After the abrupt departures of both Graham Coughlan and Joe Dunne, Bristol Rovers announced Ben Garner as the new manager last week, writes Steve Knowlson.

Garner arrived at the Memorial Stadium with an extensive coaching CV gained principally at Crystal Palace and West Brom as assistant to Tony Pulis, but without experience of managing a team himself or of coaching in League One. Nevertheless, Rovers CEO Martyn Starnes declared Garner to be “the outstanding candidate for the role”.

The first test for Rovers new gaffer was the visit of AFC Wimbledon on Boxing Day. The game started promisingly for Rovers who dominated the visitors for long periods in the first half and deservedly went into the break 1-0 up thanks to a Jonson Clarke-Harris penalty.

What followed was a chastening experience for Garner as Wimbledon pegged back his new charges and exerted more and more pressure on the Rovers goal. Their second half dominance was rewarded by goals from Forss and Pigott who turned the game around, leaving the Mem with all three points after a very poor display by the Gas.

Garner will have been concerned at the second half capitulation and the fact that we only managed a single shot on target – in the 91st minute – during a disappointing second 45.

Next up was a feisty encounter with Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town on 29th December. Barton has a habit of getting himself sent off in games against Rovers and that’s exactly what happened as the home boss was sent to the stands after vigorously protesting a disallowed Ched Evans goal in the 70th minute.

Rovers were on the back foot for much of the game and were indebted to more fine goalkeeping from Anssi Jaakola to keep the home side out. Having said that, the Gas had chances of our own with Nichols striking the bar and Upson forcing a fine save from Cairns in the Fleetwood goal.

The match finished goalless with Rovers in 7th, just outside the playoffs on goal difference.

Ben Garner has a short time to get his footballing philosophy across to his team as the league and cup fixtures come thick and fast in the new year.