‘Real threat’ - Cambridge’s Mark Bonner makes Bristol Rovers admission

Barton’s chopping and changing has made it a mystery for opposition managers
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Cambridge United head coach Mark Bonner is unsure what to expect from Bristol Rovers ahead of their League One clash.

Bonner takes his U’s side to the Memorial Stadium on Saturday on the back of two straight league defeats.

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Whilst the Gas were involved with the EFL Trophy on Tuesday night, Cambridge were in League One action against Ipswich Town.

It meant that Bonner was unable to catch a glimpse of Cambridge’s next opponents, which would have put him in good stead to study the opposition.

Any scouting mission to the Mem however won’t have given the full picture however as Joey Barton made eight changes to his side for the visit of Crystal Palace.

“The truth is it could be anything really,” said Bonner to the Cambridge Independent,” when asked about what to expect from Rovers.

“We’ve seen them change shape quite a lot.

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“They’ve got players that have played in a lot of positions, the back three has changed a lot, they’ve played a three and a four.”

“They’ve played with midfielders in wing-back positions, they’ve played with a front two and a front three. And they’ve played three in midfield with a deep player and an attacking player – they’ve changed all the time.”

Joey Barton has used 24 players this season with only five teams using more - compared to Cambridge’s 19, which is a joint-league low.

In recent weeks, Barton has deployed a three-man defence, alternating between a 3-4-3 and at times a 3-5-2, swapping from the 4-2-3-1 formation that he reverted to last season. It was the formation to start the season, whilst 4-4-2 was used against Burton Albion and 4-3-3 has been used on several occasions.

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Last week’s draw against Exeter City was used as an example as to where Rovers coild cause them problems.  All three of Rovers’ available strikers; Aaron Collins, Ryan Loft and John Marquis, had all started with Loft leading the line, supported by his two teammates.

Rovers will also able to call upon three returning players with Lewis Gibson, James Gibbons and Josh Coburn for Saturday after they came through unscathed after featuring in the win over Palace’s Under-21’s.

As the injury crisis comes to an end, the welcomed competition of multiple players in certain positions, makes for an even tougher task for opposition managers to prepare against.

Bonner added: “They were fairly direct against Exeter last week, but they’ve got a real counter-attack threat and pace in behind with (Ryan) Loft and (Aaron) Collins and a target to play into with (John) Marquis.

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“I think at their core they want to play, they want to build, they want to dominate possession, but with injuries and changes they’ve made recently it’s flip flopped between styles.

“We can’t get too obsessed by them because we don’t really know what’s coming. What we’ve got to do is get ourselves ready to be the best version of us and show a flexibility on the day to adjust to whatever they do.”

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