Those of us watching Rovers for our sixth or seventh decade know only too well how quickly 10, 20, 25 years can flash by virtually unnoticed, plans abandoned, once regular haunts neglected, dear old friends seldom seen or even thought about, and it’s amazing in some ways that Saturday sees Rovers return to what was such a familiar old stamping ground for the first time in 24 years.
Shivering and usually miserable afternoons on that open end at Boundary Park seem like yesterday, never mind a couple of early Premier League wins with the comfort of an actual roof to protect us from the elements on a ground from which if you went due East, the first natural objects you would encounter would be the Urals.
(We did meet Oldham at home in the first round of our glorious 2001-02 Worthington Cup campaign… 10 points if you can name the lad who scored his only Rovers goal that night, answer at foot of column.)
And it’s easy to forget that Rovers and Oldham Athletic were in the same division for 20 of the 23 seasons between our first relegation to the third tier in 1971 and Oldham’s relegation from the Premier League in 1994.
As now, Rovers had fallen from top echelon to third in five years while Oldham’s glory years had hardly survived beyond cotton’s heyday – runners-up in both First Division and FA Cup during an era when Bob Crompton was skippering us to titles.
As the rest of the mill and tourist towns of Lancashire’s teams dropped out of football’s elite one by one during the 1960’s – only Blackpool and Bolton would return, and they only very briefly in the following decade – clubs like ourselves and Oldham (“Home of the Tubular Bandage,” a sign on a bridge welcoming you to the town modestly but proudly says) were left to compete for trinkets.
We looked on almost in unfettered envy as they won the Anglo-Scottish Cup and got the funds to build a new stand – now demolished and replaced – by topping something called the Ford Lookers Fair Play League (I think) and trousering the hundred grand, practically twice as much as we’d ever spent on a player at he time.
Our fortunes were so closely entwined and Boundary Park was such a regular stopping point for our supporters during those two-and-a-bit decades that many of us were on first-name terms with local landlords and had what we considered our own personal annual parking spaces outside the same nearby houses,
There are certain parallels and subtle differences between the December 1971 visit and this weekend’s, another in a curious sequence of fixtures which will see Rovers, barring an unkind FA Cup first round draw, play only one game in the months of October and November more than 30 miles distant from Ewood.
Both clubs had fallen on hard times but unlike today any sense of optimism over a swift return to the Second Division had dwindled away among the travelling support. I’m pretty sure it was the first away game I was allowed to travel to without an adult, aged 12, on a Ribblesdale coach with blokes plunging bottle openers into Watneys Party Sevens and pouring them into glasses filched from the Adelphi or the Star and Garter on the Boulevard.
Rovers had played 20 league games by the time a late Dave Shaw goal equalised Tony Field’s opener and had won just five of them.
The result was certainly an improvement on the previous Saturday’s, when Oldham had won 1-0 at Ewood. (The respective attendances were uncannily similar – 7,593 at Ewood, 7,538 at Oldham).
But it’s entirely possible that today, with those stats, we could have been looking at our third manager of the season a week later. Back then with a vague belief that Ken Furphy was as capable of turning this @#/? round as anyone else who’d be prepared to come to Blackburn it was more a case of: “Something will happen,” as a philosophical John Lennon suggested to his infuriated fellow Fabs looking for suggestions when their van broke down by a motorway.
Promotion was already looking unattainable barring a miracle, an outcome which Tony Mowbray last week virtually admitted would see him handed his P45.
For the next couple of decades, the Latics were, if anything, often a step or so ahead of us. They won the Third Division Championship a year before we did, maintained Second Division status while we were relegated again briefly in 1979 and beat us to the top flight by a year and stayed up, thus cementing their “founder members of the Premier League” label a few weeks before we did likewise.
In the late eighties, under Joe Royle, their cup exploits, if not their awful plastic pitch, won the hearts of the nation as the likes of Arsenal were vanquished under the Boundary Park floodlights culminating in Wembley appearances in the 1990 League Cup Final and FA Cup semi.
However they were doing at the time though, a visit to Oldham habitually ended in misery with some notable exceptions, just as they generally fared badly here.
The lowlights are too numerous to itemise individually, although a 5-0 defeat on Good Friday 1979 was, remarkably, only the second-worse result of a weekend which saw us lose at home to Burnley to practically rubber-stamp relegation 24 hours later.
