Joey Barton to shuffle playing deck against Barrow as midfielder eyes up Bristol Rovers debut

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Bristol Rovers manager is expected to freshen his side up when they take on Barrow at the Mem in League Two on Tuesday evening

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton says changes to his side are in the offing when they line up against Barrow at the Memorial Stadium on Tuesday night.

For the past few matches, Barton has either named an unchanged side or made a few slight tweaks to start the match, making his changes later on in the game.

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It is a recipe that has worked because they are unbeaten in their last five matches, winning three of them and have also recorded four clean sheets.

But given the busy schedule which has seen the Gas navigate through seven matches in the shortest months of the year, his pack could be shuffled for the visit of the Bluebirds.

One player in contention could be Harvey Saunders, a player who has found himself in-and-out of the first-team picture after returning from injury. Barton has also said players like Saunders, Pablo Martinez and Sion Spence should all be ready to be called upon as there is still a long part of the season to go.

“We’ll try to utilise the group and squad for the next game, what that looks like you’ll find out the team sheets at six thirty,” he stated.

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“We want to give a high energy performance, we want to be on the front foot and be the team right out of the gate. Harvey Saunders is definitely able to do that. He’s unfortunate to miss out on the bench.

“Unfortunately lads are going to miss out but they’ve got to be absolutely wired in because at any point they could be called upon.

“There will definitely be a couple of changes for the game against Barrow. Harvey’s been outstanding and when he’s been called upon, he delivers a performance to the best of his ability.”

There has also been an illness going around the first-team with a few of Saturday’s starters suffering from it.

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Luca Hoole, who scored against Exeter, was one of those, as well as midfielder Sam Finley, who was brought off at half-time.

“You’ll have to check the lads who have been suffering with a bit of illness, so we’ve got three or four like that.

You’ve got a few lads with bumps and bruises, you can imagine with the schedule that it has been unrelenting.

“We’ll go with a group that can deliver a high octane performance because we know from playing Barrow earlier in the season, they’re a good side.”

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Jon Nolan has been waiting for his opportunity after making himself available for selection. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)Jon Nolan has been waiting for his opportunity after making himself available for selection. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Jon Nolan has been waiting for his opportunity after making himself available for selection. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images) | Getty Images

One player who could be given a chance is midfielder Jon Nolan, who has been chomping at the bit to make his first appearance in the blue and white quarters.

Nolan, who joined on a free transfer after leaving Ipswich Town on Deadline Day, has worked hard with the medical staff to get him up to fitness.

The 29-year-old has not played a competitive match in almost a year but is now in a condition to play and was an unused substitute in the draw against the Grecians.

Explaining why he didn’t come on, Barton said: “He was good to go for what I needed him for.

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“I just felt with the tightness of the contest, it wasn’t one where you want to try and play your way in and get up to speed, it was quite harum-scarum in the middle of the park. For an introduction it would have been a baptism of fire, so I chose not to do that.

“Nolan is a ball playing midfielder and no doubt about it if I put him on, he’d have had no problem dealing with it. I’m pleased to have him in the squad and in contention because he’s a hell of a good player.”

Alfie Kilgour, Alex Rodman and Josh Grant remain unavailable for selection with the trio all suffering from injury problems.

Centre-back Kilgour though is making steady progress, but Rodman has to be monitored carefully after a long layoff whilst Grant has already had some issues this season.

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Opponents Barrow arrive in the West Country on Tuesday having drawn at home against Harrogate Town, a result which has them 20th in the table, two points above safety of the drop zone.

They drew 1-1 back in August with Sam Nicholson taking the lead, but despite Mark Ellis being sent off, Ollie Banks equalised and Rovers were unable to make the most of a man advantage.

Their first-team manager Mark Cooper though won’t be in the opposition dugout as he is serving a touchline ban for using abusive or insulting words towards an official against Exeter earlier this season.

Despite his absence, Barton believes it won’t have a wide scale impact in how the opposition perform.

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“They drew 0-0 at home against Harrogate on Saturday, we know we’ll have to be at our best to take maximum points.

“I remember them being down to ten men and being really effective, they offered a real threat on the counter, we had lots of spells of possession but they defended resolutely. For us we were frustrated coming away from the game with a point.

We know how tough of a fixture it will be and we’ll have to perform at the higher end of our performance levels to take maximum points out of the game.

He added: “It makes it difficult, you’re certainly more frustrated if you’re watching from the sidelines, it’s a step back from the touchline.

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“He’ll be well used to that if they’ve already started it. It won’t be ideal but you’d rather coach the team from the sideline but I’m not sure it’ll affect the 11 players too much once the whistle goes.”

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