10 Bristol Rovers fans deliver brutal verdict on Joey Barton, Wael Al-Qadi and the season so far

By James Piercy

What's perhaps most concerning for Bristol Rovers right now is that for all the anguish and anger felt in the wake of the defeat to Swindon - a derby day with the additional symbolism of Ben Garner returning to the Mem - the nadir could be yet to truly arrive, such is the continuing decline on the field.

Having arrived at the club in February like a fireball, bringing explosive opinions and genuine excitement in a campaign where the life had been drained out of the club, Joey Barton also delivered that priceless commodity in football - hope.

However, after an initially promising summer overhaul, the intended change in direction on the field is yet to materialise and while there are still 36 games of the season remaining, such is the lack of collective confidence in the terraces, the prospect of a second straight relegation has suddenly become a credible conversation.

From the manager's point of view, the sheer volume of change within the playing squad means he believes it will take more time to find the necessary cohesion and, as a result, he retains the support of owner Wael Al-Qadi who is sticking by his man.

With Carlisle United the visitors to the Mem on Saturday it feels like a pivotal moment for the club as to which direction it will take and, to his credit, Barton has dragged results out at key times this season to give some glimpse into what could happen further on down the line.

But by his own admission, Rovers are "miles away" from where he and his coaching staff envisaged they would be when constructing this squad in the summer.

To gain an insight into the current sentiment on the terraces and around the blue and white half of Bristol, we asked for the opinions of 10 Gasheads on Barton, the squad, performances and the powers that be in the boardroom. It makes for uncomfortable reading ...

Ten games of the League Two season have passed. What score out of 10 would you give Rovers' season so far?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "2 - We’re not bottom, and have managed a couple of half decent performances."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "2 - It would’ve been a one if it wasn’t for the performance vs Oldham. The team have been playing like I feel - apathetic. If feels like the DC days were so long ago, where our team was built with passion and drive to fight for every ball.

"It reminds me of the John Ward (during his second stint in charge) days where it felt like a team of mercenaries, here to collect their weekly payslip, without any real care for the job at hand or the badge and people they are representing."

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "3 - We have looked a very poor side, square pegs in round holes. We seem to have no plan and the players with the exception of one or two, have not fitted in. Our recruitment has been poor in places especially around the forward positions. We have only played well in the first half against Oldham."

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "A generous 2. The mix of new players and injuries haven't helped but the talent at this club means they should not be anywhere near 20th."

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "3 - There are glimpses of a side that will challenge for a play-off place but that has been too few and far between for anything more. 45 minutes against Oldham was the best we’ve played so far and that was against a club in crisis."

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton. (Robbie Stephenson/JMP)

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "3 - The season started with so much promise, but so far there have been far too many unenforced team changes and no discernible pattern of play has been developed.

"Too many of the 'marquee signings' Mark Hughes, Paul Coutts and Nick Anderton simply haven’t performed and the other elder statesmen or should I say journeymen are unfit, it being doubtful that Leon Clarke will ever play again."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "2 - The season has been a huge disappointment, so far, big talk of promotion pushes, but the team looks destined to scrap for safety. We've only looked decent for 45 mins against Oldham and probably for 60 minutes at Walsall, and we create next to nothing week-in, week-out."

Russell Testa (@RussT): "3 - Too many injuries, too much chopping and changing of the team. Too many old guys playing. No improvement on last season. No plan B, and so on."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "3 - A point for each win, and even those have been unconvincing."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "3 - Not good enough. One of the highest budgets in the league and we are simply not performing. No sign of any particular gameplan or style. That's the most concerning thing for me. It seems we just brought in who ever was available, especially in the forward department."

How do you rate Joey Barton's performance so far this season?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "He arrived slating former managers for being negligent. He has managed a worse record than Ben Garner and seems to be completely oblivious to the fact

"I couldn’t figure out our formation on Saturday against Swindon, and it appeared that the players couldn’t either. I’m genuinely worried that he’s taking us directly to non-league, do not pass go, do not collect £200.

"He’s also an incredibly divisive figure, and has been since the word go. I’ve never seen such toxicity between fans before and it’s very sad."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "Every game, bar Oldham, the team seem lost in approach. The constant changing of line-up, poor tactics, poor decision-making, poor substitutions and complete reluctance to take responsibility for the dreadful run we have had since he took the helm, is frustrating.

