International Calls Are Proving So Costly - Nick Rippington
I SEEM to be the only one not jumping for joy at the news Ryan Sweeney will join Tom Lockyer on international duty this weekend.
While it would be churlish not to feel pleased for the players in question, a small part of me thinks it is once again an indication of how football is loaded in favour of the big clubs.
Any teams robbed of international players in the Premier League and Championship don`t have to worry about their losses impacting on their league position. That`s because their entire fixture list has been 'cancelled`.
But when it gets to the lower leagues, unless you have three first teamers summoned then football chiefs tend to say "tough titty" and "get on with it".
Rovers manager Darrell Clarke will play his usual straight bat if questions are raised over how the absentees might affect the team.
"We will just have to deal with it, like any other problem in football," he`ll say.
The trouble to my mind is that however Rovers approach their next "project", they will most definitely struggle to deal with the loss of their two first-choice centre backs if the evidence of past international breaks is anything to go by.
This year Clarke was forced to field a totally inexperienced centre back partnership for the televised game at Bradford. The seldom used and often injured Jonny Burn made just his second appearance of the season alongside Tom Broadbent who, until this season, had never played a Football League game in his life.
While both players have potential, Rovers were put at a huge disadvantage. Bradford will argue they had players missing, too, but they also had a bulldozing centre forward who has been around the block in Charlie Wyke, and he duly delivered a hat-trick against a Rovers defence that could have conceded plenty more.
It was a shocking performance and it is not the only time Rovers have been punished for international call-ups.
On Easter Monday 2016, Rovers went to Carlisle on the back of a six-game winning run which had enabled them to squeeze into the automatic play-off positions. Unfortunately Wales came calling - not the seniors but the Under-21s - and Lockyer disappeared again.
The result was a disjointed Rovers performance defensively and a 3-2 defeat that knocked us out of the top three and almost cost us promotion. Incidentally, that man Wyke scored one of the goals shortly before his move to Bradford.
Fast forward to this Saturday when Rovers go to Northampton desperate to end a poor run of away form which has left their goal difference more suited to a team floundering in the bottom four.
They should feel confident. The Cobblers are struggling for confidence in front of goal under new boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, having failed to score in over 400 minutes of league football.
But they are still a tough proposition at Sixfields and while a full-strength Rovers would be confident of keeping the Cobblers at bay long enough for their fans to get on their backs, a defence thrown together to cover for absentees may struggle.
It`s not as if Northampton don`t have some powerful tools in their armoury. Marc Richards and Alex Revell are familiar figures to Rovers fans while the free contract signing of former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Lewis McGugan looks like a masterstroke from Hasselbaink given his previous scoring record with clubs at a higher level.
Another heavy away defeat for Rovers and questions will inevitably start to be asked by fans and critics alike.
It may be that Clarke will need to go to the board and beg to bring in some experienced central defensive cover in January just to make sure we are not punished so severely for having players of international standard.