Bristol Rovers face a key decision on whether to rejig their attack after recent profligacy

Joey Barton’s side have dominated possession but have at times failed to turn that into goals

Bristol Rovers are at a crucial stage of their League Two season right now but they find themselves at a sticky point.

In their last match, Rovers dominated possession with 68% percent of the ball but despite that, they mustered up less shots than Tranmere and only two of them resulted in being on target, including Elliot Anderson’s equaliser.

A similar thing happened the last time they dropped points, against Carlisle United, they had 66% of the ball but despite 18 shots and seven on target, they could not register a goal.

Not every game is going to be perfect and at times there are going to be games where there won’t be maximum points picked, not the art of trying.

But at this stage of the season, the margin between winning and losing is small, as there is always a team waiting below them to pounce on any mistake.

Despite an upturn in form, top scorer Aaron Collins has neither scored or assisted a goal in Rovers’ last five matches and only had one shot in his last match.

Collins, who has 11 goals in 40 appearances for the Gas, has been entrusted to lead the line for a majority of matches this season, playing 28 games as either a solo striker or alongside someone.

And for someone of his ability, he is often seen tracking back and coming deep, whilst he also works hard to try and get others involved, but it sometimes comes at his expense, as he is caught out wide rather than in the box waiting for an opportunity.

There have also been times where he has been limited to taking a shot from outside the box with his strike rate hit and miss when it comes to long distance efforts.

Goal scoring isn’t an issue as such, there have only been three games where Rovers haven’t got on the score sheet since the New Year and two were against promotion rivals.

But with a plethora of options, a slight rejig of how the team lines up could be the difference between success and failure.

One option is to look at Leon Clarke, who for a majority of the season had been on the sidelines with an injury that almost brought an end to his career.

Clarke has been back since February but has also had some slight groin issues, but for the last three matches he has been involved.

To accommodate Clarke, Collins usually remains on the pitch and instead pushes out to the wings, on Saturday he replaced Sam Nicholson.

Clarke is the more experienced option as when it comes to goals, he’s got over 150 if you add up his strikes in both the Championship and League One.

The 37-year-old though is coming towards the end of his career and after overcoming that lengthy injury, perhaps his body is just unable to make a start.

But nevertheless, he is an option worth considering as sometimes old and wise heads are what you need in a promotion battle. This is a striker that has also played in the Premier League.

Ryan Loft has yet to find the target since joining Bristol Rovers from Scunthorpe United in January. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Ryan Loft has yet to find the target since joining Bristol Rovers from Scunthorpe United in January. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Ryan Loft has yet to find the target since joining Bristol Rovers from Scunthorpe United in January. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

You then turn to the man that was brought in to perhaps replace Clarke, given the uncertainty of when he would return, Ryan Loft.

Loft wasn’t on the bench against Tranmere with it unsure whether he was carrying a knock or illness or whether the bench just couldn’t accommodate him.

When 24-year-old joined, he was tried in a 3-5-2 formation alongside Collins, but that meant playing three centre-backs, whilst the most used formation recently is 4-2-3-1 or a slight amendment to a 4-1-4-1.

For whatever reason, it hasn’t worked out so far for the former Scunthorpe United man, who was bought for a transfer fee in January.

After two starts against Hartlepool and Swindon, he missed six matches and since then has been limited to 11 substitute appearances. In the last four games he was an unused substitute and as mentioned, he wasn’t included against Tranmere.

Time is on his side as he is contracted to Rovers until 2024, but the team aren’t waiting then and a moment needs to come soon.

"He’s just got to be patient,” said Barton back in March when asked about what Loft needs to do to get into the team.

“We’ve bought him with the longer term in mind, but he’ll also want to make an impression in the short term because any player wants to make a great impression as soon as they move to a football club.”

Getting on the pitch will be his first task but if he does get a chance, he has to take it and get into good scoring positions.

So far he’s yet to find the back of the net and whilst he is feeding off scraps for minutes, but every striker must make the most of the opportunity given to them.

That also brings us to another option which is Harvey Saunders, who for a long duration of the season was out injured.

Saunders isn’t the most prolific of strikers by any means and has just 11 career goals in professional football. Saunders has mainly been used as a substitute but at the start of the season he was tried as a centre forward, similar to where Collins is playing now.

He isn’t just limited to playing up front though and since his return from injury, has taken his place either as a winger or an attacking midfielder.

Saunders does fit the mould of a player that has pace and tricks in abundance, which matches the usual starting attacking quartet, but if Rovers are to change the formation or try and solve their striking issues, then perhaps a different kind of outlet is best suited.