What can Hartlepool United expect from Bristol Rovers when they return to League Two action against Joey Barton's side

Hartlepool United are back in League Two action this weekend.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 5:40 pm

Pools travel to Bristol Rovers looking to build on their cup successes last week.

And we have the inside track on what Graeme Lee’s side can expect against the Gas from Bristol Live reporter Sam Frost.

How are Rovers performing this season?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Graeme Lee will come up against Joey Barton as Hartlepool United travel to Bristol Rovers. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

They are not where they want to be. Any hopes that they would hit the ground running after relegation were quickly proven to be overly optimistic. Instead, they landed with a thud.

Joey Barton oversaw a near-complete overhaul of the squad in the summer with 17 signings and 20-plus departures and it has taken time for the new squad to gel.

Clearly, a couple of the signings in crucial areas did not work as planned, with centre-back Mark Hughes retiring mid-season due to injury and Rovers have struggled for solutions in attack.

However, they have improved since late October. With the signing of striker Ryan Loft from Scunthorpe, Barton will be confident the small margins start turning in their favour because they have the quality to climb a congested league table.

How has Joey Barton fared during his time in charge?

He would be the first to admit he has underperformed and it has been a very difficult period for him. Rovers' relegation last season was not inevitable when he arrived and to finish bottom of the league – admittedly with a deeply flawed squad that he had no input on – was a poor finish.

He has ridden out some "choppy waters" this season, he says, and he believes the Gas are very much on an upward trajectory. He has the full backing of the owner and will be given time, but the coming months will define his tenure at Rovers.

What can Pools expect from Rovers?

Sam Finley will be unavailable due to suspension and there are several players who are touch and go with injury including Connor Taylor, Alfie Kilgour and Josh Grant. The Gas have also had more members of their squad recovering from COVID-19 after an earlier run of infections saw three successive games called off, so the options available to the manager are a bit unpredictable.

In recent times, the Gas have played without a recognised centre-forward, leaving flair players Sam Nicholson, Aaron Collins and Antony Evans to lead the line. They've done very well, but Loft's arrival should mean Rovers go back to a more typical attacking formula, with Loft the target man and the creative players working off him.

In terms of style of play, Rovers will mix it. They are not averse to playing short or long when required.

Who should Pools watch out for?

Evans is too good for League Two and has been the standout player for Rovers this season. Nicholson is capable of great things and Collins was on a hot streak in front of goal before the COVID outbreak. Gasheads will also be excited to see Loft's debut.

Pools came out on top when the two sides last met, can they do so again and how important a game is it for Rovers?

My experience of League Two this season is a lot of the games are close and competitive. There is not a lot between that big group of sides from the play-offs into the bottom half, so I expect a good game, but Rovers will be confident and should have several players returning.

It's a big game for the Gas. They need to make inroads into their deficit to the play-offs quickly and I expect them to do the business in front of a home crowd.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Hartlepool United coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor.