Doncaster Rovers v Bristol Rovers: Injured Jonson Clarke-Harris is a massive loss - the opposition
In a young season with a few surprise packages, the success of Bristol Rovers so far this term has been a stand out.
Typical perennial strugglers, Gas have stormed out of the blocks, sitting fourth in League One having gone unbeaten since August and with three consecutive wins.
We spoke to Bristol Live’s David Byrom to get the lowdown on the excellent start in the south west.
Q: How would you assess Rovers' start to the season and how does it stack up to expectations?
DB: Very good. They're unbeaten since August and find themselves fourth in the table. They picked their form up last season when Graham Coughlan was appointed but I think most were expecting a season of consolidation this year, so being fourth wasn't anticipated by many outside the club.
Q: It certainly seems to be going well. Do they have the ability to maintain a place at the top end of the table?
DB: It's difficult to say. At 90 minutes on Saturday, Rovers had nine players out injured. That would be a toll on any club, but it has stretched the Gas' small squad to its limits, and the bench for Saturday's game looked very youthful.
However, since Graham Coughlan was appointed in December last year, only Sunderland have picked up more points in League One, which suggests Rovers do have the ability to maintain their form over a long period of time.
Q: How much of a big miss will Jonson Clarke-Harris be?
DB: He will be a massive loss. His goals and ability to single-handedly create things out of nothing have made him a bit of a talismanic figure at the club, and that's despite the fact he only arrived in January.
At the same time, though, Rovers have a mean defence and do not give away many chances. If they can keep teams out at one end, it means they do not need to score many at the other to continue picking up points. Saturday's win over MK Dons, when defender Tom Davies scored the winner, is a good example of this.
Q: How is Graham Couglan viewed?
DB: He was a bit of a divisive figure when he was first appointed as Rovers boss. He was following on from club legend Darrell Clarke, so I think it took some fans some time to warm to him purely because they weren't used to someone else managing the club. Alongside that, whilst he made Rovers hard to beat last season, the football wasn't that easy to watch and he fell out with a couple of fan favourites, which didn't help him win the terraces over.
However, this season he has put his own mark on the side and Rovers' good form, combined with Coughlan's desire to bring the club together, has meant most fans are now on his side.
Q: What system and style of play does Couglan favour?
DB: Rovers have found success this season with a 3-5-2 formation. The back three have formed a mean defence, which allows the wing-backs to push high up the pitch and find space to put crosses into the box. They have energy and tenacity in midfield, along with a couple of decent ball players. Recently, though, Coughlan has hinted at changing things in order to avoid his side being found out, so it remains to be seen how long he sticks with this formation.
Q: Who are the danger men?
DB: Without Clarke-Harris in the side, it really has been a team effort for Rovers this season. However, if I had to pick one player to watch out for, it would be midfielder Ed Upson. After a hit and miss campaign last year, he has really come into his own this season. His role in the side is to sit in front of the back three and keep play ticking over with pinpoint distribution. It allows the two other centre-midfielders to get forward as well, and he can then also shield the defence from counter-attacks.