Scout report: Why Sunderland could find managerless Bristol Rovers a tough nut to crack

Sunderland welcome Bristol Rovers to the Stadium of Light this weekend - but what should they expect?

Friday, 14th December 2018, 12:02 pm
Updated Friday, 14th December 2018, 2:18 pm
Bristol Rovers v Bradford.

In some ways that's difficult to predict after Rovers parted company with manager Darrell Clarke on Thursday morning, with the club languishing in the relegation zone.

Defensive coach Graham Coughlan will take charge of the side for their trip to Wearside, and is in the frame to take the job on a permanent basis.

But how many changes will he make?, Who are Rovers' key players?, And do they have any injury worries?

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We take a closer look at Saturday's opponents and how they've fared this season.

What system will Bristol Rovers play?

One of Clarke's major downfalls was his inability to stick with a settled side.

Rovers have operated in several different formations this campaign but have struggled to find a consistent winning formula.

Clarke opted to play five defenders against Doncaster last week, a decision which significantly backfired as Rovers suffered a 4-0 defeat.

Before that, Rovers lined-up in a 4-3-3 system against Charlton and Gillingham, but the lack of consistency has made it difficult for the side to gel.

Who are Bristol Rovers' key players?

Experienced defender Tony Craig, 33, has started every league game for Rovers this season and can operate at centre-back or on the left side of defence.

Midfielder Ollie Clarke is the side's top scorer with three league goals, a stat which highlights the side's lack of firepower.

Former Portsmouth and Doncaster winger Kyle Bennett could also pose a threat with his pace on the right flank.

Do Bristol Rovers have any injury worries?

No, not really.

Ollie Clarke played the opening 60 minutes against Doncaster after returning from injury.

Craig, along with Ollie and James Clarke have all picked up four yellow cards in the league this campaign and are one more booking away from a suspension

Who is Bristol Rovers' manager and what can we expect from them?

Assistant manager Marcus Stewart also asked to be released from his contract following Clarke's departure.

It means that Coughlan, supported by coaches Chris Hargreaves and Brian Dutton, will take charge of the team this weekend.

The Irishman joined the Gas this summer as a defensive coach following a spell as first-team coach at Southend United.

Coughlan worked under Phil Brown at Roots Hall, leading to this tribute from his former manager:

"Cocko is absolutely priceless to the club. There’s a lot Graham does that people don’t see but I do because we work very closely together," said Brown.

"A lot of people would have brought their own staff in with them but I saw a lot of good characteristics in him straight away."

What form have Bristol Rovers been in?

Rovers have lost their last four league games, last six in all competitions, causing them to sink into the relegation zone.

They are now four points from safety following last weekend's chastening defeat by Doncaster.

Scoring goals has clearly been a major issue, and the Gas have netted just 17 in the league this campaign - only Wimbledon have scored less.

They have been strong at the back, though, and before the Doncaster defeat, Rovers had conceded just 21 goals in 20 league games.

Doncaster was only the second time this season the side had conceded three goals or more in the league.

They could be a tough nut to crack.

Last six league games: LWLLLL