Bristol Rovers predicted XI to face Cheltenham: Barton has big midfield decision to make

Bristol Rovers take on lowly Cheltenham at Whaddon Road on Saturday afternoon – and this is how we think the Gas will line up.

<p>Bristol Rovers have several players to call upon in defence and midfield. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)</p>

Bristol Rovers have several players to call upon in defence and midfield. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bristol Rovers are on the road for the second time this week as they travel to Whaddon Road to face Cheltenham Town.

The Gas got maximum points on the first leg of their travels this week after defeating MK Dons at Stadium MK on Tuesday evening. Antony Evans came off the bench and scored the decisive goal as he converted his spot-kick after Ryan Loft was fouled in the box.

It was one of only a few games played in the third tier in midweek after being an arranged fixture from mid-September. Saturday’s opponents Cheltenham had no midweek fixture and their last match was a 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.

Fortunately for Joey Barton, no players came through the match with an injury. The only major injury he has to contend with now is Josh Grant, who is out for the rest of the season after undergoing an operation on his knee. Grant had only made one appearance this season and so there isn’t a major change to what he has lost but has a task of choosing a team with a plethora of options.

Goalkeeper

James Belshaw is one of the first names on the team sheet and despite a few slight hiccups in matches, he has gone on to redeem himself in games. He made an error against Exeter City and was forgiven for it whilst he also conceded a penalty against Cambridge United, before making a handful of much-needed saves.

Anssi Jaakkola remains back-up to Belshaw and will be used in competitions such as the EFL Trophy.

Defence

Joey Barton wanted to play a 3-4-3 formation when all his players had returned and it remains to be seen whether that will return. James Connolly is his only absentee in defence now so whether he will play with three-centre-backs remains up to him.

Cheltenham play with five defenders so Barton may consider matching up the opponent, though the 4-3-1-2 formation has worked so far. Rovers didn’t change for Milton Keynes on Tuesday and so it should be a four-man defence.

As for personnel, there looks to be a settled back line which picked up their first league clean sheet since mid-August. Lewis Gordon would start on the left-hand side and James Gibbons would be deployed as a right-back. Bobby Thomas has been involved in plenty of defensive combinations and has had multiple partners but the partnership he had with Lewis Gibson on Saturday looked solid.

Luca Hoole was a surprise substitute on Tuesday but his ability to fill in at both centre-back and at right-back is a plus. Gibbons is still trying to fully recover from a long-term injury and having Hoole on the bench to bring on after the hour-mark is a plus.

Alfie Kilgour is back and available for selection after following concussion protocol which ruled him out of the last two matches. He is likely to start amongst the substitutes bench and again is an option to have, more specifically when trying to run the clock down and defend a lead.

Midfield

Antony Evans came off the bench to score the winner on Tuesday and that should be enough to see him given the nod over Luke McCormick. McCormick is still finding his feet after joining from AFC Wimbledon in the summer with his pre-season disrupted. Evans was a consistent starter last season and this change in formation has seen him take on more defensive responsibilities with Aaron Collins now the focal point of the team.

As for who should play with Evans in midfield, Jordan Rossiter seems high on confidence at the moment. He does the unseen work that only managers and coaches can admire, by making well-timed challenges, as well as protecting the defence.

Club captain Paul Coutts was given a start on Tuesday with Sam Finley dropped to the bench, but that could be seen as a decision to afford the latter a rest. Finley is important to the team and he is building up a positive relationship with Rossiter in the centre of the park.

As for who should be the most advanced midfielder, Aaron Collins is the man to fill that role. Collins has found joy in many positions this season but this is the position that Barton saw for him when he signed him. An assist for Josh Coburn last is an example of what Collins brings to the table.

Forward

Josh Coburn and Ryan Loft may be different in stature but they bring different elements to Rovers attack. Coburn is comfortable on the ball whilst Loft wants to compete with opponents in the air. Neither got on the score sheet on Tuesday but Loft at least earned a penalty.

Loft’s goal scoring form has seemed to slow down but he remains an important part to the team and frees up space for the likes of Collins and Coburn to exploit.

Bristol Rovers (4-3-1-2): James Belshaw; James Gibbons, Bobby Thomas, Lewis Gibson, Lewis Gordon; Jordan Rossiter, Sam Finley, Antony Evans; Aaron Collins; Ryan Loft and Josh Coburn.