Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton can focus solely on the matches ahead for the next month after transfer business was done early in the January window.
The Gas’ transfer business is seemingly done given they have recruited both an out-and-out number nine as well as a centre-back who will provide cover for the players currently out with injuries.
As is the unpredictable nature of the window, there is always a possibility of an offer for a player that is too hard to turn down, which forces teams back into the transfer market.
For the time being though, this feels a settled squad which should be capable of mounting a strong promotion push for the second-half of the season.
Given the acceptance that not much more business is to come, attention will now turn to the contract situation both Joey Barton and the club’s CEO Tom Gorringe have with first-team members.
There is a feeling that no new contracts will be announced this month and instead discussions will begin after the window has shut.
The contract renewal period will probably be busier than the whole of the January window given up to 15 players are out of contract in the summer, as well as four loanees returning to their prospective clubs.
As has been the approach this season, only short-term deals have been offered to some players with new contracts expected if Rovers were at the higher end of the table.
Who should Bristol Rovers make a priority for a contract renewal?
The futures of both Antony Evans and Sam Nicholson have been spoken about amongst the Rovers management staff and those are two players that Rovers will not want to lose.
Both have made a temporary strike partnership this season despite being an attacking midfielder and a winger by trade. It has brought some personal success with Evans the second highest scorer with four goals and eight assists. Nicholson meanwhile has the same amount of goals and has earned an assist on one occasion.
It will however hinge on whether the two would be interested in another year in the fourth tier of English football should Rovers fall short. Both returned from abroad with Evans playing in Germany and Nicholson playing in the MLS. Given the progress they’ve made with Rovers, it would be wise for them to remain to stay and be part of a strong promotion push next season.
Trevor Clarke’s deal runs out at the end of the season but the club can extend that should they want to. He's not had a consistent run in the side and has limited to just four outings in the league but after playing in the last two matches, played as a wing-back, he could be kept on.
Into his third season now at Rovers, Wales Under-21 international Cian Harries looks to be settled after joining from Dutch side Fortuna Sittard. He played 28 times in last season's campaign and has since made 14 outings this season though he has been suspended twice. It may be worth keeping him as Barton favours a defence which hs three centre-backs.
Who could Rovers afford to let go?
It’s not really worked out so far for experienced duo Brett Pitman and Leon Clarke, who haven’t made the desired impact in the team.
Pitman started well and has four goals and an assist but with the arrival of Ryan Loft, it is clear that the Scunthorpe striker is the long-term option.
It’s worth keeping the former Bristol City striker till the end of the season but given he turns 34 at the end of the month, it may be better to look elsewhere in the summer. The club does have an option though to extend his stay by a further year.
As for Clarke, who just a few years ago was playing in the Premier League for Sheffield United, it’s been a torrid time due to injury.
A hamstring issue has kept him sidelined since September and whilst he’s back on the training ground now, he is another player who has seen it and done it before, but maybe a younger striker is the way forward.
Suffering a similar fate to Clarke, experienced defender Junior Brown, who was a teammate of Ryan Loft last year, has been limited to just six games this season. He’s close to a return but after the likes of Josh Grant and Trevor Clarke have done well as makeshift options in the wing-back role, he will have a tough task of earning a new deal.
Alex Rodman, who has four appearances but hasn’t played since August, is another player who could be moved on.
There are also some difficult discussions to be made on those who have been with the club for a long period having come through the club’s system from a young age. Both products of the Rovers academy both Zain Walker and Cameron Hargreaves have had periods in the side last season in League One but haven’t been fancied by Barton.
Hargreaves is 23-years-old and that is a time where usually players have already made their way into the first-team, so a new start could be the right option for the long-term development of his career.
Who would be in between worth keeping and letting go?
Glenn Whelan has been superb for Bristol Rovers this season, adding experience to a midfield three of himself, captain Paul Coutts and Sam Finley.
In a few days time he’ll turn 38 and that is an age where some call time on their career. As of yet, no discussion has been made about retirement but it could be something considered if promotion doesn’t come this year. Would Whelan be interested in a further season in football which would take him to near 40.
If a replacement midfield enforcer could be found, a role on the coaching team would be the next step.
Coutts, who has been entrusted with the captain’s armband is in a similar position to Whelan though he is four years younger. Losing two experienced players would be a big blow so it could be a case of one or the other.
There’s then a dilemma between the sticks as Anssi Jaakkola who has been out with achilles injury is out of contract. Jaakkola has been at the Mem for a number of years but the signing of James Belshaw means the Finn will have to force his way back into a position that is hard to claim back.
Barton recently spoke about how Jaakola’s return will be good for Jed Ward as he could be loaned out for some vital first-team minutes. A cheaper option could be found as a back-up option to Belshaw should Jaakola leave, but he is another player who the club can excercise an extension on.
Attention then turns to youngsters like Kieran Phillips, Lucas Tomlinson and Ollie Hulbert, who all have been impressing in the non-league at their respective levels. Both Hulbert and Tomlinson are at Lee Mansell’s Gloucester City, who ironically was manager of the Under-23’s side before it was disbanded. Mansell’s feedback could prove vital on whether they make the grade at Rovers.
The full list of Bristol Rovers players’ contracts…
Expiring June 2022
Trevor Clarke (club have an option of one year extension)
Expiring June 2023
Expiring June 2024