Bristol Rovers showed progression has been made as Barnsley hat-trick hero kept quiet

Bristol Rovers fan columnist Joe Moon delivers his take from the Gas’ 1-1 draw with Barnsley.

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With a tough set of fixtures to start the season, Bristol Rovers were always likely to experience some difficult moments early on, and having now faced three excellent footballing sides, we’ve emerged with plenty of credit in my opinion.

Bouncing back from a mid-week cup defeat in which they certainly didn’t disgrace themselves, the squad were praised post-match by Andy Mangan, and saved their very best for today’s exciting showdown against  promotion contenders Barnsley.

I was surprised come 2pm to see that Joey Barton and Mangan had rolled the dice with a new-look defensive pairing - consisting of Connor Taylor (making his first league start since returning) and Brentford loanee Tristan Crama to his left. The absence of Jevani Brown raised some eyebrows too, with the new signing having starred against Pompey on the opening day - but the quality of today’s attacking play reassures me even more that we have all the depth we need in that attacking third.

It was risky business trusting a new defensive partnership against the considerable threat of last week’s hat-trick hero Devante Cole, but Taylor and Crama barely gave the lively attacker a metre to himself. Dominated aerially and restricted to just a couple of long-range efforts, Cole was hooked off in the 75th minute, clearly frustrated by his lack of clear goalscoring opportunities.

Barnsley’s main threat came in the form of tricky wide-man Nicky Cadden, and having made it a habit of conceding goals from opposition crosses, Cadden’s delivery from the left made for a couple of nervy moments.

Evenly matched early on, a spell of momentum and patient build-up was halted when a poor Sam Finley decision gave Barnsley a fortunate break. Cadden promptly got in behind and beat Cox at his near post with a precise finish, leading to plenty of moans and groans in the terraces. Lots of stray passes from Rovers early on were a worry, but as we grew into the game, Grant Ward and Sam Finley took hold, working the ball across the pitch and paving the way for some exquisite passing moves.

First, a pinpoint right wing cross from Antony Evans was missed by Marquis, following a clever team move. Several minutes later, Collins raced clear, though the forward selfishly decided to take a weak shot instead of squaring to Luke Thomas, who could have tapped the ball into an empty net. All-in-all, Rovers dominated possession following the Barnsley opener, but went in at half time with nothing to show for it.

The visitors were happy to sit back and try to expose us on the counter during the second period, but relentless pressing cancelled them out. Playing against his former side, Luke Thomas again looked the best player on the pitch, both sharp and decisive, while Antony Evans looked back to his creative best, playing just behind the central forward.

Speaking of forwards, John Marquis was unlucky to hit the crossbar following a fluid move, tirelessly running and hassling the visitors’ back line. For me, it’s only a matter of time until the striker opens his account for the season. Andy Mangan eventually subbed on pre-season standout Scott Sinclair, and the veteran winger gave a lesson in finishing following a pleasing spell of pressure from The Gas.

Sent clear with an accurate through ball, Sinclair calmly slotted the ball to the goalkeeper’s left, levelling proceedings with an equaliser which was nothing less than we deserved. Continuing to press until the final whistle, Rovers would have won on another day, and looked likely to cause trouble every time they passed the halfway line.

Despite trailing for a considerable period, 1-1 may be a disservice to us, capable of creating chances at will, but guilty of missing many more. Learn to tuck away those opportunities, and we’ll be a threat for any team we face off against in League One this year.