DARRELL Clarke admits a tinge of disappointment at failing to meet his double-figure target of new signings this summer.
But eight out of ten is not bad and some shrewd business, allied to hanging on to players of the calibre of Billy Bodin and Tom Lockyer, means that Pirates fans can look forward with optimism to the rest of the 2017-18 campaign.
Deadline day passed quietly at the Memorial Stadium, which came as something of a relief considering that Bodin, in particular, was reputed to be attracting attention from the Championship.
One daily newspaper reported that Rovers had turned down two sizeable bids for the free-scoring attacker, who advertised his wares by netting with a trademark long-range strike in last weekend’s 3-1 home win over Fleetwood Town.
I feared his fifth goal of the campaign might clinch Bodin a move.
Rovers have not con- firmed that there were firm offers, but if the reports were correct the club’s owners deserve praise for hang- ing on to a key player.
Clarke had gone into the summer break with the bold prediction that he would be bringing in ten, or even 11, new faces before the August transfer window closed.
He now admits to having missed out on a couple of targets and went into deadline day on Thursday still hoping to get one more deal across the line.
It didn’t happen, but I doubt that is cause for any concern. A first-team squad of 23 senior professionals is plenty big enough to man- manage, particularly for a team boss with modern ideas on selection.
Clarke, who stressed throughout the window, that none of his players was for sale, continually keeps his men on their toes and the fans guessing by springing surprises when it comes to personnel and tactics.
It happened again in the Fleetwood match when Ellis Harrison found himself back on the bench after scoring the winner and being praised by Clarke for his performance in the excellent Carabao Cup win at Fulham.
If Harrison were disap- pointed to be left out, he cer- tainly didn’t show it, going on as a substitute against Fleetwood and netting the all-important third goal to settle a competitive clash.
That is the reaction Clarke expects from any player relegated to the bench. He treats every match as a separate project and previous form, even in the most recent game, can count for very little.
It is not a policy that would have gone down well with players of previous generations, who expected to be retained when in decent form.
When I asked Clarke’s assistant Marcus Stewart last weekend how he would have reacted to being dropped or rested after playing well, his answer was honest and indicated a subtle change in football since he hung up his boots.
He said: ‘I was probably the end of a dying breed. I found it very hard to be left out and when I didn’t play I got annoyed and angry.
‘I spat my dummy out once or twice if I am honest.
‘Things have changed and with our manager particularly.
‘He will sometimes leave a player out and tell him he will start the following game, irrespective of the result of the first one.
‘Over the course of a season most will play at least 20 or 25 games. It’s not about form, it’s about what is best for the next project.
‘Ellis scored on Tuesday, but didn’t start today purely because we know we have someone just as good to play in a different way.
‘When I felt I was left out after playing well I probably wasn’t told the reasons.
‘Man-management is key and the way we work is to explain to players fully why a change is being made.’
A further insight came from Rory Gaffney when he was interviewed after the Fleetwood match, which saw him make his first start of the season.
‘As a player, you are not going to be happy at missing any game,’ he said. ‘But if the manager talks to you and you have the chance to have your say back it is easier to accept.
‘It happens throughout the squad so there can be no complaints. There are 50-odd games in a season and if you can end up starting 30 and going on as sub in another 15 it’s a decent campaign.’
Perhaps it was because Clarke makes so many changes as a matter of course that Rovers were able to perform so well in the 5-1 Checkatrade Trophy win at Wycombe, which followed the victory over Fleetwood.
An unfamiliar line-up, including Marc Bola, Tom Broadbent, Jonny Burn, Ryan Broom and Dominic Telford, romped to success in what appeared a tricky tie after falling behind early on.
Two goals each from Telford, the on-loan striker from Stoke City, and Broom, who could well break into the first team on a regular basis this season, will have boosted their confidence no end. In both cases it was the first time they had netted for Rovers.
Liam Sercombe’s second of the season contributed to an emphatic success and there was even scope to introduce youngsters Luke Russe, Rollin Menayese and Cameron Hargreaves for their first-team debuts.
Even then Clarke made it clear afterwards that the first-half display was short of his expectations.
Darrell once told me: ‘I am not here to keep players happy. It’s up to them to keep me happy.’
That attitude only works if players trust their boss and his decisions. It is some- thing all Rovers’ summer recruits must buy into if they are to flourish under a manager oozing self-belief and faith in his policies.