Barnet take on Bristol Rovers on Tuesday, with the Gas set on an immediate return to the Football League

Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke encourages his side. Picture: Action Images

Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke encourages his side. Picture: Action Images

First published in Sport
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After thrashing ten-man Chester on the opening weekend of the new Conference season, Barnet will face a stern test on Tuesday night when they host promotion favourites Bristol Rovers.

The Gas were relegated out of the Football League for the first time in their history at the end of last season, finishing second bottom to Torquay United.

After a 13th place finish in 2012/13, the expectation at The Memorial Ground had been for John Ward’s side to mount a promotion push but the Gas never recovered from a slow start, winning just two of their first 14 League 2 fixtures.

A spate of injuries did not help Ward, who dipped into the loan market on a number of occasions to strengthen his beleaguered squad.

The loan recruits oversaw some improvement in the results and despite reaching the relative safety of 14th in March, a run of eight defeats from their final 12 games saw the Pirates relegated on the final day of the season, going down on goal difference as Wycombe Wanderers survived.

Thirty-six-year-old Darrell Clarke was the man who oversaw relegation, after stepping into the role of manager when Ward moved upstairs to become director of football.

Given seven games to save preserve Rovers’ Football League status, Clarke won one and lost five. The only win coming against direct relegation rivals Wycombe on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Defeat against Mansfield on the final day saw the Gas slip into the bottom two for the first time all season, on the only weekend which counted.

Since then it has been a re-building job for Clarke, who has twice won promotion in his career with former club Salisbury City.

Last season’s top-scorer, 13-goal John-Joe O’Toole, has joined Northampton Town, whilst experienced heads such as Matt Harrold, David Clarkson and Steven Gillespie have also left the club.

Defender Michael Smith moved up a division to join League 1 play-off semi-finalists Peterborough for an undisclosed fee, whilst talented youngster Alefe Santos departed for Derby County.

There have been a number of additions too, with Salisbury pair Stuart Sinclair and Jamie White following their former boss to The Memorial Ground.

The headline signing, though, is former Forest Green Rovers forward Matty Taylor.

An England ‘C’ international, Taylor arrives from The New Lawn after scoring 22 goals in 77 league starts for Forest.

The 23-year-old split his season between Forest Green Rovers and Chester, taking in a brief loan spell with the Blues, which saw him score six times in seven outings before returning to his parent club.

Experienced midfielder Lee Mansell has also arrived from fellow Conference newcomers Torquay United, whilst winger-cum-forward Andy Monkhouse brings bags of experience from Hartlepool United.

Former Preston and Plymouth centre-back, Neal Trotman, arrived on the eve of the season but did not feature in the Pirates’ goalless draw with Grimsby Town on Saturday.

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