Joey Barton admits he’s at the “toughest moment” of his managerial career after a lacklustre Bristol Rovers suffered a second successive defeat to begin the new season. After the late heartbreak in the League Two opener at Mansfield Town on Saturday, Barton’s Gas were seen off 2-0 by League One Cheltenham Town at the Mem on Tuesday in the first round of the Carabao Cup. Alfie May and Kyle Vassell both scored in the second half to book Cheltenham’s place in the next round, but Rovers, meanwhile, were strikingly short of creativity and cohesion with several players in the hands of the medical department. An imperfect start was perhaps inevitable for Rovers after yet another huge summer overhaul, but Barton is concerned by the lack of chances forged by his side over 180 minutes of football so far.
Gasheads on the terraces held similar views, with Sion Spence’s tame effort in stoppage time, Rovers’ only shot on target in the game, being met by ironic cheers and chants from supporters beleaguered by more than 12 months of abject performances from their club. Barton shares their pain, and he is counting down the days until availability in his injury-hit squad improves. A training game was played against Maidenhead United at The Quarters on Tuesday afternoon for players coming back to fitness, including Sam Nicholson, Alex Rodman and Sam Finley – the latter scoring in a 1-1 draw – and that trio could come into contention for Saturday’s visit of Stevenage. The likes of Brett Pitman, Aaron Collins and Brandon Hanlan, however, may not return for a few more weeks. “You can’t turn water into wine and players make one hell of a difference,” Barton said.
Harvey Saunders of Bristol Rovers contends for the aerial ball with Ben Tozer of Cheltenham Town.
(Image: Ryan Hiscott/JMP)
“Pitman, Nicholson, Hanlan, Coutts, Finley, Rodman… You’re looking at good players there. I watched them today in the game as I say and just the ability to pass the ball I think that would allow Luke Thomas to get in the game as at this moment in time he’s not getting enough service. “It’s a real frustration because in the last two games and, to be honest, in the whole of pre-season we’ve created very little. “Yes, there is the added jolt of players coming back but we’ve got work to do I think everyone is fully aware of that. We didn’t think we were just going to come down and flick a light switch and be the best team in the division. “We’ve got our fans back and we want to give them a good showing and they’re rightly singing about the one shot we’ve had on target and I don’t blame them, but they’ve just got to trust that the best is yet to come from this team.
Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton greets Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff to the Mem.
(Image: Ryan Hiscott/JMP)
“We’ve got players to come back and we’re really positive about that and we’ve got work to do in the transfer market.” Barton has won just three games since taking the Rovers job in February, unable to steer the Gas to safety from relegation, but he remains sure Rovers’ fortunes will turn. “I’m absolutely confident that this will get where it needs to get to,” he added. “Sitting here today you have to scratch your head and we’ve been crap in the first two games offensively but also you’ve just got to believe in the process and know what’s coming next. “It’s tough at the moment, it’s the toughest moment of my professional (managerial) career but also you’ve just got to batten down the hatches and come back stronger and I’m absolutely sure that the players we have in the building when fully fit will cause lots of teams in our division lots of problems.
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“We’ll be a complete different entity in three to four months’ time, but as always if you don’t win enough games to get there it doesn’t just happen “You can’t just do it by keeping talking week in, week out. At some point we’ve got to go and get the results and the performances. “If I had everyone fit and we were playing like that, I’d be very worried but the fact that we’ve got 11 potential starters not on the park tonight gives us hope. “It is not ideal at this moment in time but did any of us think it was going to be? Did any of us think we’d get relegated in the manner that we did and that we were just going to turnover 66 per cent of our squad and be be Chelsea on day one? “No we didn’t, we knew it was going to be a long hard slog.”