Why Bristol Rovers went down
That introduction was me getting the Yeovil Town fan out early, I’m hoping the Bristol City fans liked it too, but in a difficult season for south west football, the plight of Bristol Rovers cannot be ignored.
They took their fight to avoid the drop right to the wire and the bottom of League One was, if nothing else, exciting for the neutral.
Along with Dagenham, Swindon and Plymouth, they drop into League Two looking back and wondering what might have been.
Plymouth had a ten point penalty, whilst Dagenham made a fight of League One on a tiny budget and to be honest, they could have ended in one of five or six places.
For Swindon though, and in particular Rovers, they were never expected to go down; leaving fans with an inquisition as to what went wrong.
Swindon can point the finger at losing key marksmen Billy Paynter and Charlie Austin at key times. These two were never replaced and as a direct result, the goals dried up. The Robins scored more than 70 goals to reach the play offs last season; just 50 this season (including just 20 at home) explain all you need to know there.
For Rovers however, an 11th place finish in 2010 should have seen the push to the play-offs that most League One fans expected.
To pick apart the season, you’d probably start with their home form, only Swindon won fewer on their home patch, just six games returned full value at the Memorial Ground, what’s more is the amount of draws they failed to turn into wins.
The Gas drew seven at home, four more than Walsall and Notts County who both stayed up.Turning even two of those draws into wins would have seen Rovers survive.
Secondly, a lot can be said for some silly decisions from the board room.
At the end of 2010 Paul Trollope was sacked – a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday and a JPT exit at the hands of Exeter was too much for the board to take, Trollope was out. At the time, Rovers were 21st, but only in the drop zone by goal difference and only off 15th place by three points.
In came Dave Penney and he set about trying to shape his own team, in came a couple of names familiar to Yeovil fans, Gavin Williams had the skill to make things happen in front of goal while Jean Paul Kalala was just the man to sure things up in front of defence.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that as 2010 turned into 2011 Yeovil Town were rock bottom of the league and six points behind Rovers. The Glovers ended the season in 14th. This isn’t a moment to gloat, but it is worth pointing out that instead of firing a manager with much less experience than Trollope, Yeovil stuck with Terry Skiverton and in the end it paid dividends, when many Rovers fans will look back at that moment with regret.
A change of manager can often do the trick and get people within the club going, but it seems this hasn’t been the case – see Scunthorpe and indeed Swindon for further evidence. With Dave Penney restoring some of the stability in the camp, it would have been wise for Rovers to give Penney a chance to get his team playing the football they had hoped for.
Or, they could wait for 13 games, less than two months and sack him as well.
In fairness, of those 13 games, Penney and Rovers had lost nine; from 21st place and with a reasonable chance of staying up to 23rd, but with a 5 point gap between them and safety.
Stuart Campbell took over, employing from within has worked for a number of other clubs, but with just 12 games to go, the odds were stacked against another inexperienced manager. When players needed leadership at a difficult time, giving someone like Campbell the task was a brave move. The players would play for him, but would it be enough?
Ultimately no, it wouldn’t – but my question has to be why Campbell continued to play as well as manage, surely the players needed a man completely separate from the squad to guide them?
It is becoming clearer that maybe Rovers could learn from their local rivals. Bournemouth did the same when Eddie Howe left, but instead of playing alongside his players, Lee Bradbury stuck to the office. Much like Yeovil and Skiverton, once he took the job, he tried to play as well, before realising he needed to take a step back.
Bradbury and Skiverton will probably count their time in charge as relative successes; maybe Campbell is wishing he could say the same.
He did collect four wins in his stint in charge which was as many as Trollope, he beat relegation rivals too, including Tranmere, Notts County and Yeovil. In the end, the second change of management was probably the right one, but it came too late.
Rovers drop back into League Two at a time they should have been thinking about pushing on with a view to tackling their city rivals on an even keel. They have already lost one key player in Will Hoskins, if they lose many more they will have a tough time getting out of the bottom tier.
League Two will be tight; Crawley Town will spend big, proving that the bottom of the league is getting closer to the top.
Campbell has said he doesn’t expect the job full time, they have released 17 players which means whatever happens, Bristol Rovers are changing from top to bottom. A strong leader is needed and unless Rovers can attract a big name, or at least one with lots of football league experience, giving the role to Campbell could be the answer.
I for one want to see Rovers back in League One soon. As a Glovers fan, I hope we can learn from the mistakes made by Rovers, many others in the lower reaches of League One will do well to do the same.