Bristol Rovers face an early injury crisis on the opening day of the season with three strikers ruled out. Joey Barton’s Gas will be without Brett Pitman, Aaron Collins and Brandon Hanlan for Saturday’s trip to Mansfield Town. That leaves Harvey Saunders as the manager’s only fit senior option to lead the line at Field Mill. While none of the absences are expected to be too timely, the glut of injuries to his attacking ranks are a huge inconvenience for Barton. Pitman’s unavailability, in particular, will sting, after a summer-long pursuit of his signature finally yielded success last week. The striker scored twice in a match-winning cameo on Rovers’ final pre-season friendly but the former Bournemouth and Portsmouth forward will now be sidelined for fortnight.
He sustained an ankle injury in training at The Quarters on Monday, and Barton admits he is relieved the prognosis is not much worse. Rovers had initially feared damage to the striker’s Achilles. “We thought it might have been a really bad one,” Barton said. “What was a real worry has transpired to be really good news. “In training, he just felt a click in his ankle. We were concerned it was his Achilles and he had it scanned. Thankfully, it’s not his Achilles, because that would have been months, rather than weeks.
Harvey Saunders of Bristol Rovers fights for the ball during the pre-season win over Oxford (Andy Watts/JMP)
“Off the back of the two goals he scored, it would have been a real blow to lose him for a long period having tracked him for as long as we have to bring him in. “I think everyone has seen how valuable a real proven goalscorer is at any level to any football team, so when he went down on Monday in training you’re just hoping it’s not severe and there was a concern from the physio, but thankfully after scans and seeing a specialist it’s going to be a couple of weeks rather than months.” Saunders has been raw yet eye-catching with his speed and endeavour in pre-season. He scored eight goals in 41 appearances for Fleetwood Town last term. With Collins and Hanlan also facing a short period out with thigh and knee niggles, Barton’s desire to sign another striker has intensified. The manager said: “We need to do another bit of business in that department. Brandon being injured at the moment is not ideal, because it leaves us with Harvey Saunders as the only recognised number nine that can play in that slot. “But no one’s going to be perfect on the first day of the season, it just doesn’t work that way. Everyone’s got problems and COVID and it’s not about how great you are or how great it looks, this is a war of attrition, this is how resilient you are and prepared to dig in and get through it.
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“The lads have put work in that might not be rewarded at Mansfield on Saturday, but over 46 games this season we’ll be in the spots we need to be to get this football club back into League One, which is the aim. “If we can do it in great fashion with aplomb, great, but if we have to do it by scrapping, by inches, with a real amount of resilience, then that’s the way we’ll get it done. “Either way, we’re getting it done.”