Joey Barton likens promotion race to Grand National as Bristol Rovers overcome tricky hurdle

The Bristol Rovers boss likened the race for the play-offs and automatics to the popular horse race held in Merseyside
The Grand National is held in Aintree, not too far from where Joey Barton grew up. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)The Grand National is held in Aintree, not too far from where Joey Barton grew up. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
The Grand National is held in Aintree, not too far from where Joey Barton grew up. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton has likened the League Two promotion race to the Grand National after navigating his side to a 1-0 win over Barrow.

Antony Evans’ 81st-minute long-distance strike settled a close-fought encounter with the Gas getting their just rewards against a problematic Bluebirds side.

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With just over a quarter of the season to go, Rovers are hitting stride at the best possible time with confidence building with a fourth win in five matches and another clean sheet.

The win has put them within two points of both sixth-placed Newport County and seventh-placed Mansfield Town, whilst they are only five points off an automatic spot with a game more to play.

“For us, we’re coming into form at the right part of the race,” said Barton to BBC Radio Bristol in his post-match press conference interview.

“You want to be coming into form when the finish line is in sight, you want to be moving through the field.

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“We’ve still got 13 fences to go over, it is the grand national in many regards with League Two being a 46 game campaign.

“Tonight we’ve got over the fence, it may not have been as crisp or clean as the stride it maybe could have been if we score a bit earlier.

He added: “At the end of the day we’ve navigated the fence, we’ve navigated it with momentum. A few other teams around us have clipped the fence and not taken maximum points.

“We’re finding different games to win football at the minute, there is a young hungry group in there.

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“We’ve got depth in the squad and players coming back to fitness. I’m looking forward to the last three months of the season.”

Tonight’s match on paper would have been made easier when Niall Canavan was red carded for a last-man foul on Leon Clarke.

His dismissal though actually made it harder for Rovers to break down as Mark Cooper’s men put more bodies behind the ball and dealt with most of their pressure well.

After going in front through Evans, there were a few moments where they could have let their three points slip with goalkeeper James Belshaw brought into action late on.

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Fortunately the experienced shot-stopper was on hand to make a number of key saves and in doing so earned his side the win.

Barton said: “I thought we were the better team when they went down to ten men. We had the lion’s share of possession, we had to make a few adjustments because of the state of the game, we wanted to get more attacking personnel on there because we wanted to get that first goal which would have been key.

“I’m really pleased with the control up until we score because then they’re playing effort football where you’ve got nothing to lose and they chase the game. Credit to them they kept pushing and pushing and James Belshaw made a couple of good saves, we’ve had to block a few.

“We’ve had to defend our goal properly to get those maximum points over the line so I am really pleased.”

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