AFTER a mediocre 2018-19 season, with much of it spent in and around the relegation zone, it was refreshing to see Bristol Rovers get a lot of transfer business done early on in the summer, writes Stephen Knowlson.

Graham Coughlan was given the opportunity to rebuild his squad and brought in a number of players – including a major remodelling of the defence – which he hopes will provide the Gas with the basis for an improved stab at the 2019-20 campaign. A decent pre-season demonstrated the benefit of having time to integrate the new players into the squad so it was with a sense of optimism that Rovers travelled north to Blackpool for the opening game of the season on Saturday.

Coughlan named five debutants in the starting 11 with Anssi Jaakkola in goal, Tom Davies partnering veteran Tony Craig in defence with Luke Leahy and Mark Little either side and Barnsley loanee Victor Adeboyejo up front.

Unfortunately, neither the manager’s tactics nor the defensive cohesion which (along with Jonson Clarke-Harris) saved our skins last season were good enough against a confident and physical home side. Despite having soundly beaten the Tangerines home and away last term, Rovers simply weren’t at the races and fell to a 2-0 opening day loss.

Apart from an early Ollie Clarke shot striking the post and a late header hitting the woodwork from sub Tyler Smith, the visitors rarely threatened a well-marshalled home defence. Sixteen shots with just one on target tells its own story.

Errors from the new-look defence were to blame for both Blackpool goals with Jaakkola giving away a penalty and Luke Leahy hopelessly mismatched against Gnanduillet in the air as the giant Frenchman headed the Seasiders two up 90 seconds into the second half.

Rovers saw plenty of the ball but did little with it, mainly because Coughlan opted to play Adeboyejo on his own up front. Isolated and outmuscled he couldn’t bring our attacking midfielders into the game and it wasn’t until the introduction of Smith and Nichols that we caused any problems for the Seasiders.

Our search for an opening day victory rolls into the ninth year and Coughlan will have plenty to ponder before the visit of Wycombe Wanderers to the Memorial Stadium next Saturday.