Joey Barton’s very obvious mission to try to create and foster a sense of positivity at Bristol Rovers, and not just on the pitch, came at a slight price and it was very evident against Barrow on Tuesday night.
While the Mem has already been ridden with the humor of the gallows amid the turmoil of the past two years, the sign of an opposing team going down to 10 men so early in the game would have been met with sarcastic cries in the sense gas being almost certain to lose.
But something seemed different this week, as that power play didn’t lead to any cynicism or self-loathing, it only heightened expectations and the demand for victory. It’s very easy to get carried away with all of this, and he still has his detractors among some blue and white supporters, but he has generated a tangible sense of self-confidence and confidence, not only in his players but on all sides. terraces.
Granted, there were slight grunts of frustration as Leon Clarke took a chance at the post near the bar or as cross after cross was led by a stoic back line from Barrow, but the supporters – in the unpleasant trifecta of the late winter rain, wind and cold – stayed with the team, not out of blind loyalty but because of new found meaning Something was going to happen.
And something very significant happened as Antony Evans moved a side pass into his stride, then let it fly 25 yards out for a goal that Barton said was ‘worth the admission fee on its own’ . Suddenly the humidity and lower temperatures were totally worth it.
The Gasheads have faith in this team and it’s mutual, but also as the top seven get closer with every sign of progress on the table, new beliefs and emotional concepts begin to seep into the collective consciousness – pressure and waiting.
Barton compared the run-in to the Grand National with 13 fences remaining, but unlike this particular race, Rovers can probably afford a stumble or two. However, such intense attention is given to each game, that new adjectives are going to be found for the phrase “big game”.
It should not be forgotten, of course, that Barton largely works with a young team. Eight of the 15 players used on Tuesday were 24 and under, admittedly offset by the sizable veteran presences of Glenn Whelan and Leon Clarke (and how important will those numbers be down the stretch), but overcoming the mental challenges of meeting the very clear and obvious targets will be of vital importance.
For Barton, this shouldn’t be seen as a burden or something to particularly overplay, but rather a pleasure. Because at the end of the day, you play the game for those moments of excitement; the butterflies in the belly that go back to the first final of the schoolboys’ cup and push the professionals to always try to be better.
“The pressure, to me, is a privilege,” Barton said, reading almost like a mission statement. “There’s nothing worse than when your season is over. We felt that drift into Ligue 2 obscurity last season. It was so painful to endure.
“It’s so much better to come and have the butterflies and the expectations and the nerves because it really means you have something to play for. Hopefully we get more nervous and more anxious because it means the The stakes are rising. If we want to be a real football club, we have to live up to that expectation.
“No more nights like this, the fans are starting to get used to it and they’re starting to say ‘we know what this is about’ and hopefully by the end of my time here we’ll have that expectation that we are Bristol Rovers and we are winning games of football and we are succeeding.”
This idea of changing the whole mentality of the club is something the manager wants to achieve; bringing a sense of bravado, almost arrogance. Which goes against some of the fundamental principles that have guided the “family club” that is Rovers.
Of course, Rovers have had successes before and have been the big fish in the smaller National League and League Two ponds under Darrell Clarke. But the rise to the top of Ligue 1 under Graham Coughlan was almost unexpected and with a continued lack of connection between the terrace and the manager. And it’s been in perpetual decline ever since, even under Barton’s watch.
But the seven wins Rovers have racked up in just over two months is a huge leap in good vibes from 13 in all of 2021 and 11 in 2020. Three points is no longer a welcome surprise.
“I’m going to agree with you, we need to educate the fanbase,” Barton added. “They weren’t there for COVID and then they came in when it was in a death spiral and they came in and vented their frustration at the start of the season and we were poor.
“We weren’t good enough and we talked about it, we have to make them scream and scream and cheer and keep feeding them because if I showed up and someone was playing despicable football I wouldn’t be jumping for joy. It’s a two-way street and we have to work hard to keep feeding them.
“They had gotten used to being beaten and it’s not their fault, it’s the football club’s fault. We have to get them used to winning games, coming here to win games and being disappointed.
“We were disappointed that we never beat Exeter on Saturday. They were 4-0 and 5-0 ahead of us within 45 minutes twice when we went and that’s a sign of progress. team.
“We were gutted to leave the stadium, I’m gutted to leave for London after the game [Barton attended the Carabao Cup final on Sunday]. They missed a chance from the late gates – Belly says he covered, by the way, and I wouldn’t doubt him – but we could have lost the game. A big point and it looks like an even bigger point after tonight’s three points.”
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