Re­tain­ing JCH would be real sign of progress

Western Daily Press - - Football - JAMES PIERCY james.piercy@reach­

BRIS­TOL Rovers may well achieve the re­mark­able feat of emerg­ing from a global pan­demic in a con­sid­er­ably stronger po­si­tion than when they en­tered it ahead of the 2020-21 sea­son – but one fi­nal piece of the puz­zle re­mains.

Putting trans­fer ac­tiv­ity to one side for the mo­ment, hav­ing se­cured new con­tracts for Al­fie Kil­gour, Anssi Jaakkola and Cam Har­g­reaves, they have be­gun work on the train­ing ground at Al­monds­bury, and with Wael Al-Qadi es­tab­lish­ing strong in­di­vid­ual con­trol over the club, the fu­ture of tal­is­manic striker Jon­son Clarke-Har­ris needs to be re­solved.

Clarke-Har­ris is un­der con­tract un­til June 2021 and is still the bona-fide su­per­star within boss Ben Garner’s squad, and the last six months has wit­nessed a slight change in strat­egy sur­round­ing the 25-year-old.

In Jan­uary, there was a cer­tain ac­cep­tance that financial re­stric­tions in ex­pand­ing the wage bill meant on-off con­tract talks would have to be shelved and the sim­ple so­lu­tion, that worked for player and club, was a sale. It was a re­al­ity that had not sat well with ex-boss Gra­ham Cough­lan.

But af­ter a year of con­sis­tently find­ing the tar­get in League One, with 18 months re­main­ing on his deal at that time, that was the win­dow in which the club could re­ceive max­i­mum value. It was a busi­ness de­ci­sion that needed to be made for the bet­ter­ment of the longterm financial health of the club.

How­ever, de­spite the list of scouts reg­u­larly at­tend­ing the Me­mo­rial Sta­dium and away grounds to mon­i­tor Clarke-Har­ris, the only tan­gi­ble in­ter­est emerged from Charl­ton, who made an in­for­mal ver­bal of­fer, but when pressed to con­firm in writ­ing dis­ap­peared with the dead­line ap­proach­ing.

But now, un­like six months ago, Rovers’ pref­er­ence is not to sell, but re­tain and ex­tend his con­tract be­yond the sum­mer of 2021, with talks re­sum­ing dur­ing lock­down.

Clarke-Har­ris would be made Rovers’ high­est-paid player and the cen­tre­piece of Ben Garner’s newlook side, with the man­ager hop­ing to pro­vide cre­ativ­ity for the striker who, of­ten un­der Cough­lan, had to make goals for him­self.

There is de­lay and un­cer­tainty around Clarke-Har­ris’ fu­ture, though, be­cause un­der­stand­ably there is fur­ther in­ter­est out there, most no­tably from Ip­swich, who the Daily Press un­der­stands have be­gun un­der­tak­ing back­ground checks on the striker, speak­ing to former coaches and team-mates.

There is also be­lieved to a se­cond pro­mo­tion-seek­ing League One club in­ter­ested in Clarke-Har­ris but, as it stands, there have been no bids nor any con­tact with Rovers over their man’s avail­abil­ity or his price-tag.

Cin­der­ford man­ager Paul Michael and as­sis­tant An­drew Smith have stepped down from their roles to join South­ern League ri­vals Yate.

They re­place Paul Brit­ton, who re­cently stepped down af­ter a fouryear ten­ure with the Blue­bells, in which he guided them back to the Premier Di­vi­sion with a play-off tri­umph over Cin­der­ford in 2019.

Ryan His­cott/JMP

Jon­son Clarke-Har­ris holds off a Coven­try de­fender dur­ing an FA Cup tie in Jan­uary

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