I’m writing this preview before David Wagner’s pre-match presser, so I’m unsure of the official line on how City are approaching this game.
I suspect, though, that the head coach will mutter something about having to balance the need to keep his squad fresh and give game time to those who need it, with the need also to remain competitive and give ourselves the best possible chance of progressing to the next round.
If I’m way off, you have permission to slaughter me in the comments below 😊
In fairness to Wagner, if that indeed is his stance then I’m fairly sure most fans would understand the need to strike that right balance, although a cup run of some description would be very nice given how rare they have been in these parts in the 21st century.
Given that, as things stand, a promotion charge looks a million miles away, why not give it a go? And with the greatest respect to Bristol Rovers – who I’m sure will come to Carrow Road with all guns blazing – there are worse ties to have than being at home to a team who are one division below you.
That said, they are a decent side with aspirations of making it into the League One playoffs come May and so are taken lightly at City’s peril. If the truth be told, I imagine they come to Carrow Road with a belief that a win is well within their grasp – especially if they are up to speed with the current travails of Norwich City.
A gap of 21 places in the pyramid is, I would guess, around the sweet spot for cup upsets.
Right now, the Gas sit tenth in League One – nine points adrift of the playoff places – with a 9-7-8 record from their 24 games with a +1 goal difference. Their form is middling, having picked up six points from their four games over Christmas – home wins over Portsmouth and Charlton and away defeats at Blackpool and Wycombe.
Of their nine wins, five have been at home and four on the road, so Rovers will be unfazed by a trip to Carrow Road, where they will be bringing over 1000 fans – so don’t expect a repeat of the funereal atmosphere of Monday.
I’m not as au fait with their squad and team as I should be but, for what it’s worth, below is how they lined up on New Year’s Day in their 3-2 defeat at Wycombe, where their two injury-time goals were scored by one Chris Martin – he of the NCFC Class of 2010 and Beccles pub infamy.
Those of you who enjoy a wager could do worse than put your 50p on said Beccles Herbert to score on Saturday. He was always a confident young man and I’m not expecting that to have deserted him, even aged 35.
A couple of other familiar names in their squad are Ryan Woods – flame-haired midfield terrier, once of Brentford – and John Marquis, the original lower-league journeyman striker, now at his 57th club.
Other names from the recent past who may be familiar to City fans but both of whom played no part in the defeat at Wycombe are George Friend – a foe of old who we crossed swords with at Wembley 2015 – and Jack Hunt, known for his time at Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday and for having a ‘hilarious’ tongue-twister of a name.
In charge of Rovers now is Matt Taylor – most recently seen in the dugout at Rotherham in their post-Paul Warne phase – who, almost regardless of what happens on the pitch, has to be an improvement on rent-a-gob Joey Barton, their manager from February 2021 to October of last year.
As far as the City starting eleven goes, who knows? Take your pick.
The only two certainties I can see are George Long in goal and Grant Hanley at centre-back – as part of his planned quest for full fitness – although I’d also expect to see some minutes in the legs of Josh Sargent, probably from the bench
Feel free to give me marks out of 11 afterwards but I reckon it will look something like…
As you can see, I’ve opted for a 4-2-3-1 on the basis that even Wagner wouldn’t dare play a back three/five against lower-league opposition … would he?
Surely not … although after Monday’s snore-fest, many of us have lost trust in Wagner’s decision-making, in the same way he has lost trust in this group of players
But, on the basis that even under Wagner’s tutelage, and even with such a modest group of players, they were able to record home wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield, I’m going to go for a bum-squeaking 2-1 win without the need for a replay.
What do you think?