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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 9 - The Ballad of Reading Goals 

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

The Ballad of Reading Goals 

Just before football once again became fashionable, post-Italia 90, Channel 4 dipped its toes into the niche market that was and in fairness probably still is; “football-related drama”, with its series “The Manageress”. Starring Cherie Lunghi as “Gabriella Benson” it charted the trials and tribulations of a woman in a man’s world as “Gabriella” becomes manager of a struggling second division side, charged with turning round their fortunes. Interestingly, if you look for this gem on Amazon, the DVD, quite wrongly, is described like this;

“...the 1980s football-based TV drama starring Cherie Lunghi as the embattled first female manager of struggling Blackburn Rovers...”; 

 ...it’s as if Don Mackay never existed!


There are clips of the series available on YouTube and the sharp-eyed (& perhaps more mature) reader will notice it was filmed at Reading’s old Elm Park ground. Much has changed in the footballing world since 1990, although with one notable exception in France, a female manager of a 2nd tier side is not yet one of the regular features of the modern game. 

Reading left Elm Park and moved into the majestic Madejski Stadium in 1998; built apparently on the site of a former refuse dump, so yes indeed, obvious punchline fans; it is used to seeing a load of old rubbish served up on a regular basis. However, any rubbish dumped on Saturday came almost exclusively from the home side. The Royals used to be known as “The Biscuitmen” as a homage to the presence of Huntley & Palmer’s in the town, well that, or based upon the evidence presented on Saturday, perhaps a tendency to crumble in their own box?

Much pre-match chatter surrounded the addition of Lewis Holtby to the Rovers ranks during the week and despite the proclamations that he had kept himself fit during the summer, most of his activity this week seemed to be courtesy of North Sea ferries and the M62 if social media were to be believed. An early appearance therefore seemed unlikely, but Tony Mowbray nevertheless named him as a substitute. Pre-match injuries and illness had robbed the team of the services of Adarabioyo and Rothwell and Mowbray confirmed that the switch to a back four had been enforced. The absence of Rothwell certainly made it a little easier to name Holtby on the bench.

This also possibly meant a reprieve for Adam Armstrong and he was to prove influential in the first half scoring a lovely goal when set up by Stewart Downing, the two wide men combining neatly. At the start of the second half, Armstrong also contributed to the breakaway that resulted in a Rovers second. Gallagher broke down the left, looking up and seemingly struggling to choose between Armstrong and Dack appeared to pick out neither but some shoddy Reading defending allowed Dack time to stretch, control, turn, shoot and via a deflection, score his 40th Rovers goal on the occasion of his 100th appearance. 

He truly is Tony Mowbray’s best signing for Rovers and pound for pound, quite possibly of his managerial career. It’s on record that early in his Rovers career, in particular when being played wide left away at Shrewsbury and refusing to track back when Rovers lost possession, I questioned the wisdom of the signing. I couldn’t be happier to be proved wrong...yet again! The elegant solution to a problem I didn’t recognise that we had..!

Rovers turned in a hugely encouraging team performance here, marred only by a momentary lapse of concentration as the former England junior international John Swift brought Reading back into the game in the 57th minute, not long after hitting the post from an almost identical position. Rovers hadn’t recognised the danger and their sloppiness in allowing a repeat attempt brought quite literally, Swift retribution. 

Not all that long ago, given the scenario of a goal pulled back by the home side, half an hour to play, I would have been fearful of a capitulation costing at least one if not three points. One of the really pleasing aspects of this game was the use of substitutes to impact on the conduct of that last 30 minutes and the quality that was available to Mowbray from which to select. 

First Holtby, then Johnson, followed by Graham, in a seven-minute spell with about 15-20 minutes to go, established that if Reading were to take anything, they needed to up their game considerably. Rovers and especially Holtby, started to treat possession with the due care and attention it deserves and when five minutes of added time was indicated, Rovers responded with a training ground passing/possession exercise that kept the ball for over three minutes, killing off any momentum that the home side tried to create. 

Last week I said that Reading away was exactly the sort of game that an aspiring promotion-chasing team should be looking to win. If there was any disappointment at all at full-time, it’s that Rovers only scored two, when comprehensively on top for large parts of the game. If Rovers can nail this deficiency and maintain the defensive solidity of the last few weeks (West Brom away apart) then hopes and expectations can be re-calibrated accordingly.

Back to back home games in store next week will provide an opportunity for further assessment. Luton are enduring the sort of reality-check that might be expected of a side that has enjoyed two promotions in two seasons but any complacency displayed by Rovers could be punished so easily. Nottingham Forest at home, on paper at least, provides a much sterner test. They have enjoyed a revolving door of managerial appointments and player recruitment and as we know all too well, that is far from a guaranteed route to success but they are among the early front-runners in the Championship.

Forest’s only defeat so far was on the opening day of the season, but since then they have collected some impressive scalps along the way including Fulham and Swansea away, so Rovers will find this to be a stern test of their credentials. The Championship currently has the top thirteen sides separated by just five points. Any team in this group taking six out of six from their next two fixtures can expect a loftier perch from which to view proceedings come early October. Can Rovers make it four on the bounce ? We shall see.


Old Blackburnian









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