Another which sticks in my mind for the silliest of reasons was a horrid 4-2 spanking on Good Friday 1988. The match had been brought forward to a noon kick-off and one of the lads I worked with had arranged for Bacup Cricket Club bar to be opened- pre match bacon butties, pints etc – at 9.30am
Our plan to set off at 9am from Lock Street in Oswy was scuppered when one of the chaps, Joycey, failed to appear until 10.15am as he hadn’t put his watch forward an hour when the clocks changed the previous Sunday. His excuse that as he was a pool attendant at Waves he had no need to went down as well as you can expect from a bunch of beer-deprived boys with a frantic dash to make the match foisted upon them. I think we only managed two swift pints at Lanehead.
The names of Roger Palmer, Frankie Bunn and Andy Ritchie still cause Rovers fans the night terrors as the desperate days are recalled, just as Oldham fans and goalkeepers must break out into a cold sweat over the uttering of the four syllables “Simon Garner.”
There were good times but they were decidedly infrequent.
In the run-up to a snowy Christmas in 1981, our Boxing Day game against Oldham was switched to Boundary Park at short notice…they were even ahead of us having undersoil heating, see.
Rovers fans were rewarded after a treacherous journey by a grand display and a 3-0 win, Faz flicking Noel Brotherston corners on at the near post for Garns and Norman Bell to clip home.
I remember a thrilling 3-2 win on Boxing Day 1973 too, Richard Dinnis in caretaker charge. They actually won the Third Division that year.
Another stylish display under Jim Smith in October 1978, just days before I went away to Uni, marked the start of one of the most enjoyable runs of football I’ve ever seen from any Rovers team with Hird, Bailey, Brotherston and Wagstaffe outstanding. i hitch-hiked here and there to see them every weekend, the highlight a ride to Ninian Park with Bill Fox!
Jack Lewis, a footballing centre-forward of no mean ability, got badly injured after scoring at Oldham that night and though he came back for sporadic appearances, was never the same again. Both my 18-year-old and current incarnations romantically believe that side could have gone up if Lewis had stayed fit…or indeed, even been replaced at a time when Rovers’ directors made Scrooge look like Roman Abramovic.
In the first two Premier League seasons all our Boundary Park ghosts of the past were thoroughly exorcised by Ripley and Shearer et al. What exactly had the problem been?
Little did we realise when they slipped quietly out of the Premier League in 1994 that it would be almost a quarter of a century till we met again on equal terms.
Today, our neighbours, who should know this league as well as anyone having just spent 20 consecutive years in it, are probably even more stricken than are we.
Owned by an American anxious to get shut, a raft of summer signings approved by someone patently other than manager John Sheridan (who not unexpectedly departed) they have remarkably been steadied a little, as clubs often are by a caretaker who is a fans’ favourite, by club stalwart Richie Wellens.
This despite the players not being paid for September, an iniquity thus far not visited upon us even by the incompetent Venkys.
The supporters don’t have the luxury of a local evening paper to report on distressing goings on, The Chronicle having sadly folded, but Wellens has piloted the side to two league wins and a Checkatrade victory, no mean feat considering Sheridan washed his hands of it all.
Even Jack Byrne, another of those strange impulsive and ultimately unwanted loan acquisition follies Rovers have dabbled in all too frequently, has made an impact, and the scoresheet on occasion. Gates however have fallen spectacularly with less than 3,000 at the win at home to Peterborough.
Rovers will once again, as at Spotland, very possibly have more, and certainly more raucous and expectant, fans present than the hosts.
Tony Mowbray and his side must take advantage of this run of games at which the volume of travelling support possibly renders the atmosphere even more conducive to a performance than the sometimes spectral Ewood ambience.
With bottom side Plymouth at home on Tuesday followed by Portsmouth at home, Rovers first 13 games will have included fixtures against nine of the current bottom half of the table.
There will be sterner tests ahead in far-off places with a fraction of the backing so points stacked up now are precious.
One hopes Tony has done a little more research and preparation than he did for our Checkatrade conquerors Bury. His admission that he rather chucked the team on without really thinking about it was almost as astonishing as the statement about being surprised by the quality of Bury’s (a team we play again within a month) left back.
Having managed at this level before you rather think he might be aware of who everybody’s players are. No wonder the scouting system is due an overhaul.
It was the kind of daft thing everyone will forget about if we win the important stuff but my goodness, he could have chosen his words better.
Now the World Cup spots are almost sorted perhaps we may see Charlie Mulgrew selected less often for Scotland, whether of his own or some forward-looking coach’s accord, which would help with the mini fixture pile-up which has seen us collect a couple of games in hand but fall out, temporarily we hope, of the top six.
One hopes so, these international breaks were a bloody nuisance when everyone in your league had them, now with virtually everyone playing they’re even more intolerable and never-ending.
