Bristol Rovers contract state of play as EIGHT at risk of leaving on free transfer
Bristol Rovers are at risk of almost losing a whole team - but no decisions will be made soon
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The Gas status in the third tier is not yet confirmed, and there is still mathematically that they could be relegated though they are in a healthier position to other clubs. Rovers are currently 15th, and are ten points above the drop zone with a game in hand over 21st-placed Accrington Stanley.
They have been on a poor run of form however with just two wins in their last 10 matches, tasting defeat six times against lowly sides like Morecambe and MK Dons. Rovers have mid-table Charlton up next, and then Fleetwood Town who are in a similar position in a double-header over the Easter period.
Rovers have seven matches this month after being afforded a three-week break because of international call-ups and Plymouth’s EFL Trophy involvement. In the last full month of the season, they face Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth Argyle and Peterborough United who are all chasing promotion or a play-off spot. Port Vale and Fleetwood are the only two sides currently not in the top half of the table.
He said: “Until you know what division you are going to be in, it’s naive to talk about recruitment and budgets when you’re a long period out from being able to execute any of them. I think if you know you’re going to be promoted or you know you’re going to be in the league next year that you can start getting some plans and try to get ahead of the curve.
“At this moment in time, we haven’t mathematically secured our place in League One. I think you have to prioritise in terms of getting the job done before you start budgeting and planning the next job. Loads of people will tell you we can do both at the same time, crack on and let them do that. At this moment we will focus on finishing this season strongly as we can because that is ultimately the first step of your recruitment.
“People will go ‘Oh they finished strong, I wouldn’t mind playing for them’ Equally I don’t think the market flushes out until everyone knows where they are going to be in terms of promotion and relegation or contract offers that usually unfolds closer you get to the summer. I wouldn’t let my mind wander too far I don’t think we’ve done the work just yet.”
Several players are out of contract at the end of the season, as well as five loan players who will return to their parent clubs. Anssi Jaakola, Calum MacDonald, Josh Grant, player-coach Glenn Whelan, Grant Ward and club captain Paul Coutts all see their current deals expire at the end of the season.
Jaakola has played a handful of games in the EFL Trophy, but has began transitioning into a coach, whereas Josh Grant has played just ten minutes this season. Glenn Whelan meanwhile was meant to retire last summer but instead took up a player-coach role though he hasn’t played as much and has only been called upon when needed.
The most high-profile player to be out of contract is Harry Anderson, who is said to have attracted interest from league rivals Portsmouth, as well as National League leaders Wrexham. Anderson was a key player in Rovers’ promotion winning campaign last year but has struggled this time around.
He said: “We’ve got lads whose future is where is my next pay packet coming from after July,” added Barton. I’ve got to give them an answer to that, is it going to be here, there might be something there and there might not be.
“Until I know where we’re going it’s foolish of me to give them reassurance. I’ve said we’ll leave it until the job is done, once the job is done and we know we’re in League One next year and know the state-of-play, I think it’s sensible to have those conversations.
“Coming to the end of the season and contracts does focus in the lads minds. I always think you’re proving yourself. We’ve got lads who are in a situation where their contracts run out. I think it’s stupid to start renegotiating what league we are going to be in.
“I think once that’s confirmed we’ll go we know where we are and these are the building blocks we need to put into place. As the window opens and you get into the off season and then next season, I think that’s when your plans start to take place. At this moment we haven’t finished the job. There’s still holes in the ceiling, we’ve also realised there’s no given. There’s no game or easy game that is going to be handed to us.”
Ward joined after leaving Blackpool in the winter, and has started regularly with his injury problems behind him for the time being. Fellow January recruit Macdonald joined from Stockport County but has struggled to hold down a place in the squad. Club captain Paul Coutts however may have played his last game for the club after getting a knee injury in training.
He added: “We’ve got to go out and earn those points and earn us status for League One and I think players now we’ve got to show that as a group, that just because we got promoted last year we haven’t got a god given right to be here. We’ve got to improve our own form. If we want to be successful the Mem has to be a lot more difficult for League One teams.”
“We’ve got a lads whose future is where is my next pay packet coming from after July? I’ve got to give them an answer to that, is it going to be here, there might be something there and there might not be. Until I know where we’re going it’s foolish of me to give them reassurance. I’ve said we’ll leave it until the job is done, once the job is done and we know we’re in League One next year and know the state-of-play, I think it’s sensible to have those conversations.”