"It’s his team now, and we have been so poor. It can’t be the referee's fault every game!"

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "Very poor. He promised us the fittest team, but we are miles from that. JB seems to have lost his way especially since Clint Hill has left. He has not delivered what he promised.

"His record is truly shocking and whilst I understand that teams need to gel the style of play is poor. Surely JB cannot be happy with himself and his performance, he seems incapable of getting a response from his players during a match."

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "Slaughtered the entire previous recruitment policy only to sign 17 players and still not get results. Ageing injury prone players, no right-back. Can't have long left."

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "A handful of the new signings look like very good business but ultimately on the pitch we’ve been poor against most teams and that is down to the manager."

Aaron Collins shakes hands with Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton. (Ryan Hiscott/JMP)

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "He talks a good game, well he did at the start of the season; what he said seemed to make sense, but lately the rhetoric doesn’t match up to what we see on the pitch.

"Aside from having no pattern of play Joey doesn’t seem to have a plan B - his substitutions are simply like for like and do nothing to affect the game. Overall his performance is pretty poor."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "Appalling. The side has no goals in the team, almost no creativity and a crocked journeyman up front (that isn't fit enough to get into the penalty area, and is totally isolated because the rest of the team is so deep).

"We appear to have next to no gameplan, and although he does make changes it's often putting players out of position. The recruitment has also been a shambles this season, and he has somehow managed to replace a very poor squad, with an even worse one."

Russell Testa (@RussT): "He speaks a good game but words do not deliver points. It's his own team now and they are no better than last season. At least we knew there was a plan and project then, now it's just a mess.

"We were promised passion and fitness, where are both of those. Plus he slated Garner, who in turn ended up teaching JB and his team a lesson in football and manners."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "Below expectation, and that’s being kind. We all knew it would be a slow start to the season with the big turnover of players, but we’re almost a quarter of the way through now and there’s no signs of improvement.

"There doesn’t seem to be any game plan on the pitch, and the games where we have picked up a result you could argue we were fortunate."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "We were told that the players would be fit after a pre-season with him but are all dropping like flies at the moment. His constant comments about promotion are very irritating.

"We as a fanbase know our football and been through it all before. I wanted it to work with him in charge, but right now it isn't."

Which new signings have impressed you?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "Junior Brown, Connor Taylor, Harvey Saunders, Aaron Collins."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "Antony Evans has looked good. Always wanting to get the ball forward and trying to create. Same with Sam Finley - always tries to create, although you can tell he is getting more frustrated with every game.

"I have also thought that Harry Anderson has been great - never seems to stop running and has some quality on the ball. Finally, I think James Belshaw has been great. The odd mistake, but some of the saves he has had to make has saved (pun intended) us from further embarrassing scorelines."

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "Harry Anderson and Belshaw. Anderson has struggled to adapt to a wing-back position as he is naturally a winger. His defensive work is not as good as his forward flair. He gives 100% every game.

"Belshaw has seamlessly made the position his own following Anssi Jaakkola's injury. He gets the Rovers ethos and is desperate to impress."

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "Taylor and Finley have been about the only new players who can say they've given their all. Luke Thomas and Collins look good but Barton seems to dislike them."

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "Most will say Belshaw and Taylor for obvious reasons, they’ve been brights sparks in a poor start. I’ve also been impressed with how Finley has played since the start of the season. He doesn’t stop chasing lost causes and has shown quality on the ball as well."

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "Aside from Saturday’s mistake, Belshaw is the standout signing, it could easily have been 6-1 to Swindon without him. Finley looks like he cares and Taylor looks like a good prospect (though ultimately for somebody else not Rovers).

"Anderson, Evans, Collins and Saunders have shown flashes (the latter two in the Oldham game). Anderson started like a house on fire, but recently his form has been poor - I’m not sure he’s really a wing-back and it looks like he’s not enjoying playing there."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "I've been impressed with Taylor and Belshaw who have both taken their chance when given the opportunity."

Russell Testa (@RussT): "Finley and Belshaw."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "Belshaw has been a brilliant addition in Jaakkola’s absence, pulling off some fantastic saves behind a leaky defence whilst helping to keep the score down in a number of games, so I’d say he’s the stand out signing so far.

