In a season where consistency has evaded Bristol Rovers, one man has bucked that trend

Antony Evans has been named Bristol Rovers Men's Player of the Season -Credit:Tom Sandberg/PPAUK
Antony Evans has been named Bristol Rovers Men's Player of the Season -Credit:Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Since the conversation for Bristol Rovers' Player of the Season begun, two candidates have stood out in Antony Evans and Chris Martin. The former for his contribution on and off the ball as well as an outstanding goal contributions tally while the latter for his 16 League One goals which without, you really do fear where the Gas could have ended up.

It's not only the goals with Martin, of course, with the striker also known to get stuck in when needed, particularly defending set-pieces. The 35-year-old has had an outstanding first campaign with Rovers, particularly when you consider the fact that he joined as a free agent at the end of September. However, in my eyes, Evans was always the standout choice and has rightly been named Bristol Rovers Player of the Season 2023/24.

First and foremost, during a season that has been plagued by injuries throughout the team, the 25-year-old has consistently made himself available with his only absences being suspension-related. With 51 matches across all competitions under his belt this term, likely to become 52 in the final game at Wigan Athletic this weekend, Evans tops the Gas' appearances chart for the campaign with Harvey Vale (46) and Luke Thomas (45) his closest competitors.

Naturally, there are going to be some off days within a sample size that significant but in the vast majority of those games the midfielder has been one of Rovers' best players. Considering that his season begun with a brief cameo from the bench in the opening day draw at Portsmouth before also being a substitute in the League Cup defeat at Ipswich Town three days later, he quickly embedded himself as a kingpin in the side, starting with an outstanding 90 minutes against Barnsley in the Gas' first home game of the campaign.

From memory and reports written that day eight months ago, Evans was an engine in the middle of the park and consistently got himself involved in Rovers' flurries forward with the Gas unlucky not to win that afternoon. Essentially, he signalled how most of his displays were going to play out for the remainder of the campaign.

Everything you want from an attack-minded midfielder, the 25-year-old has demonstrated: distance covered, work rate, goal contributions, tackles, interceptions. Rovers going out on the pitch without his creativity would be like a machine running with a missing cog, it just doesn't operate as efficiently. Luckily, the Gas have been able to have their star man available for all bar three matches which were missed for yellow card suspensions (sometimes those tackles weren't quite accurate).

10 goals and nine assists across all competitions has seen Evans top the goal contribution chart as well with six in each department coming in the league. Certainly there have been opportunities to top up that list, particularly with two penalty misses lately, but it represents a significant chunk of Rovers' attacking output this season. With 52 goals scored in League One this term ahead of Saturday's final game, 23 per cent of those have been either scored or assisted by Evans, which highlights just how integral he has been.

The other aspect of the midfielder's quality is that very rarely, if at all, have those 10 goals been tap-ins. You will struggle to find a player with a better shooting range from 25 to 30 yards in League One with strikes against the likes of Cheltenham Town (EFL Trophy), Burton Albion, Stevenage and Crewe Alexandra all coming from distance while the possible pick of the bunch is his free-kick against Portsmouth.

Additionally, there can't be many better from dead ball scenarios in the third tier. Most of those assists have come from deliveries into the box and, although increasing the amount of goals from set-pieces will be on Matt Taylor's mind going into next season, Rovers have still been able to cause havoc in the penalty area as a result of Evans' deliveries.

On the topic of the Gas manager, another element of Evans' season has been impressing Taylor and how integral he's been for the 42-year-old who came into the job back in December and certainly hasn't had a straightforward second half of the season to deal with. Goals in the 2-1 victories against Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouth were stand out moments in the campaign for Rovers as a collective, not just the midfielder's, and got the Matt Taylor era fully up and running.

Bristol Rovers players celebrate Antony Evans' free-kick goal against Portsmouth -Credit:James Whitehead/PPAUK
Bristol Rovers players celebrate Antony Evans' free-kick goal against Portsmouth -Credit:James Whitehead/PPAUK

Frustratingly, the success that we all hoped that end of 2023 run foreshadowed never prevailed. Had you said at that point that the Gas would go on to finish in the bottom half of the table, eyebrows certainly would've been raised in disappointment.

After his first league and home game in charge, a 1-1 draw against Cheltenham, Taylor described Evans as a "classy player," a game in which the midfielder had to make an impact from the bench which hasn't been a regularly-made statement this term, so rare in fact that it was the last time he found himself starting a match sat down as opposed to stood on the pitch.

As the 25-year-old continued to perform for the new manager, eventually the decision was made to hand him the captain's armband when Sam Finley was absent. At the time, Taylor declared that there wasn't many clear candidates and that, although he isn't a shouter, Evans leads by example and was the obvious choice to be made stand-in skipper. With Finley seemingly confirming his departure, that could make the decision of who replaces him as club captain easier but, unfortunately, there also has to be a realistic discussion as to whether or not Evans will actually be at the football club next season.

Right now, you would have to say that the midfielder is Rovers' most valuable asset in terms of market value going into the summer. That's not to say that they need to sell to buy, but it would be seriously surprising for there to be no serious external interest in Evans during the upcoming transfer window and it may inevitably prove tough to keep hold of him.

You would expect that in recruitment meetings and discussions ahead of a hectic summer of incomings and outgoings the midfielder has been one of a couple that Taylor is looking to build a team around in which you would expect Evans to be the nucleus of whatever the Rovers manager wants to do going forward. However, Taylor will also know that the chances are there will be interest in the player and the club will have to deal with that.

If the Gas can somehow convince him to sign a new contract ahead of entering the final 12 months of his current deal, that will likely prove to be one of their best bits of business of the summer, regardless of who comes in. However, right now there are no signs that that will happen, imminently at least and therefore it could well be a case of sell now for a fee or allow him to depart for free next summer.

Irrespective of whether it does or doesn't prove to be Evans' final campaign in a Rovers shirt, it has arguably been his best for the Gas in terms of how vital he has proven to be for his team and how, in a season where consistency has seemed to evade every aspect for Rovers, the midfielder has been Mr. Consistent throughout.