A much-changed Bristol Rovers side is likely to take the field against Cheltenham Town in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday, with Joey Barton’s sights set firmly on matters in League Two. After Saturday’s opening day defeat at Mansfield Town, the Gas have a welcome quick return to action, although Barton has made clear the League Cup is of low priority for the club, hinting that several changes were in the offing for the first round tie with the Robins at the Mem. Cheltenham, promoted as League Two champions last season, will provide a strong test for the Gas, who host a competitive game in front of fans at the Mem for the first time since March 2020. With several changes possible, predicting teams for these games can be tricky, but here is how Rovers could line up against Michael Duff’s Robins on Tuesday…
Defence Rovers were punished last season for playing Anssi Jaakkola in a low-priority competition when he suffered a three-month injury against Leyton Orient in the EFL Trophy. They should not make the same mistake again, allowing James Belshaw to make a full debut in goal. Jed Ward could make the bench. There could be a full debutant in the defence in front of him, with Barton likely to make as many changes as possible from the defeat to Mansfield. Connor Taylor should play from the start, after coming off the bench on Saturday. He is likely to be partnered in central defence by Alfie Kilgour, who is set to be available after overcoming a non-COVID virus. Luca Hoole should be allowed to continue his excellent momentum at right-back after a brilliant debut, with Cian Harries in line for another appearance at left-back after scoring a wonderful goal on Saturday. After being short on minutes in pre-season, it makes sense for Barton to give him another start.
Luca Hoole of Bristol Rovers.
(Image: Robbie Stephenson/JMP)
Mark Hughes and Nick Anderton could be given the night off with the league fixture against Stevenage the clear priority, while Trevor Clarke will miss out with an injury. Jack Baldwin is in contention after playing a brief part at Field Mill, and will be competing with Taylor and Kilgour for a start. Pablo Martinez’ availability is uncertain after a disrupted pre-season, but teenage left-back Sam Heal could be an option for the bench. Midfield Paul Coutts will be unavailable after his red card for violent conduct on Saturday, which earned him a three-match ban, while Sam Finley will play a training game earlier in the day as he scales up his injury recovery. That means Josh Grant will likely have to go again after a solid defensive performance on Saturday, and he could be partnered by Ben Liddle, who was an unused substitute at the weekend. Cameron Hargreaves, Tom Mehew and Joe Budd will also be in the conversation for Barton.
Joe Budd of Bristol Rovers dribbles the ball.
(Image: Andy Watts/JMP)
Zain Westbrooke played an hour at Mansfield after Clarke’s injury, so the 24-year-old could be withdrawn for a player with fewer minutes in his legs. Sion Spence could be that man, with Zain Walker an option for the left wing. Ryan Jones could make a debut from the right, with Luke Thomas and Harry Anderson potentially kept in reserve for the home opener at the weekend. Sam Nicholson is nearing a return but will not be available on Tuesday, but Lucas Tomlinson and Kinsly Murray could make the squad.
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Attack With Brett Pitman, Aaron Collins and Brandon Hanlan ruled out again with injury, Harvey Saunders remains the only senior option to play up front. Youngster Kieran Phillips may be required for the bench, while Ollie Hulbert is understood to have had an injury over pre-season which could scupper his chances. Rovers (4-2-3-1): Belshaw; Hoole, Kilgour, Taylor, Harries; Grant, Liddle; Jones, Spence, Walker; Saunders.