"I also really liked the look of Thomas in the opening three or four games that he played in."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "I like Finley, he battles and can play. I also think Saunders has shown flashes."

Which players are you concerned about?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "Brett Pitman - only due to fitness, Paul Coutts."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "Mark Hughes - looks completely lost and vulnerable when playing centre-back. As somebody who was being touted as a real leader, I have seen none of those qualities yet.

"Coutts - same reasons as Hughes. Seems a shadow of the player he once was and has cost us a few points. Constantly puts our defence under pressure from wayward passes and loss of possession. I could mention others, but these are the two players I have not seen one good performance from so far."

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "Hughes - looks a shadow of the player; Coutts - looks like his legs have gone; Nick Anderton - doesn't look good enough, simple."

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "Coutts has been very poor particularly considering he's captain. Hughes and Anderton inspire no confidence at all defensively."

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "Hughes. I have said it since watching him at away at Mansfield. He’s had multiple errors in him each game he’s played and has now picked up an injury to allow Taylor to shine.

"I just hope that with Alfie Kilgour suspended and Taylor possibly out next weekend, should Hughes play he will take no prisoners and prove me wrong."

Paul Coutts of Bristol Rovers. (Alex James/JMP)

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "Hughes, Anderton and Coutts have been major let downs. I can’t see how Anderton started 40 odd games at left back for Carlisle, he gets a nosebleed if he has to cross the halfway line.

"I thought Hughes was the replacement for Tony Craig but he’s a million miles away and not at all inspirational for the likes of Kilgour and Cian Harries. We’ve seen nothing at all from Coutts and he’s supposed to be the captain.

"Obviously the strike force is our most pressing problem. At Barrow, Pitman made a general nuisance of himself and was worth his place, but playing him upfront on his own, as against Swindon, is a disaster as he is so immobile. We’ve probably seen the last of Leon Clarke so we are back where we finished last season with no credible strike-force."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "Where do I start? I can't see what Hughes, Anderton, Coutts, Glenn Whelan or Pitman are going to add, and all have been terrible signings. A worrying look at the spine of our team."

Russell Testa (@RussT): "All, apart from Finley and Belshaw. For various reasons, including age and injuries."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "I’ll try to keep this to a minimum. Pitman and Clarke mainly because of their injury issues. Hughes has been underwhelming since coming in.

"And as much as I hate to say it, Kilgour. He was really developing into a solid centre-back under Graham Coughlan and looked a perfect replacement for Tom Lockyer, but since his partnership with Tony Craig had been split, Alfie has really struggled."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "Coutts, looks miles off it."

Are you still confident Barton can improve Rovers form or do you believe it is time to make a change of manager?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "Time for a change."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "He just has to go, for me. He seems completely out of his depth. There is no plan B. The constant changing of the line-up (some through injury, granted) is so disruptive to a changing room. No partnerships can be built.

"The constant, naive, commentary he comes up with in his press conferences is so frustrating. It’s almost patronising, at this point. It seems as though he is in denial to the state of play at the moment.

"I’ve genuinely never known the Gasheads to be as divided as we are now. The recent fan clip, just after the final whistle against Swindon, was a perfect example of that. I have never felt so apathetic towards the club I have supported for 30 years. Joey is a big part of that for me."

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "I would have liked him to succeed and backed him but honestly following the Orient defeat I felt we needed a change.

"Rovers have always needed someone who understands the club and it's fanbase. I feel Joey has not built up that rapport with us and gas spent too much time talking about previous clubs he has managed or played for."

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "It's time to make a change. 19 defeats since he took over tells its own story."

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "I believed in the project up until the Leyton Orient loss. I know we bounced back with a win over Walsall but they were a really poor side and with Swindon turning us over in the manner that they did, it’s time for a new manager. Preferably Michael Flynn."

Aaron Collins of Bristol Rovers is challenged by Omar Beckles of Leyton Orient. (Ryan Hiscott/JMP)

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "I have serious doubts that Joey can turn this around. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he arrived and as I said he talks a good game.

"I believed what he said about last season’s team, but having seen no improvement this term - especially following the “great reset” now with his own players and staff - I feel he should probably carry a lot more of the responsibility for last seasons relegation.

