Every word Matt Taylor said on Melksham win, new Bristol Rovers faces and Antony Evans' exit

-Credit: (Image: Bristol Rovers FC)
-Credit: (Image: Bristol Rovers FC)


Well Matt, good to see you after the break. Was tonight about blowing off the cobwebs more than anything?

Yeah, tonight was about fitness. We've worked hard the first four days and we wanted to finish the week well in terms of a 45 minute blast for the majority of players.

There was only one of the under 18s who played 25 minutes of the second half, and neither one played the other 20 minutes. So It was all about fitness for 45 minutes and I thought they took that on board and attacked the game. There was generally a good tempo throughout the course of the 90 plus minutes.

Sometimes so many pre-season games are slow and tepid but generally with the pitch conditions and the facilities they've got here, it meant it was a quick game and even towards the end stayed competitive throughout.

How has this week gone in terms of training?

I've been pleased. As always, a little bit slow to get going on the first day because there's so much to do and people to meet each other and all the testing.

That's mainly S&C and medical led and then our first double on Tuesday was pleasing with working football in the morning and running the afternoon, a little bit of an old school mentality. We did that yesterday, so I expected them to be leggy, but in fairness to them, they attacked the game tonight and I was pleased with the way both teams moved.

There was more control in the first half without the end execution whereas the second half was a little bit more chaotic and probably what you'd expect from a younger profile of group. There's some excellent points at one end of the pitch and some really poor points at the other end of the pitch. But generally we're unscathed, so that's a pleasing night for us.

With seven signings before Friday and new staff members too, how do you manage having so many new people?

Well the staff members have been together now for a couple of weeks and they've been working whilst the players have been away. Football is pretty simple. The players come in, they shake hands, they introduce themselves and they all get to know each other over a period of time. Some will build really strong relationships.

But the key thing for me as a manager and for the football club is their football relationships. You could probably see that at times throughout the course of the night, especially in the first half where they're learning each other's positions. Learning each other's strengths, weaknesses, what they expect from each other and then we've got to give them a real structure to build that on.

It's a pleasing night. I'm really pleased because we come here every year and the facilities continue to be outstanding, especially for a lower league football team, so to speak, and they really look after us. So hopefully our fans got something out of it.

Hopefully they got to see some of the new faces there. They just see names on papers to start with, but to see them live would have given them a bit of a glimpse of what to expect. And now we've just got to add more players to the group and more quality.

Admittedly there were some names from the academy we've never heard before so how much can we expect to see of them?

I don't know them either! But we've got to grow that connection. That was part of the remit of me coming to this football club to grow the connection with the academy and get more young players into the first team and towards the first team. We've not got a development squad still, but we've got half a dozen of them training with ourselves this week.

Max Edwards played in the second half and has trained every day with us. Ollie Dewsbury, top end of the pitch, he's a player we're really excited about. He's 16 years of age and you could see his goal in the first minute of the second half, how he's constantly on the move. Charlie White with his first professional contact.

Ollie Dewsbury scored Bristol Rovers' second goal against Melksham -Credit:Bristol Rovers FC
Ollie Dewsbury scored Bristol Rovers' second goal against Melksham -Credit:Bristol Rovers FC

So there's a lot of good signs and a lot of good things to come in terms of the future for Bristol Rovers. But the first team is still a long way away for most of that group. Some of them will need loan time. Some of them need to go out and get game time in senior football and actually playing more games like this, including the goalkeeper as well. You can probably see we were sort of a little bit unsettled for a period of time.

They'll only get that from experience. They'll get that from training every day with the first team and being part of that environment. But then these games are priceless for them and when these pre season games are finished, we've just got to ensure their development continues probably away from us in a long capacity.

Talking about new players, I thought Isaac Hutchinson looked particularly sharp.

Yeah, he's a bright player. He moves well, he receives the ball well. He'll be one of those who will be slightly disappointed with the actual end of the end product aspect of our attacking play in that first half.

But I liked the intent of the first half team, just the actual execution of that final moment wasn't quite there. Isaac's one of those attacking players where he plays in the higher midfield and he can run in behind, he can receive, he's got good quality on set piece situations and he's got an eye for goal which you've probably seen with his highlights.

So he's really run hard this week and one of the few players who can almost be in the same eye shot as Scotty Sinclair in terms of the running. It shows you how fit a boy he is and he'll only get better in time.

Obviously you've lost Antony to Huddersfield. Would you say that Isaac's a ready-made replacement?

Yeah, that's the way we see it. We probably had an idea what was coming in relation to Antony Evans and we are in the market and probably still in market for more players who can do not the same job, no one's the same on a football pitch, but a similar position. The eight slash 10, the attacking midfielder. Someone who's going to contribute with goals and assists and end product moments in the game.

So it's vitally important that we were able to identify Isaac early, present to him, talk to him about the plan, his pathway and realise that he's only really played two full seasons of senior football.

So he'll need a little bit of time, but it's exciting because straight away he's shown he's a good person. He's very humble and he's got real quality.

At what point did you realise that Antony was probably not going to be part of your plans for this season?

I think it's fair to say we had honest conversations, me and the player, at the end of last season, going into the last year of his contract. If a player doesn't sign a contract going into the last year, then you kind of know what's coming.

We were very honest with each other from day one, to be honest with you. And so those levels of respect remained all the way through. He came back for a couple of days of pre-season, but we expected him to go at some stage and it's a healthy fee for the football club.

Similarities to the way in which Aaron Collins left?

Definitely. Without a shadow of a doubt. We've got to understand that our players are assets and when there's no long term future for us to build around, we have to see if we can obtain something back to the football club.

Sometimes timing is a big aspect to that. We felt it was Aaron Collins' time to move on and he felt the same. We felt it was time for Anthony Evans and he felt the same and that is a big factor in terms of making our decisions.

Obviously, there's powers above me who will make the actual final decision but we understood it and like I say, it's money back in the bank which hopefully we can put back into this squad.

You said in a previous interview that you expected loans to come in later in summer so getting Michael Forbes now must have been earlier than planned?

We're delighted about that, I've got to be honest. We're grateful to West Ham. Myself and George presented to Michael a couple of weeks ago with the expectation that it was probably going to be Portugal when he joined us. So for him to be here in the first week or be at the back end of it just gives us an extra few weeks and for him to get to know the players and get a little more senior football.

I know he'd be training with the first team at West Ham but to be in amongst it and then play maybe next weekend at Bath and then Yeovil, different types of games for him to gain that experience. But straight away, you can see why he's captained every age group at West Ham and Northern Ireland at a youth capacity.

We saw some players in the stand. Are they all unavailable?

Chrissy [Martin] and Grant [Ward] are fit. We just wanted them to have two weeks worth of training before their first game outing. Wardy on the back of the injuries and the issues we had last season and Chrissy just needs a little bit more time. So nothing to worry about in relation to that. Connor [Taylor]'s making good progress. [Jack] Hunty won't be too far away.

Right now I'm really pleased because usually even at the end of the first week you might be odd bits and pieces which you're worried about but the squad look in a good place and that's testament to the work they've done and the staff have done in the offseason in terms of getting them there. Now the key and the biggest question is, can we maintain it?