‘Gutted’: Aaron Collins opens up on World Cup snub as Bristol Rovers goal outlined
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Aaron Collins has been through the motions this week, going from disappointment to delight. The Bristol Rovers striker Bristol Rovers star misses out on Wales World Cup squad - Tom Lockyer makes cut">found out on Wednesday that he wouldn't be in Wales' World Cup squad. The 25-year-old was an outside contender for a call-up after his form for the Gas this season.
Collins has by far been Rovers' best player with nine goals and six assists this season. He is top of both the top scorers charts and assists at the club. One goal shy of double figures, he is second behind former Gas forward Jonson Clarke-Harris in the League One scorer charts.
His form has been admired by his manager and teammates, but now he is beginning to attract attention from those outside of the club. Clinton Morrison and Aaron McLean discussed how he should be considered for a call-up to the Welsh national team as well as how they liked what they saw from him.
The plaudits have continued to come his way and his early-season form was rewarded with an individual award. Collins was named as the Player of the Month for October following his three goals and three assists. He scored a brace and set up Antony Evans in the 4-1 win over Cheltenham Town.
Commenting on the award, he said: "It’s nice to be recognised as an individual, if I’m doing well as an individual I’m helping the team out in a massive way. We proved last month that we had a good month.
"It’s nice to be recognised, you feel like you’re doing well and when you win awards, you’re being recognised from outside of the club. People are like ‘he’s done well this month’ and it is nice to feel like that. All I can do is try my best and help the team.
"I’ve come into this season full of confidence. I’ve kicked on and got nine goals and six assists. I’m hoping to get plenty more from January and the rest of the season to help the team as much as I can.”
Collins' hasn't found the back of the net in the last two matches but Fleetwood Town acts as an opportunity for him and Rovers to get back to winning ways in the league. Fleetwood - managed by Joey Barton's old foe Scott Brown, are two places higher in 15th. At the start of the season, Barton's aim was to get 52 points which would ensure their safety in the third tier.
The former Forest Green Rovers man however is looking further than that. Last season saw Rovers start the season poorly but emerge as promotion contenders. A push for a second consecutive promotion hasn't been ruled out.
We proved we can play with those at the top of the table,” said Collins, who used the draws against Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesay as how they could compete. “We may not have started the best and that might be where we are now. We proved that as a team we can do something this season and kick on from that.
“When you go out there and prove it. We proved against Plymouth we were as good as them and Sheffield Wednesday. We let ourselves down against Derby but we had a sloppy start and it was hard to fight back from that. We proved that now, people can start believing now that we can be like the top team in the league this season.
“We’re not far off it now. We’re looking at the Christmas period going into January. You get a good run over this period of time you can kick on over January, which is what we did last year. You can cause an upset and do what you want to do which is in the play-offs or in the promotion mix.”
If you were to go back a year, Collins was still waiting for his first goal in the blue and white quarters. It wasn't until November 16 that he found the back of the net against Oxford United in an FA Cup replay. It was a period of immense frustration for the forward but once he scored, the goals came and he ended up finishing the season as their top scorer, scoring 16 times.
He is just seven goals off of last season's tally and has already beaten his assists, with more than what he achieved during the whole of the last campaign. Part of that has been down to his versatility which has seen him play in various roles across the front-line.
He started the campaign as a left winger but in October shifted to a more central position to accomodate the form of Ryan Loft and the emergence of on-loan Middlesbrough striker Josh Coburn. It's a position he's been able to benefit from, adding assists to his game. Collins is one of the first names on the team sheets and admits he wants to thrive whatever position or system he is played in.
"If I have to do a job like last season then I have to do it," Collins stated. "I’ll work my socks off and do my best. I think playing off the big man is my strength or playing off a number nine. I’ve been able to do that out wide or in the ten this season. I’m enjoying my football and playing the way I want as a player.
"You could say we haven’t had an out-and-out winger so far this season. I’ve been playing out there, a bit of Harvey Saunders and a bit of Macca (Luke McCormick). We’re proving we can still play around that and do it. Scotty (Sinclair) who is an out-and-out winger. He proved on Saturday if you get the ball out to him, he’ll get at players one-on-one and beat them and cause trouble.
"I am looking forward to it and being a number nine or ten if I want to go and score the goals. If the ball goes to him, I’ve got to get in the box and there are chances for me to score goals.
“I haven’t had the chance to play in League One before and I was biting at the dust. Going into this season it’s been full of confidence and I’ve felt I’ve proved to myself and those that have doubted me in the post that I can play in League One and if not higher in the future.”
As is the nature of a mid-season World Cup, Collins won't be able to go out to Qatar to watch his country like he would have done in a summer tournament. Rovers have four matches during the group stages; two league matches as well as FA Cup and EFL Trophy matches.
There won't be many representatives from League One at the World Cup, but there was a genuine belief that the Newport-born striker could have been involved. A factor behind Scott Sinclair's arrival was part of a contingency plan if 'Azza' was part of Rob Page's squad.
There was fierce competition for a place, competing with the likes of Brennan Johnson, Dan James and Harry Wilson who play in the Premier League, as well as several players in the Championship.
For now, Collins' will have to settle for his one cap for Wales' Under-19's that he made in 2015. The motivation for him now is to succeed at Rovers and hopefully a call-up will follow suit with March's EURO 2024 qualifiers on the horizon.
"I’m gutted this time because the chance to represent your country is what you dream of as a kid," he said. "It was gutting not to make it, it was obviously going to be tough.
"Wales have got good attacking players from the Premier League and Championship sides. There was that little chance and I was gutted but I’m here now, playing in League One and hopefully, I can add to the goals and assists tally.
"Looking at the positives, if I carry on this form. I am in their names as well. Going into next season even if it’s a friendly or a EURO qualifier it would be good to get called up. I’ll try and kick on to get called up.
"It would be a dream of mine to play for Wales. I didn’t get much of a chance as a kid. If I was able to get a cap it would make the rest of my life."