" He’s done nothing to demonstrate that he’s capable of building a team that is capable of promotion - let’s face it he hasn’t yet shown he can build or motivate a team. I think his record alone is reason enough to fire him, let alone the division he has created amongst the fanbase. For me its time for him to go."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "No, I have never been in favour of his appointment, but was prepared as he asked us to do in his very first interview and that was judge him on what he can do for the football club ...

"Well he has taken a side not overly in danger of going down, down, leaving them bottom and well adrift, and he has also somehow made that squad even worse, by forcing out any quality from it and bringing in far inferior players.

"He seems tactically lacking, we are easy to play against. Let's face it we won't win many games playing three centre-backs, two holding midfielders and one striker, will we?"

Russell Testa (@RussT): "I was all in for Barton, but after all his statements that haven't materialised. I'm afraid his time is up."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "Initially I was a fan of Barton. He said everything the fans wanted to hear and gave us hope that things would soon turn around, but 10 games in and we’re in a similar position to that of 2013/14.

"On one hand, he’s simply not doing well enough and it’s a results business and the lack of responsibility he claims for the failures at the club since coming in is starting to become frustrating.

"But on the other hand, we can’t keep sacking managers because it makes the club unable to gain any stability, and financially damages the club. It loses any vision that the club had with the previous manager, and we’ve then got a scramble to get someone else in - who will need time to get to know the players and find his best XI.

"Bolton last season is also a perfect example of a lead we could follow. They were a team that was recently relegated from League One, 19th and on nine points after 10 games; however, they stuck with Ian Evatt and finished the season in the top three.

"When we finished 3rd in 2015/16 season we were only three points better off than we are now at this stage of the season. I’m currently on the fence with Barton, although patience is wearing more and more thin as the weeks go on."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "Tough question. I don't want to change managers as often as we have recently, but it simply isn't working. If we don't win Saturday, I expect the board to act."

How would you rate the leadership of Wael Al-Qadi and the board out of 10?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "7 - I don’t doubt his commitment and am forever grateful for what he’s done, but I feel he can be a bit naive and perhaps has had the wool pulled over his eyes in terms of the advice he receives."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "This is such a tough one. If I was just rating Wael, it would always be a 10. The man has, single-handily, saved us from financial ruin in recent times. He kept us going through the pandemic too. You can see he genuinely cares for Rovers, and us as fans. He always supports any manager that comes in.

"For me, Wael is not an issue, but a blessing. It’s the people around him. Bar Tom Gorringe, who is always doing wonders dragging us into the 21st century, I do not know what other board members do. It seems Wael has been surrounded by people that offer bad advice. I would give the board a 5 and that’s purely because of Wael and Tom. Without them it would be a 0."

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "4 - Wael is a fabulous owner and has invested heavily into our club. However, I feel he has made the wrong decisions at times along with his board over management in particular. I do not have great confidence in other board members though I think Gorringe has worked hard in getting us into the 21st century."

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "8 - Wael has made mistakes with appointments but he is the one positive. Kept us afloat, clearly wants success just isn't going right. As for the board, a lot of them don't seem to be on the same page."

Bristol Rovers owner Wael Al-Qadi at the Mem in July. (Ryan Hiscott/JMP)

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "8 - Everyone makes mistakes and I fully believe that each decision that Wael and the board have made have been with the interests of the club at the forefront of their minds.

"Let’s not forget that this is the man that wiped the staggering debts accrued over the years. In time I’m sure everyone will see that he’s the right leader for this club but I do know that until we’ve got a new stadium, he won’t be able to please everyone."

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "I believe we wouldn’t have a football club post-Covid 19 if it wasn’t for Wael’s investment and I applaud him for that. I also believe he is passionate about Rovers and wants to be successful.

"However, he seems to have made some pretty poor appointments at board level. We haven’t heard anything from Martyn Starnes for months and we don’t know what Tommy Widdrington or Chris Gibson are supposed to do.

"More and more it seems as if Joey is running the whole show and getting rid of anyone who has been here for any length of time e.g. Lee Mansell and other backroom staff and volunteers.

"I think it’s time for Wael to perhaps reassess the board, especially the role of CEO - the person who should be responsible for the day-to-day running of the football club.

