Ellis Harrison and I think it could be his breakthrough year and he might attract a lot of suitors. I’ll be interested to see how Matty Taylor does in league football but they’ve got the Mansell’s, McChrystal’s and Lockyer’s to rely on. Two very good keepers also in Puddy and Mildenhall. If he does add a few, they might find it hard to break into the starting lineup. I’d expect them, like many who come up from the Conference, to more than hold their own. They can expect a good season ahead.

On working at the rivals It is a little odd to be working at City now, (laughs) it was just good to follow football in the city. I work with the U15s and 16s at the Academy and really enjoy the job. Seems like when one Bristol team does well it somehow spurs the other on. I don’t know why that happens but it’s exciting times for both clubs.

 

The Offside Rule Podcast Prediction: It won’t be easy, the step up never is, but Bristol Rovers will have enough to survive and consolidate.

Key Player: Ellis Harrison – The 21-year-old striker was excellent in the Conference and looks more than ready for League Two, goals win games and Harrison has plenty at the ready.

One to Watch: Cristian Montano – After a rough end to his last spell in England, Montano has a point to prove and at 23 could be just the tonic Rovers need in League Two.

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