Skip to content

Aaron Collins interview: How Bristol Rovers forward is thriving off manager Joey Barton's belief

Sky Sports exclusive: Bristol Rovers' Aaron Collins discusses how Gas manager Joey Barton's steadfast belief has helped him to thrive and become one of Sky Bet League One's most dangerous forwards since a 2021 move from Forest Green

Image: Aaron Collins was named Sky Bet League One Player of the Month for October

Aaron Collins ended last season sat on top of a traffic light.

He swigged a can of beer and poured the remnants over his head, much to the delight of the hordes of Bristol Rovers fans below him. The video soon went viral, naturally.

This was not just a stunt for the cameras, though.

For many months, it looked as though both he and the team were staring down the barrel of a season of mediocrity in their first season back in League Two.

Yet there was a shift around the turn of the year, for both parties; Collins ended an 18-game goal drought last November and ended the season with 18 goals in all competitions, while Rovers secured third-place - and automatic promotion - with an unprecedented 7-0 win over Scunthorpe on the final day.

This was as much a promotion celebration as it was an outpouring of relief.

There is only one question to pose: What turned the tide?

Also See:

"After I left Forest Green and came in, it was tough and I didn't score for a good three months but the manager [Joey Barton] stood by me the whole time," says Collins in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.

Image: The 25-year-old scored 16 goals in League Two last term as Rovers were promoted on the final day

"He knew he signed me for a reason and since I scored that first goal, he has been so good to me on the pitch and off the pitch. If you have someone backing your corner, it's always going to help because then you don't feel like you're on your own at any point.

"It was a struggle at the start, not getting the goals when that's what the team, staff and the manager wanted me to do, and he stood by me the whole way, coaching me in different ways and making me learn that No 9 role last season.

"He believes you can do a lot more than what you actually set your mind to. That has helped me a lot because it has helped me believe a lot more. We have a great relationship and I think I'm showing that in the way that I'm playing."

On that basis, one glimpse at Collins' stats this season and could have you believing Barton has mastered the art of man management.

The 25-year-old has five more league assists than last term and is just six goals off the 16 he scored on the way to promotion from League Two, having played 27 games fewer.

It beggars belief that he had never played in the third tier before this year.

He continues: "I was just chomping at the bit to get the chance to play in League One. I have been around in League Two quite a bit and played for a lot of League Two sides, and over the last two or three seasons, I've started hitting form and moving up.

"I wanted to prove to a lot of people that I can play in League One. I haven't been given the chance before because people may have said that maybe I'm just a League Two player. There have been little comments made.

"It's a game of opinions - at the end of the day, you can only do what you can do to prove people wrong.

"But I've come into this season full of confidence off the back of last. You go into every game then wanting to score and thinking you are going to score as well as knowing you can change the game if you do what you can do.

"It has helped us massively as a team, too. Going through October, where we had one loss, I scored and assisted in a lot of the games and we got good results out of them. Individually it gives you a lot of confidence, but you can also help the team out massively."

Aaron Collins' League One and Two stats at a glance

Club Games Played Goals Assists
Forest Green 72 14 8
Bristol Rovers 63 26 9
Newport 30 2 3
Notts County 18 2 0
Morecambe 15 8 4
Colchester 7 0 0
TOTAL 205 52 24

The confidence is no doubt helped by the fact he is playing in a new role off the left this year. He admits he became a more rounded player last term, but now he is exactly where he wants to be.

"Last year was a lot more to do with scoring the goals than creating them, but coming into this season, we have got two or three solid No 9s at the club," Collins says.

"That means I'm able to do what I've always been good at, playing off a No 9 - whether that's off the left, off the right or as a No 10 - where I can roam around, find space, create things and be in that box to score goals as well

"I've always thought that's best position and that's where I've been able shine this season because I've been able to have the mind of a No 9 from last season as well as do what I'm good at, floating around and creating things for other players."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Highlights of the Sky Bet League One game between Bristol Rovers and Fleetwood Town

Perhaps the most intriguing element of Collins' story is that he is flourishing at the very club he was released by as a youngster, before he signed his first professional deal at Newport in 2014.

The universe works in mysterious ways, but did he ever envisage things would pan out the way they have?

"Probably not, no!" he laughs. "But after last season, I've come back and thrived.

"After being here as a kid and then being told I wasn't good enough, to coming back eight/nine years later, I think there was something underlying where it was time for me to prove that I am good enough to a lot of people out there. I had a point to prove in coming back."

And with Rovers on an upward trajectory heading into the final weeks of the year, where does he see himself at the end of this campaign?

"It would be a good season if I end up on a traffic light again…"

Super 6 Activates International Mode!
Super 6 Activates International Mode!

Super 6 is going International! Could you win £100,000 for free? Entries by 1pm Monday.

Around Sky