Bristol Rovers boss explains his approach to Sunderland semi final and selection dilemma

Bristol Rovers boss Graham Coughlan admits he is yet to settle on an XI for the Checkatrade Trophy semi final against Sunderland.

Monday, 4th March 2019, 3:42 pm
Updated Monday, 4th March 2019, 3:47 pm
Graham Coughlan admits that league survival is more important than the Checkatrade Trophy

Rovers are locked in a fierce battle to beat the League One drop, and remain in the bottom four despite beating Blackpool 4-0 on Saturday.

Like Sunderland, they face a balance between protecting players for the league and seizing the chance of a showpiece final at Wembley.

Jack Ross has made clear that he will select a strong XI, and Coughlan now has a similar decision to make.

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"The competition throughout has given us the opportunity to give players game time who might not normally play on a Saturday afternoon, or are coming back from injury or suspension, who have been out for various different reasons," he said.

"We have really been able to use the squad in this competition and I am happy I have got the majority of the squad fit and raring to go because the cameras will be here tomorrow night and it is a semi-final against Sunderland.

“All of them will want to play and be disappointed if they don’t but that bodes well because there is a real competition for places.

“As of yet I will have another night’s sleep on it and I will have a look at Sunderland and who we have definitely got available to us and we will formulate a plan overnight.”

His biggest dilemma will be regarding striker Jonson Clarke-Harris.

The January signing scored a hat-trick in that win over Blackpool but also picked up a knock.

He is fit to play, should Coughlan decide to risk him.

The Rovers boss admits that while a Wembley final would be welcomed, League One survival is the absolute priority.

"At the end of our day our priority has been, and will always be, to stay in this division," he said.

"Whatever goes on tomorrow night goes on, we will deal with that and then will get back on Wednesday morning and concentrate on our league campaign.

“But it is a nice relief, a nice change and a lovely challenge.

“It helps when you are winning and we have only lost once in this competition, and that was Exeter away in the league format. It is nice to get away from the stresses and the permutations of the league, so it is nice in that sense.

“But listen it is a game of football and the lads are getting around to my way of thinking and they want to win every football game they play.

“It is a nice competition and it is one we can win."