The Bristol Rovers agenda as Stoke City come to town for final pre-season match

Michael O’Neill brings his Stoke City side to the Memorial Stadium with a familiar face as Bristol Rovers round off their pre-season

Bristol Rovers have a few pressing matters ahead of tonight’s match with Stoke. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Bristol Rovers have a few pressing matters ahead of tonight’s match with Stoke. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Bristol Rovers have a few pressing matters ahead of tonight’s match with Stoke. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Bristol Rovers round off their pre-season schedule this evening as they welcome Stoke City to the Memorial Stadium.

Since returning three weeks ago, there has been a tour to Portugal, as well as some games against nearby non-league opposition.

A 6-1 win over Melksham Town started things off well and then away in Portugal at a resort, they had the treat of playing Portuguese champions FC Porto, but suffered a 3-0 defeat.

Returning from Vilamoura, there were split squads away against Bath City and Chippenham Town with mixed results. Joey Barton watched as the National League South side won 3-1 against arguably the stronger line-up whilst at Chippenham, summer signing John Marquis opened his account in a 4-1 win.

A behind-closed-doors friendly was played against Swansea City’s training ground last week, losing 3-2 with Ryan Loft on target.

More Championship opposition lies in store in the final game of pre-season for Rovers. A win would be nice ahead of that opener on Saturday, July 30 against Forest Green Rovers, but there are some other matters ahead for tonight’s match.

Will the trialist feature?

Against Swansea, there was a trialist, though not much is known about his identity. It is the only game in which a player not contracted to the club has played over the last few weeks.

Given that Joey Barton wants perhaps seven more players, it’s interesting that there haven’t been more trialists feature, though there are a few in-house players to run the rule over.

Should the unnamed trialist play this evening then that either be seen as a final audition before the league kick-off next week.

The return of Connor Taylor

Ideally Taylor would already be back at Rovers for his second spell right now but instead Stoke City are still running the rule on him.

Taylor will return to the West Country this evening but will instead be featuring for the opposition, who are still undecided on his short-term future.

The 20-year-old penned a new three-year deal which could hint that they want to include him in their first-team plans.

Andy Cousins, head of football operations hinted that the new deal means he could stay here but it’s a situation that continues to be monitored.

He said: “If we do feel like that at some point he needs to go to a next step, obviously Bristol Rovers last season were in League Two, so there are quite a few who would take him on loan in League One. We’re assessing that in pre-season.”

That could mean that if Taylor does return there could be a wait, which would likely run into the early few games of the season and maybe even deadline day. They may also want to have him as a backup option in the Championship.

This friendly though will act as a good level to see where Rovers are at and in some cases, there have been younger players who have caught the eye for the opposition that can sometimes be enquired about.

The front line

The signing of John Marquis, especially on a free transfer, can be seen as an astute addition and it is expected he’ll play a big part this season.

His arrival though makes us ask the question as to whether we’ll see a change in formation or players being put into different positions.

Marquis is your out-and-out number nine and that was something Barton was looking for in January.

The 30-year-old has a great record in League One but should he start, then does that mean that Collins will have to be pushed out wide for the pair to be accommodated?

The 4-2-3-1/ 4-1-4-1 formation last year saw Elliot Anderson play on the left but without replacing him and losing Sam Nicholson, moving Collins out wide isn’t a bad idea.

Loft has put himself in the picture though scoring goals in multiple games over the last few weeks and is pushing to be involved. You’d still expect Marquis to start over Loft unless he wasn’t fully fit but he’s got himself up to speed of the rigorous training regimes Rovers have and is ready to be called upon when needed.

One eye on Forest Green?

The recently announced intra-squad friendly being played on Saturday means that tonight’s match is the last where they’ll be facing a different team. Tonight’s starting line-up tonight then may be the one that begins the season on July 30.

Usually final pre-season games are the matches that have the best possible team out there because minutes are important before the curtain raiser.

That could mean extended playing time which would mean no chop and change XI’s for different halves and instead the team are likely to play for an hour or so to get themselves into the best condition.

There will be room of course to accommodate knocks and niggles with precautions taken before the competitive action starts but ideally the team would be what Barton wants it to be.