Johnny Moore asks Sam Frost from the Bristol Post to run the rule over Rovers
Q: Were Bristol Rovers expecting to be in their current league position before a ball had been kicked this season?
A: Not at all. The general expectation was for a mid-table finish with their sights set on the top half, but an overhaul of the squad last summer has failed.
At the time, many of the deals looked positive, but they have been found wanting in the key areas of the pitch – central defence and centre forward. The fact a left-back is their top scorer sums up the season. It has totally not gone to plan.
Q: They beat Pompey at the Memorial Stadium a few weeks ago, so why have the side not kicked on from that?
A: On the odd occasion when it has clicked, Rovers have been able to muster very good performances, but too often have been let down by error-strewn defending and poor finishing.
On that night in February, Jonah Ayunga showed signs of why Rovers signed him from Havant & Waterlooville, but that brace remains the only league goals he has scored this season.
That game looked to be a turning point for the Gas, but in reality it was just a fleeting moment of success.
Q: Has Joey Barton managed to provide a more positive influence than either of the previous managers this season?
A: Initially, Rovers’ performances improved, but they continued to find ways to lose games they really shouldn’t have due to the aforementioned issues and then when injuries ruled several starters out for the season, it was an uphill task.
The deck has been stacked against Barton to an extent given he had no transfer window to address the shortcomings of the squad, but there can be no hiding from the fact that three wins in 15 games is not good enough.
Rovers’ relegation was by no means inevitable when he took over and he should have done better than the 11 points he has earned.
Q: Who are the in-form players likely to pose Pompey problems this afternoon?
A: Luke McCormick and Luke Leahy. McCormick, aged 22, is on loan from Chelsea and has matured significantly over the season to the point he has become the player Rovers look to for inspiration.
He can create and score, but also has a terrific work-rate which has put other players in the squad to shame. He is destined for Championship football next season, but I expect him to fight to the very last, having shown so much pride in wearing the blue-and-white quarters this season.
Leahy has taken on the captaincy from Max Ehmer since Barton’s arrival and has worn the armband well. Ten goals from left-back and wing-back is an excellent return and he is one of the few who will finish the season with some credit in the bank.
Q: Given that relegation is all but confirmed, how will the side approach today’s game?
A: Rovers were neck-and-neck with the likes of AFC Wimbledon and Wigan just a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t been able to muster the kind of surge the Gas have been longing for all season. The result is they are essentially relegated with three games to play.
Barton has told the entire squad they are ‘on trial’ over the coming weeks, with another summer of change awaiting the club. I don't expect a full team of youngsters to start at Fratton Park, but a few will likely get a chance to show what they can do and audition for a first team role next season.
The key for the Gas over the next three games is battling hard until the final moment to convince supporters there is a semblance of personal pride for these players – because serious questions have been asked of their professionalism over the past few days.