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McGhee to Steady Sinking Pirates

Another week, another new manager at Bristol Rovers. The club are becoming a symbol for England’s farcical managerial merry-go-round, having appointed Mark McGhee as their fourth permanent manager in two years. The club have failed to arrest a downward spiral that has seen them slide into League Two, where they hover perilously above the trapdoor that leads Non-League football, occupying 17th position in the division. After Paul Trollope’s sacking in December 2010 following a relatively successful five years in charge, both Dave Penney and Paul Buckle have tried their hand in the Pirates’ dugout, lasting just a couple of months each.

McGhee, who has been out of a job since leaving Aberdeen last year, has been appointed on a two-a-half year contract, where he hopes to resurrect his own career that has stalled in recent times. The 54-year-old takes charge of his eight club, having achieved promotion with Reading, Millwall and Brighton. His spell in the SPL saw him lead Motherwell into Europe, but after a move to rivals Aberdeen, he only lasted 18 months, having won just 17 of 62 games. The manager and the club could be a good fit then, as both need to revive their stock that has fallen far from previous heights. McGhee admitted the task ahead was difficult, stating ‘I’m quite nervous…but I know there’s work to be done and I’m looking forward to it.’

It’s fair to say McGhee wasn’t exactly Rovers’ first choice appointment, having been rejected by Burton Albion manager Paul Peschisolido, whilst it is believed both Sean O’Driscoll and Paul Ince were sounded out about their availability, with all parties unable to agree terms. This suggests the position at the Memorial Stadium has become something of a poisoned chalice with plenty of managers keen to avoid an early axing. When the club appointed Paul Buckle in the summer following their relegation from League One, there was a high level of expectation surrounding the club. Buckle had in fact guided previous side Torquay to the League Two playoff final, losing 1-0 to Stevenage at Old Trafford. The board poached their man with the promise of significant backing and Buckle used this to full effect, bringing in 21 new players during his seven months in charge. Whilst some were merely squad players filling round holes with square pegs, an element of quality was still introduced to the side, including veteran goal-grabber Scott McGleish, who knows how to find the net in this division. Winger Joe Anyinsah was also snapped up from Charlton, while Buckle raided his former club for a number of decent players, including Chris Zebroski and Scott Bevan. Matt Harrold has proved to be the former manager’s best piece of business however, as the former Shrewsbury man has weighed in with 11 goals in all competitions, making him the club’s top scorer.

It just hasn’t happened for the Pirates though, they have struggled for form all season and only a couple of recent wins has lifted them above the drop zone. Although League Two is extremely competitive this year, with traditionally strong sides like Southend and Swindon going well, not to mention big-spending Crawley Town, who look well set for a back-to-back promotion bid. Rovers fans would have expected a playoff push at the very least however, not a survival scrap from day one. They aren’t the only big side facing potential relegation though, indeed former Premiership side Bradford City lie below them and Northampton Town, a traditionally strong outfit at this level prop up the division. With a squad short on confidence, McGhee faces a difficult task to raise the spirits of his new players, although the live FA Cup match against Aston Villa helped lift the mood around the club, despite a 3-1 defeat to the Premiership outfit.

Things aren’t all doom and gloom at Rovers however. Having reached a deal in December with UWE to build a new stadium on the university’s land, plans will now be submitted for application. Proposals include a new 20,000-seater stadium, expected to cost about £40m, whilst other facilities offer a club shop, conference rooms and teaching space as well as a jogging track and gym. As chairman Nick Higgs said: ‘This agreement is a significant step in securing a sustainable future for the club.’ These intentions are all good and well, but for the club to really prosper, it is essential that they stay in the Football League this season. McGhee is the man appointed with that task in mind. Plans for promotion can go on hold for the time being as the Pirates fight their way up the League, but with exciting plans around the corner, it won’t be long before fans start to dream of the bigger picture, and one day, overtaking those rivals in red. As long as McGhee lasts more than 5 months!

Tom Mordey @ The_CoinToss

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