Bristol Rovers V Stevenage 24.11.15

Or: “I’ve got a coaching badge, you know”

Transport to game

Park up at Welly and walk to Rovers Supporters Club as they have Butcombe Bitter on handpump. Didn’t keep me long as it was decidedly average.

Pre-match pint and reflections with the full food deal

The Game

Bristol Rovers 1 Stevenage 2 Attendance 5,819 (101 from Stevenage)

Rovers lost at home, again. What can I say? Those who know me the answer is plenty and, unlike most of the time, when I find it better to keep quiet, this time  I am going to have my say.

We lost because we are very predictable and any professional club could send any old scout to watch us play and set up a way to play with very little thought. If we haven’t scored by half time the manager will have an easy 15 minute period to sort out anything that might have been missed.

Here is my  scouting report on watching the Rovers at every game this season home and away but concentrating mostly on how they play at home.

Bristol Rovers by Stedders (F.A. Coaching badge 1981, disciple of Charles Hughes)

Method of play


  1. Team likes to play to feet where possible. They use back four to move ball from side to side, often slowly put patiently, creating width for wide men once chain of passes has been reversed to point of original pass.
  2. Wide players will cross when given any space. There is no danger of wide players getting to goal line. They will cross at earliest opportunity. The front two will be in the box but by then centre backs should have players marked and have a man spare to mop up any balls flicked on.
  3. When wide players are double marked the centre backs will attempt balls into channels. Let the big left sided centre back do this. The front two are reluctant to run the channels. The short one who falls over a lot is good at this and can force a deeper throw in. Let him do so as they will revert to point 1 from any point along the line. Should the bulkier faster one do so, hold off on his tackle as he will charge defender first, give away a free kick and pressure will be eased. Let them try to get to the old one with no pace. He will chase it as the ball crosses the dead ball line for a goal kick.
  4. Wide players will cut inside and attempt to play ball to front men who will have players at their back. BEWARE, the front two can create chances with short sharp passes. Let them lay it back to midfield two who will revert to option 1 at the earliest opportunity.
  5. When wide players are marked and channels filled, they will play to the tall stroller in midfield. Let him play his much favoured long pass. It will be accurate and look good. He will stop and pull up his socks and the player who receives the ball will have two players on him by the time the ball reaches the target. These passes are often to wide full backs or wide midfield players. They will automatically revert to method 1.
  6. The little aggressive one in midfield is very energetic and will win a lot of the 50/50 challenges. Let him have the ball. He will run in little circles, play the ball to full backs and they will revert to option 1. Should he run towards goal, force him wide on his left foot. He will eventually shift it right and find the wide player who of course will…… Do not worry about a shot on goal. He will not do so.
  7. The front two rarely find each other from a knock on or touch play. They play two out of three. The best combination is the bulky one with the one who falls over a lot. They often start with the old slow one and replace him with bulk and pace later in the game.
    • The one who falls over a lot. He is their top scorer and the one to mark tightly in the box. Don’t challenge him in the box, he has a good turn and will shoot at the earliest opportunity, often by aiming straight at you.
    • The old one. He holds the ball up well and will rarely lose the ball. Let him have it and watch for the second pass and short run. You can give him a yard because even the slowest of our defence can make up the space once he gets the ball. He is likely to miss any one on one chances. He is a fan of playing it to the wide midfield players who, by the time they get the ball, are forced back to route / option 1.
    • The quicker bulky one. He is the target for all goal kicks and longer free kicks. He will jump from wide of you and will win many of the challenges. Do not worry, he has no way of directing the header and will often put the centre midfield players under pressure from the misdirected header. Beware him drifting in to the box. He will shoot on sight and play cute little passes to players who are not ready to receive a pass. He has a reputation for running at centre backs but appears to not do this anymore.
  8. Corners: They have four methods.
    • A floated dropping cross from the lanky one in midfield. It will drop on an area between the penalty spot and the keeper. The attackers will be stationary and the keeper will be able to command most balls like this. If in any doubt let the bulky one get to the ball or even better either the two centre halves who will head the ball high and wide.
    • A longer, deeper cross that misses everyone and drops beyond the back post. They appear to not have a signal for this as no one ever runs to that position.
    • A hard low pass to a late arriving full back who will blast a shot over the bar. BEWARE. This worked once.
    • A short corner that, after two or three short passes will either lead to a deep cross i.e. option 2 or a low cross to the penalty spot and a midfield player who will play it wide and back to option 2.
  9. Free Kicks. The tall lanky one takes these. Right side of area will be a curled floaty cross to one of our centre halves to clear. The left sided option will result in a shot at goal. Longer options often involve quickly taken short passes to the front two who will return it to midfield, then play it wide and get back to option 1.


