MC: Joey Barton was appointed as Bristol Rovers’ third manager of this season last month, given his negative reputation in football how did that decision go down with your fanbase?
LF: When Joey Barton was given the job, it definitely split the fanbase. Some fans were extremely happy with him coming in, and others were completely against him getting the job, which is understandable given his history.
I definitely noticed a generational divide on social media on the appointment of Barton. My personal view on the appointment was that I decided that I was going to judge him on how he is as a manager for Rovers.
MC: Barton has won just two of his nine matches in charge, is there a concern growing already over him, or do fans recognise that the players just aren’t good enough?
LF: I think the fans have recognised that the players are not good enough, especially over the last few weeks, I think the players we recruited in the summer just have not performed the standards we as fans expect of them.
It is frustrating as we cannot be at games in person and voice our opinions. It is hard when you can see certain players who are not putting in 100% effort in every game, which is what every player should be doing as a minimum requirement.
MC: Rovers currently sit 21th, but are just two points away from safety - do you think the club will avoid relegation to League Two?
LF: If you had asked me this question when we had just beaten Accrington Stanley 4-1, I would have said 100% yes, we had put in a great performance, scored four goals and easily could have scored more.
However, since that game, we have picked up just one point in four games against AFC Wimbledon, Charlton Athletic, Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town, which in a relegation battle is exactly what you don’t need and especially not to drop points to the teams around you.
I am usually quite an optimistic person but the last few results have left me feeling very frustrated and I feel only a miracle will save us from relegation from League 2, I really don’t think some of these players have the fight in them for a relegation battle, which is very difficult for me as a fan to accept.
MC: Jack Baldwin joined Bristol Rovers on a free transfer from Sunderland in the summer, can you see why we let him go, or has he proved a clever piece of business?
LF: When I saw Jack Baldwin had signed for Rovers, I knew it was a name I recognised so I had a little look on social media to see what fans of his previous club had said about him.
I noticed that Sunderland fans didn’t really have many positive things to say about him but as with any new player, I wanted to give him a chance.
Jack, like the majority of our defenders is inconsistent, he can make a fantastic block or tackle but his simple passes out of the back can lead to a good goalscoring opportunity for the opposition.
MC: Creative midfielder Erhun Oztumer was linked with joining Sunderland from Bolton back in 2019, how has he performed since joining on loan from Charlton?
LF: When Erhun Oztumer came in on loan, I was really excited about him joining Rovers as he was a player who always stood out for the opposition for me.
Up until just before Christmas, he was putting in some impressive performances, but then unfortunately he was affected by our COVID outbreak.
He was out of favour with Paul Tisdale but recently, he has been given an opportunity under Barton but from the bench. I personally hope that he will get an opportunity to start as I feel he can impact this team.
MC: Rovers made an impressive double signing from Gillingham in Max Ehmer and Brandon Hanlan during the summer window, but Barton appears to have fallen out with Ehmer already - what impact have those two players made?
LF: Brandon Hanlan was signed as the replacement for Jonson Clarke-Harris, which was massive shoes to fill. The 23-year-old was in good form before Christmas and scored some really impressive goals, but he has only scored once since Barton has come in as manager. despite Barton publicly backing him when he joined the club.
I think Hanlan is a good player and I can tell the management team really want to work with him but with the team struggling, I think it is impacting his performance and as he is the main striker, we need him to score goals.
Max Ehmer was a consistent defender and captain when he was at Gillingham, so when he joined Rovers and he was given the captaincy, I was not surprised. However, since he has come in, I personally haven’t noticed a lot of leadership or qualities that you expect from a captain.
The previous season we had Tony Craig and even though he wasn’t our captain, he had been captain at Milwall for a number of seasons, and he organised the defence so well and he worked very well with our young defender, Alfie Kilgour; I think we have certainly missed a Tony Craig type character in our defence.
I also found out recently that Joey Barton knew Max Ehmer when he was at QPR a number of years ago and he was not a fan of his then so it doesn’t surprise me that Ehmer is now out of the squad and no longer captain; you want your captain to lead from the front, especially in a relegation battle and he has not shown that throughout this season at Rovers.
MC: Given that Lee Johnson spent four years as manager of your rivals Bristol City, is there an added desire amongst Rovers fans to get one over an old rival?
LF: Definitely, as soon as I saw Lee Johnson got the job at Sunderland, I looked at when we were playing each other again this season as I knew it would be a game with an added edge.
It is a shame that the fans can’t be there for that match, I think there would be a lot of “interesting” songs sang about Lee Johnson from our fans, and Joey Barton from your fans! I do think, however as much as it pains me to say, Lee Johnson has done an excellent job with Sunderland since he has come in as your manager.
MC: On the back of your 1-0 defeat to Swindon, who are the eleven Bristol Rovers players you believe Barton will select and what style of play can Sunderland expect to encounter?
LF: I think our starting 11 will be (3-5-2):
GK – Joe Day
RWB – David Tutonda, CB – George Williams, CB – Alfie Kilgour, CB – Jack Baldwin, LWB – Luke Leahy (Captain)
Midfield – Josh Grant, Midfield – Erhun Oztumer, Midfield – Luke McCormick
Striker – James Daly, Striker – Jonah Ayunga
Joey Barton goes into every game trying to win, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to pack the defence, just because of the quality of your forward players.
MC: Bristol Rovers are unbeaten in their last two matches against Sunderland, what is your honest prediction of the final score on Saturday?
LF: That is quite nice to hear that we have been unbeaten in the last two matches against Sunderland.
Having said that, I cannot see that run continuing on Saturday sadly as Sunderland are nine matches unbeaten ahead of the match with a very in-form striker in Charlie Wyke.
I will go with a 2-0 win for Sunderland, with Wyke and Dion Sanderson scoring.