I have to admit I never really expected Rovers to be up near the top challenging for the title or even promotion, however like many other fans I did let part of myself imagine that maybe we could bounce straight back up. The situation was clear; we'd lost almost all of our squad and had no manager during the post season and to expect an instant rebound was very, very ambitious. There was a huge air of uncertainty hanging over the club.
That was until Paul Buckle was announced as the new permanent manager. Buckle's CV boasted an impressive record with Torquay, who'm were undoubtedly a much smaller club with a smaller budget too. The prospects for Rovers looked bright, if Buckle had nearly got Torquay promoted, what could he do with Rovers? New players followed the manager into the club, including ex and current Torquay players; Scott Bevan, Mustapha Carayol and Craig Stanley and alongside new stadium plans suddenly the excitement around the clubs' future was restored. Pre-season friendlies only raised expectations with a 2-1 victory over Burnley and a 2-2 draw against a strong Iverness Caledonian Thistle side. When the first day of the season came all fans were hopeful the side could add weight their potential promotion favourite tags, and the result didn't disappoint. Having been in California for two weeks, my father and I travelled back just in time for a 10 minute pit stop at home and straight off to the game without any sleep. An exciting 3-2 victory over Football League newboys AFC Wimbledon showed that Buckle's playing style could quickly win over the crowd. But as soon as the hope and confidence around the club had come, it had gone. With just 6 points from 33 and Rovers lurking dangerously close to the relegation zone Paul Buckle was fired leaving Rovers with a critical appointment to make, one that could make or break the club. The FA Cup run had been the only spark in a dull season so far, the thought of Aston Villa in the third round at home was both mouth-watering and worrying. With caretaker manager Sean North in charge it seemed the impossible was made even more impossible and having lost 4 on the bounce letting in 14 goals in the prcoess it was concerning what premiership opposition may do to us. Even though we only lost 3-1 the performance showed a complete lack of desire to win the game, and didn't reflect the absolute dominance that Villa had during the match. Despite all this, Shaun North successfully steered the club to 4 points from a potential 6 giving Rovers a slight margin of safety from relegation.
Given that Rovers had been in a similar position just 12 months ago it was understandable that the appointment needed to be correct. Experienced manager Mark McGhee joined the club as the permanent manager in January and seemed like a perfect appointment for Rovers. He had mounds of experience and had that professional touch about himself. Instantly the side responded with a further 4 wins from 5 games reducing fears that the Mem would be home to a conference side. McGhee never failed to impress me with the way he conducted himself and his ability to get the most out of the side. The final third of the season saw Rovers build on their renewed confidence safetly steering themselves away from relegation and into the safe positon of mid-table, the highlights being a 1-0 win against promotion chasing Southend and ending Swindon's run of 18 straight home wins with a 0-0 draw.
The final two home games proved however to be, for me, the highlights of the season. The 7-1 thumping over Burton Albion in the penultimate home match saw Eliot Richards gain his first career hat-rick and very nearly broke the club record for the largest victory. It was a truely outstanding match to be at, the second half performance absolutely tore Burton's defence to shreds and by no means did the result flatter us. The 5-1 win over Accrington Stanley in Rovers' final home match was equal to, if not better than the win over Burton. Despite the score difference being less than the previous match, it was the manner in which Rovers' bossed proceedings. Each goal was either from a quality move or a lethal finish.
If at the start of the season I was offered the chance to take a 13th position finish I honestly think I would have taken it. Taking into consideration the fact that in the post-season we had lost 17 players and had no manager a mid-table position was likely to be on the cards. I genuinely believe that with a few key additions to the squad and by retaining a large part of the team we can be at least challenging for a playoff place.
I'd like to thank anyone who took their time to read any of my match reports and hopefully next season I'll be summarising a promotion winning season,