  • The defence is generally well organised.
    • The bulky left footed one will challenge directly the ball in the air. Look for free kicks as he has no obvious brake to this. He will win his fair share of headers. Clearances will be controlled, often to his wide left full back. Run at him at any opportunity.
    • The thinner balding one will win everything in the air unless he is playing against ginger headed ex Rovers. Has very little pace but sits so deep it’s not needed.
    • The young quiet one is a monster. Avoid him in all plays. He is quicker than he looks, will never miss a tackle. Wins too many balls in the air for his size and will drop off and make attackers look silly should they try to run at him. His weakness is defensive headers when under no pressure. Tries to do too much with them and is vulnerable to misdirected back headers.
    • The skinny right back. Is a centre half and lacks full back nous. Attack him in waves, he will not cope. Gives wide men plenty of room to cross and is still learning how and when to tuck in to back up centre backs.
    • The very skinny quick full back. He is good but often is high up the field attacking and can be exposed by a quick long ball on the break. Likes to chest the ball down when controlling the ball. This is ok up the field but a bit iffy in his own six yard box.
    • The bulky quick left back He is very good defensively, rarely beaten by tricky wingers, Will allow an early cross, so do so.
    • The thin wide midfielders rarely defend but are available for quick throws from keepers or short passes from full backs. Nuisance defensive value.
    • Goalkeeper. Beware quick throw outs from him. Shoot from distance. Good at stopping close shots and will come to edge of six yard boxes for crosses. Likes to join in option 1

V Stevenage

First half went totally to plan tactically other than the short feisty one panicking a clearance and gifting a free shot at goal. Three shots at goal should have created something. All were from inside the area but direct at the defender or keeper.

Second half. Stevenage did the obvious. They doubled up as soon as wide men got the ball, stopped the early cross and the return passing across the back four. The back four pushed up five yards making it difficult for the lanky one to get the necessary space to ping the ball. Rovers occasionally played the ball over the top well creating one easy chance for the old one. He hit it wide. Stevenage scored from a long ball, knocked down and passed sideways to a player shot from outside the area under token midfield challenge. The Keeper doesn’t stop shots from distance.

Entertainment Value 2

Away fans

101 of them.

Man of the Match: Matty Taylor

Rovers had 16 shots, three on target.

If I were to change the team I would rest, not drop, Sinclair, play Harrison from the start, and bring in Leadbitter for Clarke.

In a 442 formation team would be Nicholls, Leadbitter, Lockyer, Parkes, Brown, Paris Cowan-Hall, Clarke O, Lines, Bodin, Harrison, Taylor.

On the bench Mildenhall, McCrystal, Clarke J, Mansell, Sinclair, Montana, Easter


We could do as the Gasheads in the West Stand urge and:-

“Get under ‘em”

“Stop fannying about”

“Go forward”

“Boot the ball”


“run, you lazy f……”

Or as Barry Potter would say:-

“Let the ball do the work”

“Show them that you are the piano players”

“It’s all about the one on one”

Or Charles Hughes would say:-

“Exploit the POMO’s” (Positions of maximum opportunity)

In Rovers case Lines needs to hit his longer balls in to areas where the player receives it as a one on one or even better in open space.

It means timing runs into areas that have big spaces, i.e. later in the box or from deeper from corners.

It means play those balls across the back at a greater pace and then launch it to back or near posts rather than to the big bearded centre halves.

Work on free kicks and corners.

Shoot early and follow up in numbers.

But then again what do I know, I have only seen about 1000 games in the last 40 years.

Entertainment before game and at half time

Best Pub: N/A

Best Beer: N/A

Next Up: Exeter away. This is already sold out for away fans. The 9.15 train will be manic. Police avoidance strategies will be in operation if we are to avoid being kettled in some keg emporia. Somewhere during the day I will meet up again with Mick. He is, after all a Grecian and I want to know how the theatre trip went.

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