Darrell Must Revisit The Fulham 'Project' By Nick Rippington
AT TIMES you have to salute Darrell Clarke for his sense of adventure - Tuesday night wasn`t one of them.
The Bristol Rovers manager is famous for saying that every game is a new project: but it doesn`t seem he treated unbeaten league leaders Shrewsbury any different from struggling bottom-four club Northampton Town.
Just at a time when recent results seemed to have finally arrested our alarming habit of conceding early goals, we go to the New Meadow and let in four before half time.
This to a team that may be flying high after the first quarter of the season but hadn`t blown anyone away - until now.
In one humiliating night our goal difference went back to square one, wiping away nearly all the benefits of going six mad at Sixfields.
DC says we should blame him, and on this occasion I believe he is RIGHT.
Of course, the defence is bound to get it in the neck again from disgruntled supporters looking for an easy target, but when you look at our back four individually you wonder where the weak link lies.
Centre backs Tom Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney have impressed enough to be selected regularly for international duty.
Meanwhile, fullbacks Marc Bola and Joe Partington have been receiving rave reviews, so much so that they have managed to keep last year`s vintage - Lee Brown and Danny Leadbitter - on the sidelines.
So perhaps it is tactics away from home which leaves us prey to these kind of results. We have certainly been making a habit of suffering heavy losses on foreign soil - going down 3-0 at Wigan and Portsmouth, and 3-1 at Bradford.
It`s not even a new habit. Games at Walsall and Charlton last season backfired horribly, and it was only a late hat-trick from Matty Taylor that saved us at MK Dons.
To be fair, League One is an unforgiving division and if you give good teams a whiff of goal early on you are likely to be in for a hard night.
So, fresh on the back of an unlucky defeat to another good team in Oxford, you might have expected DC to take the cautious approach, change things around slightly and make it tough for Shrewsbury to break us down.
Clarke pointed out afterwards he has been a manager for a long time now, seen it all and worn the tee-shirt.
He must know, therefore, that unbeaten records come with their own pressure and the longer they continue the more it builds.
Rovers needed to hold out against Paul Hurst`s team until anxiety set in among players and fans. Then they could have struck on the break as the game got older. It`s not rocket science but an oft-used tactic - and on the right day it pays off. Worst case scenario is you possibly lose by the odd goal.
DC wasn`t thinking that way, though. Perhaps having his judgment clouded by the Northampton game he set up with an attacking formation including Ellis Harrison, Rory Gaffney and Tom Nicholls.
Given Rovers reputation for creative football, you can bet his opposite number expected that and his planning paid off in spades.
There is a bigger flaw to my mind and it involves the squad. While DC has been able to switch around his front men and defenders on regular occasions, he has no such luxury in midfield. Ollie Clarke, Chris Lines and Liam Sercombe are very much ever-presents through necessity, with Stuart Sinclair just back from injury and Byron Moore failing to prove he merits a place in the line up.
Clarke, Lines and Sercombe are a formidable trio but had a tough battle on Saturday, so charging them with the duty of carrying on where they left off barely two days later may have been asking too much. At the very least Sinclair could have been thrown in to help out, possibly at the expense of Nicholls, so Rovers could have played two banks of four and "sat in" for a while.
If DC needs a way ahead perhaps he should just take another look at the DVD of the Fulham game in the Caraboa Cup earlier this season.
That was the masterpiece of a smash and grab raid - a term that should be familiar to Rovers fans.
Employing Ellis Harrison as a loan striker, Clarke packed the centre of the field and placed a heavy emphasis on staying solid. The result? Harrison grabbed the opening goal and Rovers defended stoically for a clean sheet and a notable scalp.
Yes, it was a different project, against a Championship team capable of blowing us away, but sometimes the end justifies the means.
We`d all like to see more 6-0 wins, but at the moment we would settle for consistency, a few more league points and far less goals against.
Nick Rippington is a national newspaper journalist based in London. He is also award-winning author of UK gangland fiction thrillers Crossing The Whitewash and Spark Out
Crossing the Whitewash - HERE
Spark Out -HERE