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Bristol Rovers face fight to keep Michael Smith

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 20, 2014

By JAMES MCNAMARA

Bristol Rovers defender Michael Smith was named player of the season  PICTURE: NEIL BROOKMAN/PINNACLE

Bristol Rovers defender Michael Smith was named player of the season PICTURE: NEIL BROOKMAN/PINNACLE

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Bristol Rovers are facing a fight to hang on to player of the season Michael Smith – with a clutch of Football League clubs queuing up to land the defender.

Championship newcomers Brentford – who finished runners-up in League One last term – are among those being linked with the Northern Irishman.

At least two League One outfits are also understood to be targeting the talented right-back, with Peterborough United and Barnsley both expressing an interest in the 25-year-old.

Peterborough will again start next season in the third tier of English football after being beaten by Leyton Orient in the play-off semi-finals, while Barnsley – managed by former Bristol City boss Danny Wilson – were relegated from the Championship after finishing second from bottom.

Smith currently has another season left on his existing contract with the Pirates and the club have offered him a new and extended deal in a bid to keep him at the Memorial Stadium and would command a fee should any of the interested parties firm up their interest with an official offer.

The Northern Irishman, who was named in the PFA's League Two team of the year last term, is settled in Bristol and reluctant to up sticks and move, but the likelihood is that a move away from the Memorial Stadium is almost inevitable if Smith is to finally realise any ambitions of representing his country at international level.

Former Rovers boss Paul Buckle signed Smith from Northern Ireland Premiership club Ballymena United in 2011. He has since made 84 league starts for Rovers with a further 17 appearances from the bench and was one of their most consistent performers during a disastrous campaign which saw them drop from the Football League on the final day of the season.

Manager Darrell Clarke is expected to hold talks with Smith as well as Lee Brown and Alefe Santos, who have also both been offered new deals, later this week in a bid to keep the trio at the club as part of his plans to have the majority of a new-look squad in place by the time Rovers return for pre-season training on June 30.

Clarke has already started what looks to be a massive re-building job following Rovers relegation to the Conference by turning to his network of contacts both inside and outside of the Football League in an attempt to identify the "right" players.

At least ten new players are expected to arrive to bolster a squad that only has 12 players contracted beyond the end of June in addition to the five scholars that have been offered the opportunity to turn professional.

Clarke, however, knows that he faces a job in hanging on to both Smith and John-Joe O'Toole, while Tom Lockyer was also being monitored by a number of Football League clubs towards the tail end of last season and is also expected to be the subject of interest.

Clarke is to focus on the attacking areas of his squad and is targeting one or two older heads with knowledge of playing at Conference level – but is keen to avoid recruiting journeymen looking to see out the final year or two of their playing careers.

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