Jon Nolan’s arrival at Bristol Rovers poses questions on how midfield will shape up - stacked in department

Bristol Rovers added Jon Nolan to their squad after Deadline Day. (Photo by Will Oliver - Pool/Getty Images)Bristol Rovers added Jon Nolan to their squad after Deadline Day. (Photo by Will Oliver - Pool/Getty Images)
Bristol Rovers added Jon Nolan to their squad after Deadline Day. (Photo by Will Oliver - Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Two new signings through the door ponder some questions on how they’ll fit in at Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers yesterday announced the surprise signing of midfielder Jon Nolan on a free transfer.

The 29-year-old joined the Gas a day after his contract was terminated by League One outfit Ipswich Town.

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Nolan’s arrival at the Memorial Stadium does pose some questions though as to how the midfield might line up.

Before Deadline Day, Joey Barton was in the market for a midfielder of a similar mould to Antony Evans or Sam Finley, as well as a left-back.

No left-back was recruited but instead two midfielders were brought in an area that now has multiple options to choose from.

Jon Nolan has Championship experience. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)Jon Nolan has Championship experience. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Jon Nolan has Championship experience. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images) | Getty Images

So where could Jon Nolan fit into this midfield?

Nolan is predominantly a centre midfielder so he’s in competition with the likes of Glenn Whelan, Paul Coutts and Sam Finley for a starting spot.

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He has to be managed carefully though as a knee injury has kept him out of action since January 2021. It’s a long time to not play senior level football and he may not be thrown in straight away and instead slowly be introduced from the bench.

Given the interest from higher division clubs, Rovers had to move quickly to avoid missing out on a player with a good amount of experience in the Football League.

The former Shrewsbury man can play as both a central midfielder as well as an attacking midfielder but given the importance of Evans, is he really likely to displace him this season?

Evans is one of the first names on the team sheet and has been the most influential player this season with his goals and assists, so that could be a no go.

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Dropping into the defensive midfield, at times we have seen Rovers play with three out-and-out CM’s with a midfield trio of Coutts, Finley and Whelan.

Whelan has been out of the side recently because of a family bereavement whilst captain Coutts has been an influential figure in the team, starting a string of games as of late. The pair are two box-to-box midfielders.

Finley meanwhile is a playmaker, who has missed a few games this season both through injury and suspension and was brought off against Scunthorpe last week.

He wanted to play against Walsall but wasn’t risked and now we might get more of an understanding of the situation when Joey Barton speaks to the press on whether the injury might be worse than expected.

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If Finley is injured then Nolan’s signing makes more sense as Rovers are a much better team with him in the side so finding a like-for-like replacement is important.

Both Coutts and Whelan are out-of-contract at the end of the season and the latter has increased his coaching duties with the club so Nolan could be seen as the longer-term option if the experienced pair aren’t here at the end of the season.

You also have to look at the busy schedule coming up, so having six midfielders for three positions isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

February is a busy month though with a total of seven games coming up with a repeated pattern of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday matches.

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The arrival of two midfielders though does beg the question of what future Sion Spence may have with the club now.

The other new recruit Elliot Anderson is similar to Spence, who can play in the central role as well as a wide player so that may be his position taken up.

Other loanee Luke Thomas has also performed well lately too so wherever Spence tries to get into, he’s got to get past players who are on form.

For the last number of games, Spence has taken a place up on the bench but hasn’t come on and now with the addition of a player in a similar position to him, his task to break into the team has been made harder.

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No discussions had been had with Crystal Palace about potentially recalling him from his loan.

This is despite just 372 minutes of action in a Rovers shirt with his last appearance coming in a makeshift side against Peterborough in the FA Cup.

Spence has had his moments, scoring late winners against both Oxford United and Walsall but hasn’t been able to hold a place down in the team.

The Welshman could be recalled but his options would be limited given the window is now shut so it could only be a return to under-23’s football for him.

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The plethora of options in midfield has seen some players reinvented into new positions with Josh Grant now recognised as a full-back on both sides despite naturally being a defensive midfielder.

To take away from this is that Rovers have a number of options in midfield and it is now up to Barton to field his best team whilst trying to keep everyone happy.

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