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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 6 - Baggies Attacking Moves Prove Too Tight For Rovers

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A slightly longer version of this week's Accrington Observer column


The Hawthorns is of course the highest ground in the Football League, it’s a pub quiz staple over the years; but can you name the second highest ? (Answer at the foot of the column).

Notwithstanding the apparently 551 feet separating it from sea level, there was a point between midday and 2pm on Saturday when there seemed to be a distinct probability that we would all soon be under water. Monsoon like conditions for a couple of hours served to dampen the mood, flood the streets, wash away the cricket matches playing on nearby grounds and generate grey skies to match Rovers miserable new away kit.

Once inside the stadium, the weather relented, the sun briefly shone and astonishingly the groundsman decided this was the precise moment to turn on the sprinklers to water the pitch. If the pitch drains that well, cricket clubs should get in touch to learn his mystery soil maintenance secrets forthwith!

Rovers benefitted from some very early charity from a West Brom defence seemingly in a generous mood. Some eager pressing right from the off by Travis forcing an error which gave Dack the opportunity to open the scoring and all this from open play. Barely a minute in and a goal ahead – the question asked on social media was, “Is it possible to score TOO early ?”; Rovers fans really are the masters of dark humour, though the fears were soon proven not to be entirely without foundation.

Conceding so early seemed to spark some life into an Albion team without a home win in their three league and cup games to this point and both flanks were soon being exploited in the hope of some return. Nimble, tricky wide midfielders supported by rampaging full backs in a 4-3-2-1, very much a Mowbray template, but here, it was being executed by the team in the stripes and Rovers couldn’t cope. 

Former Blackpool man Philips and on-loan Hammer Diangana in particular made hay. Greg Cunningham wasn’t having the easiest of days. It started badly when he tried to hold off a challenge from Philips encouraging Walton to come and collect. The only problem being that Walton clearly hadn’t got the text and he resolutely stayed put. Philips nipped in, outmuscled Cunningham and with the ball nestling in Rovers’ net, an unseemly row then erupted between left back and keeper, each seeking to apportion blame. In truth, neither was entirely innocent, but if ever a “heave it into Row Z” solution was required, this was probably it.

Philips was also instrumental in the second; following some balsa strength defending from the disappointing Armstrong, a pass to Philips allowed him to produce a lovely, deft chip which came back off the post to Pereira, who with plenty of time, set up Livermore to pick his spot. It wasn’t quite the Tom Cairney-esque levels of space we saw against Fulham but Rovers do rather seem to have fallen into the habit of allowing opposition midfielders a lot of space to measure their shots.

The third Albion goal was delightful, the aforementioned Diangana scoring with a delicious chip following a simply horrible mistake by Darragh Lenihan, a peaky blunder you might say. Caught in possession and out sprinted, at least Darragh had a great vantage point to watch the ball float elegantly over Walton. A miserable twenty-minute spell had left Rovers bereft of ideas and the main aspiration seemed to be to get to half time with no further damage.

The next goal was scored at the other end, thankfully, still in the first half. A stoppage-time Cunningham free-kick which seemed to be fairly innocuous was met by the head of Lenihan; a keeper fumble, a couple of pinball type attempts and the erstwhile disappointing Johnson, had somehow scrambled to put Rovers back in it just before the interval.

There’s no bad time to score but this was a particularly good one, as it served to deflate the home crowd and introduce an element of doubt where, once past the twenty-second minute at least, there had been very little. 

Mowbray rang the changes and Dack became the lone “false nine” striker, the ineffectual Gallagher and Johnson sacrificed for Rothwell and Buckley. I expressed doubts over the efficacy of the Travis/Johnson midfield partnership last week and nothing in the first half here alleviated those concerns. These substitutions seemed to suggest that packing the midfield with nimble, young tyros was to be the favoured approach. Against all odds, it seemed to do the trick, albeit Rovers best chances came from a series of crosses with defenders facing their own goal and then panicking, rather than from Dack & Graham interplay.

Following one such incident Rovers thought they had an equaliser but in fairness to the officials and with the benefit of reviewing a few times on TV, it definitely falls into the category of “one you wouldn't like to be given against you”. 

Buckley in particular was eye-catching. Not everything he tried worked but he stuck at it and he seems to have the ability to glide effortlessly, treating the turf as if it were ice, with him on skates, nicking the ball away just before a defender can clean him out, pirouetting to leave an opponent facing entirely the wrong direction.

The trusty Mowbray Plan A (now turned Plan B), Danny Graham; was thrown on with a quarter of an hour remaining but Albion’s Semi Ajayi, a player who had impressed against Rovers when playing for Rotherham last season, snuffed out the danger. The best legitimate chance came from a neat, low free kick which Downing turned against the outside of the post but that was a close as Rovers managed, there was to be no repeat of the drama of last season’s encounter.

One footnote worthy of comment were the early and sustained chants berating the EFL for their role in the demise of Bury FC as a Football League member. As Mrs Doyle might have said, “the bad F word...worse than ‘feck’...” but it was heartfelt and authentic. Such solidarity was encouraging to hear as the all-pervading sense of “who’s next?” is hard to escape. Bolton seemed to have survived for now but Macclesfield, Oldham...who can say?

Next week is an international break and I for one welcome a chance to return to Ashes mode for a while. A reminder, if it were needed, that in sport anything and everything is possible…even something as remarkable as a goal from open play.



*It’s Port Vale’s Vale Park which stands at 525 feet above sea level – 100 lines for all of you suggesting Boundary Park!


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