Darrell Clarke has hailed the job that Joey Barton is doing at his former club Bristol Rovers. Clarke comes to the Memorial Stadium as an opposition manager on Saturday for just the second time.
The 44-year-old was manager of the Gas for four years and despite being relegated to the National League, kept his job and led the club to back-to-back promotions to League One. It earned him respect amongst the fan base after battling against his early detractors.
Barton, was also afforded the opportunity to continue after suffering a relegation, after picking up the baton from Ben Garner and Paul Tisdale in a doomed 2020/21 campaign. At the first attempt, he led the Pirates back to the third tier.
Ahead of his return to the West Country, Clarke has reserved praise for Barton and the job he is doing so far. “Joey has had a fantastic career and he is doing very well as a manager,” he said to BBC Radio Stoke.
“A lot of people have opinions on Joey but I take people how I find them. I’ve always got on well with Joey and he is doing a cracking job there.”
Clarke was victorious at the Mem last year, winning 2-1 against nine-men after Cian Harries and Sam Finley were sent off. In the reverse fixture, Clarke was in the stands, as Rovers won 3-1 at Vale Park on Easter Monday, which made for a giant step to promotion.
Rovers went up automatically finishing third in the most dramatic of circumstances, winning 7-0 against Scunthorpe United on the final day of the season. A few weeks later, Rovers were joined by Vale, who overcame Mansfield Town at Wembley Stadium in the League Two play-off final.
Out of the four newly promoted clubs, Clarke’s men have fared the best so far and are currently ninth, four points ahead of Rovers, with Exeter City in 11th and Forest Green Rovers in 21st.
Ahead of the match, both teams are on a reasonably sound run of form, with the Valiants winning their last three games, losing three matches in ten games. Rovers have lost just twice in ten matches.
Clarke said: “I think it will be a good game to watch hopefully, hopefully I don’t kill that by saying that. It’s two good teams having a go at each other.
“The league is competitive and they have had some great run of form like ourselves. One or two hiccups, a little hiccup in the FA Cup but other than that their form has been very very consistent and they have got different ways of playing. We expect a real good challenge.”