" We need somebody with a football background to shake things up and put the manager in his place (or get rid of him if that’s what is required). Wael’s biggest mistake to date may be not accepting Joey’s offer to walk away following the Swindon defeat."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "I like Wael, he has always shown that he has the club at heart, but over the last year both recruitment of players and especially managers the board couldn't have got it more wrong.

"We have an absent CEO in Starnes, is he even still about? Gorringe in my opinion does a good job, but he gets his time taken up by being available to everyone and anyone and Karim Mardam-Bey who, in fairness, I have no idea what he does.

"It feels a bit rudderless to me, and I would like to see Wael bring in some proper support for himself and someone that knows the game well."

Russell Testa (@RussT): "Wael, I'm impressed with, but the people around him continue to fail."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "There is no doubt that Wael has improved the club financially and given us stability off the field. Clearing the club debts, funding the new training ground, keeping the club afloat throughout the pandemic, and backing countless managers - we can’t thank him enough for all of that.

"But the football on the pitch has declined rapidly over the last three years. In the last few weeks the club has been in its lowest league position since Wael took ownership. I really believe that Wael cares about the club and it’s fans, but the board have let him down.

"Garner, Paul Tisdale and Barton had all been appointed by the board. Things haven’t worked out as planned under any of those managers and they must take accountability for that.

"Starnes and Widdrington are the main culprits to be looked at, but ultimately as the owner, Wael is responsible for the goings-on at the club and has final say on the big decisions.

"The lack of any updates on a new stadium is frustrating too, and the club will never reach its full potential without a new stadium, but as Gasheads we just come to expect that now. Overall I’d probably rate them 5/10 as a collective."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "7 - I like Wael and he obviously wants the best for the club. A change of manager is always difficult. The Barton gamble surprised me. We have lost our way since DC."

In what league position do you believe Rovers will finish in this season?

Kelly Oxley (@kellyoxley): "Mid-table if we replace Barton now. I fear relegation if we keep him."

Jon Foulkes (@Foulkesy5): "If things continue as they are - between 20th-24th. Non-league football is, once again, a frightening reality. Joey is out of his depth and in denial - a dangerous combination."

Kevin Hurcombe (@stroudgas): "15th - Since Jonson Clarke-Harris left we have not had a decent striker, without goals we will not improve our league performance.

"We have a very average squad mostly the wrong side of 30 who appear to be past their best. As Ian Holloway said the other day, back to back victories would be a start let alone promotion!"

Jack Davies (@Jackobrfc999): "It feels impossible to believe we won't improve with the quality in the side, regardless of who stays or comes in. But feel the damage will be done too early - 14th."

Simon Gray (@SimonGray95): "Depends on Barton. If he is here until say Christmas then I see us finishing about 15th. I don’t see him staying for longer than then and if we get rid in the next couple of months then I see us mounting a play off challenge with the correct addition of a natural number nine early in January."

Gasheads watch on as Bristol Rovers fall to a 3-1 defeat to Leyton Orient (Ryan Hiscott/JMP)

Paul Robinson (@PaulRobinson20): "On paper we have a squad that should be capable of finishing in the play-offs, but that requires us to find a winning formula and stick to it. That’s going to be difficult if we don’t score goals.

"At the moment I am very pessimistic and a second relegation to the Conference would surely spell the end of Bristol Rovers.

" I have to believe there are two worse teams than us, but that’s what we thought last year. If we can establish a pattern of play and pick up some results I’d accept (but not be happy with) a mid-table finish. On current form though bottom four looks more realistic."

Mark Brimson (@markrbrimson): "I would snap your hand off right now for 22nd."

Russell Testa (@RussT): "12th. I believe JB will leave soon and a new manger will stabilise the Pirate's ship."

Kalon Newbury (@plebotimus): "Optimistically, 10th. Even though the football at the moment is atrocious, I do still believe we’ve got a good enough squad in what is a very tight league. I just don’t think we’ll have the legs to make the play-offs this time around. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us in the bottom eight after the start we’ve had, though."

Nik Weeks (@weeksy11): "12th - mid-table and I would take that right now. Using the time to find some identity and unify the fan base again. I think we have enough in this side to be comfortable."

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