Bristol Rovers have been rocked by the news that striker Jonson Clarke-Harris is set to be on the sidelines for up to five weeks, as reported by Bristol Live.
He’s suffered a calf strain in training which will likely keep him out of action until mid-November. He underwent scans on the injury yesterday which has revealed a significant strain on the muscle, keeping him out for a good portion of the autumn period.
It’s a huge blow for Rovers. His goals were the difference between survival and relegation last season and he’s begun in the same vein of form this time out.
He’s bagged eight this season, with the next highest scorer only on half of that return. Graham Coughlan’s side struggled in the early part of the season, but have found some form and are currently just outside the top six. If they’re to stay there, then one player who has previously struggled is going to have to step up and perform; Tom Nichols.
The Gas had a free weekend this past Saturday, courtesy of being due to play Bury, but turned over Rotherham the week before. That’s no mean feat and they did it with a flat 3-5-2 formation, pairing Clarke-Harris with Sheffield United loanee Tyler Smith. Clarke-Harris bagged the goal, but Smith’s intelligent runs off the powerhouse certainly caused Rotherham some problems.
There won’t be a case for Smith playing a lone striker role; that’s not his game. He’s nimble, tricky on the ball and keen to get around a bigger forward. Nichols is going to have to deliver over the next few weeks as he’s the only option to come in and partner Smith.
It’s a big ask for the former Exeter forward, he’s not been in good form for at least two seasons now. After arriving from Peterborough he was meant to spark a push up the table, but instead he’s been a big flop. He’s got just three league goals since making the switch, one of which has come this season.
He scored 32 in 64 starts for Exeter City, but in recent years he’s come to reflect everything that is wrong with Bristol Rovers’ attack. He’s often wasteful and shot-shy, rarely getting in decent positions to score. He’s not the tallest or strongest in the air, making Clarke-Harris’ absence even more galling.
If Bristol Rovers are going to maintain their strong start to the season, Tom Nichols has to impress. If he doesn’t, it could well spell the end of his career with the Pirates.