Bristol Rovers face a goalkeeper dilemma after Brentford and Southampton transfers
Bristol Rovers goalkeeping department is now stacked - which means Joey Barton has a dilemma on his hands for Portsmouth and the 2023/24 season.
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Bristol Rovers yesterday signed Matt Hall on a free transfer from Southampton. His arrival gave some answers but also made for more questions.
The 20-year-old was the second goalkeeper in two days to sign for the club after Matt Cox joined on a season-long loan from Brentford. Cox is the second Bees goalkeeper to join this year after Ellery Balcombe’s loan spell, and he made his debut in the 2-0 friendly win over Swansea City.
Hall and Cox’s arrival brings up the question as to what does the future look like for James Belshaw at the club? They are the answer for the time being in to what competition he will get, but what about the clubs’ long-term plans? Perhaps there is place for all three at the club as it’s the norm to usually run with three goalkeepers. Belshaw’s once secure position is now under threat and he has competition from a newer breed of goalkeepers.
Last season, Brentford instructed Rovers that they’d have to play Ballcombe for a certain amount of games to avoid paying a transfer penalty, and whilst it may not be that extreme for Cox, there will be an expectation he gets game time. Cox was back-up to David Raya 21 times in the Premier League last season and comes highly rated.
Brentford are going to expect Cox gets a good amount of game time, because they wouldn’t let someone so close to their first-team then go and warm a bench in a division two divisions below. In his 45 minute cameo against Swansea, he made a string of good saves and looked comfortable on the ball. He kept a clean sheet against Championship opposition and that’s a good place to start if you’ve got ambitions of being number one.
Rovers in pre-season have tried to include the goalkeepers in their build-up play with mixed results. Belshaw cheaply conceded possession against Braga, and it resulted in the Portuguese sides second goal in their 3-2 win last Saturday. Younger goalkeepers are being encouraged to receive the ball more and almost be an additional defender, though they must prioritise their goalkeeping responsibilities. Belshaw comes from an older generation of goalkeepers who aren’t expected to be so involved with play. The 32-year-old still has a willingness to learn but Joey Barton has a preference of working with younger players, because their minds might be more open to learning.
The reason why Barton has recruited two new goalkeepers and a few defenders is because they had one of the poorest defensive records in the division last year. Forest Green Rovers, Morecambe, Accrington Stanley and Burton Albion are the only teams who conceded more than them and three of those teams were relegated. Rovers have ambitions of reaching the play-offs and if they are to be there they will need to at least halve the amount of goals they’ve conceded. Belshaw whilst not completely at fault conceded 59 of those efforts in 38 games, and now there has been an urgency to try and rectify that issue.
Competition has been sparse for Belshaw for most of his two seasons at the club. Jed Ward - whilst highly rated - was inexperienced in League Two when providing cover but has at least has now got himself a good move to Wealdstone. The 20-year-old has moved up a division from Hungerford Town, and once he returns there’s a hope he’ll be able to challenge for the number one spot.
In the mean time, Hall is probably going to hold the role Ward would have had which is third choice goalkeeper. The 20-year-old has recently been released from the Saints, and has a few spells in non-league football with nearby Melksham Town and Totton.
He was the back-up goalkeeper at Southampton last year but did at least make two appearances in the Premier League 2 and made an outing in the EFL Trophy. Hall stands at six foot three and having come from Southampton, there is a hope that he is already used to possession-based football.
Saturday’s match with Chesterfield could offer perhaps the answer to who will be number one this season. Cox is only a few days into his career but should he be given the starting nod against the Spirerites in their final pre-season friendly then he may have the gloves for the opening day clash against Portsmouth.
As for BristolWorld’s predictions? At the moment it’s Belshaw and Cox vying for a starting spot and then Hall is third choice, though an opportunity in the EFL Trophy perhaps could see Hall’s situation improve.