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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 3 - Better, But Not Yet Good Enough

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There are two artefacts that definitively slam shut; a teenager’s bedroom door after a “full and frank” parental discussion and twice a year; the transfer window. The transfer window, at least in my febrile imagination, is an ornate Victorian sash window, crushing the fingers of those club chairmen and managers alike who have failed to complete their business in good time. You cannot help but get the sense that with the evidence of the very late business transacted by Rovers, the fingers of Tony Mowbray and Steve Waggott were extremely close to being trapped painfully at 5pm last Thursday, at the very least recipients of an ad hoc manicure.

It was an odd transfer window, neither awful nor especially fulfilling. It promised to deliver but ultimately was something of a damp squib. The manifest shortcomings in last season’s squad had been identified, targets to address also were seemingly identified; but the necessary deals to close the gaps failed to materialise. Additional midfielders and strikers were recruited, the promise that “defenders are coming” uttered by Mowbray at the Fans’ Forum just a few weeks ago, seemingly an empty pledge.

What confused Rovers fans further, right on the cusp of the deadline, was the departure, albeit on loan, of team captain and set piece supremo Charlie Mulgrew. This is a conspiracist’s dream, an unplanned departure of a popular player to a local rival with no prior hint, for no fee. Mulgrew’s powers did rather seem to be on the wane in fairness, many a forum thread considering the relative benefits of his set pieces versus his defensive frailties concluded that we could strengthen in that position. 

Indeed, we could and should have strengthened; but when all the business is complete and you are left with three loanees in a defence (including the keeper) it smacks of short-term expediency. It smacks a little of desperation. It is either extremely “courageous” or “foolish” depending on how charitable towards Mowbray & Waggott you may feel.

Early on Saturday afternoon, the courage/folly was exposed yet further when it emerged that Darragh Lenihan and Ryan Nyambe were unavailable due to injury and that new loanee left back, Greg Cunningham was not in the squad, despite having travelled. Away to recently relegated pre-season promotion favourites Fulham with another defensive combo including another debutant, the Manchester City loanee, Tosin Adarabioyo. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer in the first half, at least initially, was “not much”. Rovers started brightly and energetically. Chances fell to Bradley Johnson and Sam Gallagher but were not converted. Fulham looked edgy following their opening day defeat. Rovers really needed to capitalise, but the clinical cutting edge was missing. Pressure, pressing, possession; all good but it’s goals that are decisive. 

That Fulham’s opener came from Tom Cairney will surprise few Rovers fans. That he was given time & space to receive, control, set up and shoot without a navy-blue 3rdkit wearing Rovers player coming within sniffing distance was almost criminal. It was a fabulous strike but he was thirty yards out and Walton was sadly nowhere near preventing the goal.

The second half started brightly, Armstrong coming closest to registering a shot on target but the half seemed to play out to a familiar script:-

ROVERS: *Run out of ideas, make substitutions, play players out of position, run out of steam, make mistakes, concede a second, bemoan your luck…rinse & repeat*

FANS: "Oh..."

It’s a quote attributed to many, but most often to Gary Player, that “the harder I work, the luckier I get…”, Rovers can exclaim that luck isn’t on their side at the moment, however, this is a team that in its opening two league games has scored only via an own goal, failed to register a shot on target on Saturday and has never seriously threatened a clean sheet. More hard work may be needed you suspect.

There were some positives on Saturday; the partnership of Adarabioyo and Williams looked promising, Bennett improved immeasurably (though he should not really be our first choice right back) and Dack’s first half performance was back to his impudent best. Overall though, we were beaten by a team that took its chances.

Where next then? Well, back to Ewood for a Carabao Cup tie with Oldham Athletic, presenting an opportunity for redemption. Just the eleven changes and a chance for fringe players to stake a claim. The fact that a roller-coaster of a game needed the old firm of Dack & Graham to fashion a comeback or two to overcome League Two opposition will cause many a wry grin you suspect. A win is a win, but somehow this performance brought yet more problems to the fore and provided little in the way of (defensive) comfort. Dack & Graham appear to be a partnership which delivers a sum greater than the parts. Splitting them up leaves Dack bereft, but £12m spent on Brereton & Gallagher means scrutiny if the old firm starts on Saturday. Mowbray needs to find a formula from somewhere to use his recruits and bring out the best of Dack.

With just two league games played, it is of course ridiculously premature to draw too many conclusions. Many pointed out on social media that the last time Rovers last their opening two league fixtures, the season ended with a glorious promotion. The counter argument to that sadly, is to point out that the last time Rovers lost all three opening fixtures, relegation was the final denouement to a season of disappointment. Saturday looms large.

Rovers next league opponents Middlesbrough, have also started shakily; they too found the Carabao Cup particularly challenging, losing at home on penalties. They too will have reason to crave a victory. Their exciting Friday night TV opener at Luton followed up with a home defeat to Brentford has left them with just one point. Another former Rover in the form of Rudy Gestede lies in wait, though probably from the bench based on Woodgate’s team selections so far. Let’s hope that it is Downing, Graham, Chapman, Smallwood and Mowbray that have the upper hand against their former club and that somehow, Tony Mowbray can fashion an effective back four from his squad. 

One final cheery note to end on; bravo to all the supporters who have contributed to sponsoring the Rovers Ladies team this season. BRFCS forum member and podcast panellist Linz Lewis, has once again mobilised her formidable social media army to raise (at time of writing) over £3k. The original target was £250, with the aim of sponsoring one player; £3k covers a starting XI, so this is quite an achievement. #OneRovers in deed.


*Thanks to Michael Taylor ( @MarpleLeaf ) for the photographs...




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