Bristol Rovers faced with five players who need to prove a point in pre-season
The next few weeks may decide the futures of a few Bristol Rovers players
Seven weeks after securing promotion back to English football’s third tier, Joey Barton, his staff and the players are back in for work.
Kitted out in the new Macron training gear and a pre-season friendly just days away, this will be a vital few weeks in preparation for the upcoming season.
Here is who we believe some of the players that have come back and have an added motivation to succeed.
After the signing of James Connolly, we at least have perhaps an idea of a centre-back partnership for the time being.
Before Connolly’s re-signing, Kilgour was the only senior centre-back at the club with Jamie Egan, who had returned from a spell in the National League North with Hereford.
After trying a system with three centre-backs for the first part of last season, Barton reverted to a four man defence which was a recipe for success when he partnered Connolly and Connor Taylor together.
But whilst everyone waxed lyrical and rightfully so about this partnership, Kilgour was on the sidelines with an injury.
Entering the final 12 months of his contract, this will be a big year for the academy graduate, who will want to extend his stay at the club he has worked so hard to feature for.
At 24-years-old, he’s already got more than 100 appearances with almost two full campaigns of League One football under his belt, though his last campaign he suffered a dreaded relegation.
It was believed that perhaps Jaakkola would be out of contract this summer but he is seemingly contracted for next season.
The Finland international played second fiddle to James Belshaw last season after suffering an injury that had him sidelined for months with young Jed Ward stepping up to the plate.
Belshaw after winning the Player of the Year award is likely to be the number one again barring an injury which makes for an interesting situation with Jaakola.
Is it better for Ward to perhaps be the back-up goalkeeper and play in matches like the EFL Trophy and the Carabao Cup, or would a loan move suit him better, given there is no development team for him to play games in. Jaakola has 42 appearances under him in League One and he’s also played in the Championship, so there’s a bit of experience there but it would be a surprise for him to be a regular figure in the side next season.
He was meant to be number one before Belshaw joined last season so in what way a goalkeeper can, he’ll try to do so and start the season between the sticks.
Perhaps a surprise inclusion but given where the newest recruits have been brought in, it brings up the question as to where utility man Grant fits into this side.
Described as the player with the best football IQ by his manager, finding a place for the 23-year-old shouldn’t be a problem but it’s a case of building up his robustness.
A knee injury last season saw Grant miss a chunk of the end of the season run in but he was able to play in the last few matches.
Defensive midfield is his main position but he played nine games as both a right-back and left-back but with those slots filled, it’ll be interesting to see where he fits. He was even deployed as a centre-back in the defeat against Forest Green and whilst that ended in defeat, the qualities of his game could make him a good option to play there.
The signing of Jordan Rossiter, a tenacious midfielder who is likely to play alongside Sam Finley, makes you wonder where Grant may fit in, especially when Paul Coutts returns.
Coutts could drop back to centre-back to partner Connolly but that still means Grant will have to displace two holding midfielders at least.
Things didn’t go as they would have liked to for January recruit Ryan Loft. Saved from being relegated with Scunthorpe United, Loft joined as Barton sought an out and out number nine to lead the line.
With Leon Clarke plagued by injuries and Brett Pitman out of favour, a striker was needed as Aaron Collins was only just in the early stages of his form.
But after starting in his first match and failing to find the back of the net, he suffered a few niggling injuries which saw him ruled out for a few weeks at a time.
A first goal in Rovers colours did come at the right time, scoring the goal that clinched the win over Port Vale on Easter Monday in front of a packed out away end.
Back in March, Barton said: "He’s just got to be patient, we’ve bought him with the longer term in mind,” when asked about his thoughts.
It has been admitted that to be in Barton’s team, you have to have strong fitness levels and a full pre-season in Almondsbury may be what’s needed to get him up to speed.
This will be the highest level that he’s played at and news of interest in James Norwood is going to make his job even harder if that deal can be pulled off. Rovers last year mainly played with one striker which was Aaron Collins, though when Loft was introduced he would be moved out wide.
That could be the case if Norwood does arrive that Collins moves out to the flank and the former Ipswich striker leads the line, but it would still be a tough ask to displace both.
One of the players out of contract this summer, Rovers chose not to trigger a one-year extension but instead gave Clarke a new two year deal.
A slight surprise given he wasn’t a major part of the team last year and struggled to have a consistent role in the side, though he did play 71 minutes on the final day of the season.
Ever since swapping Ireland for England, Clarke has struggled to get into double figures for league appearances having made 17 appearances in two seasons at Rotherham United.
Having made just seven league appearances in the last campaign, this will be a key point in Rovers career that Clarke will have to persuade Barton that his vote of confidence in him was the right decision.
He is likely to be in competition with Nick Anderton for the left-back role, though new recruit James Gibbons can also play on that side, so there is plenty of competition on that flank.
What may work in his favour is that he’s got a slight bit of experience at this level and in the Championship so he knows what the division is all about.
He’s also quite an attack-minded full-back so should he need to move up to the wings, that shouldn’t be a problem and he can make himself available in other areas.