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Once Again Around The Bristol Rovers Fish Tank

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AS one goldfish said to another: I think we`ve been this way before.

Darrell Clarke is facing the biggest challenge of his fledgling managerial career – and if some people have their way he will be out on his ear before he can tackle it head on.

It`s true the Bristol Rovers manager struggled when he first took over the reins, but many gave him the benefit of the doubt, saying he was handed the job with both hands tied behind his back.

Personally, I thought DC made some rash decisions in that time, alienating important members of the squad when he should have been trying to foster a better team spirit.

But he stuck to his guns and, fortunately for us, our board of directors at that time stuck by him – even after a pretty indifferent start to our National League season.

Since then we`ve been on a fast-track to glory – back-to-back promotions before just missing out on the play-offs in our first season back in League One.

With that run of success has come an increase in expectation, something the lamentable Paul Buckle warned us against a few years back.

All the euphoria has persuaded fans that Rovers can keep rising to regain the Championship status we haven`t enjoyed since the early 90s. 

Unfortunately, things haven`t gone according to plan this season. Like all successful clubs there comes a time when, like Dr Who, you need to regenerate. 

Players responsible for getting us into our current position have either past their prime, moved on or not managed to make the giant leap from Conference football to the heady heights of England`s third tier.

What has made matters worse is that Rovers are prone to the odd flashes of brilliance, only to come tumbling down when things seem to be about to head in the right direction.

And if there is anything guaranteed to bring out the merchants of doom it`s when you go 2-0 up after 12 minutes, only to collapse away from home to a side from a lower division.

Make no mistake, that defeat to League Two leaders Notts County was a pretty gutless effort. But even added to a poor run of form which has seen Rovers win only one of their last six in all competitions – and lose the others – is it really time for drastic action?

Rovers found what a precarious business choosing the right man for the job can be after letting Paul Trollope go.

The door to the manager`s office became a revolving turnstile. David Penney, Stuart Campbell, the aforementioned Buckle, Shaun North, Mark McGee and John Ward all had a go in either a temporary or permanent capacity.

The result? We slid down the slippery poll like a fireman in a Vaseline suit.

To be honest, Rovers stumbled across Darrell more by luck than judgement, and he has taken this club further than we could have possibly imagined.

The last thing we need now is knee-jerk reactions, when the bloke to turn things around is right here.

We aren`t in the relegation zone, we have our top scorer Billy Bodin to come back into the team and our home record is a match for most. Added to that, I don`t think DC has lost the dressing room in any way, shape or form.

Past achievements tell me he has earned the right to go into January`s transfer window and try to right some of the wrongs.

One of those, I believe, was not to replace the wealth of experience and leadership we lost when Steve Mildenhall, Mark McChrystal, Lee Mansell and Jermaine Easter left the playing staff.

Darrell obviously felt some of his younger breed were ready to make the step up, but from what I`ve seen we lack effective leaders on the pitch, people who can think on their feet and give instructions when things are threatening to go pear shaped. 

We are a very passionate bunch, Rovers fans. And horrible evenings like the one on Friday obviously strike a nerve.

But we`re not the only club to suffer FA Cup embarrassment. Blackpool were 2-1 losers to non-league Boreham Wood while other League 1 rivals Oxford, Oldham, Walsall, Portsmouth, Rotherham and Southend all went out to clubs in the bottom tier.

No doubt their managers are in the firing line, too, the difference being that none of them has achieved what Darrell has over the last three-and-a-half seasons.

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

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