Thank goodness for the Under-23s for punctuating the tedium and providing another hugely enjoyable 90 minutes’ entertainment on Monday, although visitors Cardiff played their part in the spectacle with their experienced Scottish international full-back Callum Patterson maybe edging out our excellent Daniel Butterworth as Man Of The Match with a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw. (Patterson ironically a player Owen Coyle looked to bring into Rovers).
Rovers were unlucky to miss out on full points (it was a cup, but a group, don’t ask me any more complicated ones) due to a stoppage time leveller.
The livewire, bustling Joe Nuttall got another couple although he will possibly rue not notching a nap hand with a penalty and a couple of other good chances missed.
Butterworth gave the kind of display we’d like to see from Harry Chapman when he starts and his brilliant goal illuminated the Leyland night more than anything I’ve seen since Frank Sidebottom was on at the Civic Hall and personally helped dish out hotpot during the interval.
They really are a joy to watch, this lot.
Thanks to all who read and support the column in such encouraging numbers on a weekly basis and to the new folks running the BRFCS website who have given it a wider audience. Riversider 23 and Old Blackburnian give tremendous back-up on the odd weeks when I’m unable to supply the piece and both are an essential read.
It’s good to look forward to weekends with a bit of optimism and one hopes some success will give relief to and convert even the more spiteful among us, or as a great sage once said: “That a spirit of understanding will convert them from hatred to remorse, from anger to kindness, from the deadly intoxication of revenge to the lowly practices of self-reform.”
A) Darren Dunning scored Rovers second after Matt Jansen put us ahead
Rovers have announced that Elliott Bennett has signed a contract extension which will keep him at the club until 2020. The popular midfielder has been one of the standout players in the early part of the season.
Talking to the club's official website Bennett said "We've been speaking about it for a little bit now and I'm just delighted that it's finally signed and I can commit my future to the club.
"Once I sat down with the gaffer and we had a chat, it was never my intention to leave at the end of the season. "I was part of the bad season we had last year and I want to be part of a great season this year, which hopefully culminates in us getting promoted".
Our Rovers reflections this week come from Riversider23, who you can follow on Twitter on @MarkMark37m
Ten games in, and we’re in a play-off position with a game in hand. Early days, but well-placed.
There will be stumbles on the road to promotion – like the Wimbledon game, for example – but the signs are becoming much more positive and hopeful.
Having said that, the last 20 minutes of the laboured win against Gillingham put a serious dent in my growing confidence that automatic promotion could be a realistic target.
On a high after an enjoyable performance the previous Tuesday, we could see the makings of a strong team and a bright future.
Samuel, Antonsson, Dack, Smallwood, Downing and Chapman were all impressive and good to watch.
Add Lenihan and he will strengthen the defence one way or another.
On the evidence of the pre-season games and the Checkatrades against Stoke and Bury, there are several youngsters – including Nuttall, Platt, Travis and Doyle – who should prove to be improvements to the first team squad. I’m sure there are others too – like Mols and Hart and Harper – that I haven’t seen enough of yet.
Throw all those in the mix along with the odd January addition and there’s a risk of getting carried away.
We could even get back to competing with the big boys, mid-table in the Championship…
But less of the dreaming, and back to earth and Gillingham.
Mowbray’s selection of Whittingham ahead of Evans was interesting. I guess the logic was that with Gillingham sitting right back, Whittingham’s eye for a slick and penetrative pass would be more useful than the extra security that Evans can bring.
Would Whittingham take the opportunity to leave his anonymity behind and blossom into a Berkovic?
It looked possible but, as the game wore on, he drifted more and more into the half-hearted stroll that suggests he doesn’t really like hard work.
Smallwood had been magnificent on the Tuesday – tackling with bite, using the ball quickly and effectively, and giving a master-class in “tidying-up” not seen since Savage. He’s a joy to watch, and the passionate beating heart of this team.
But even he seemed affected by having Whittingham alongside him and, as experiments go, I’m not sure it’s worth repeating.
As it turned out, Gillingham did offer very little threat. A rigid and retreating 4-1-4-1 left the Rovers with plenty of possession and, with better crossing than Williams or Bennett could provide, they should have created many more chances than they did.
The brightest spark was Dack – always available, finding space between the Gillingham lines and looking to move forward. With his head down a bit too much, and the ball getting stuck between his feet, he isn’t yet – as Mowbray might say – quite the finished article. He is though, along with Chapman, the player most likely to create danger for opposing defences.
There’s a suggestion that Dack isn’t properly up to match-speed/fitness, and that can be the only reason for his removal after 60 minutes. From that point on, it was downhill as the cohesion of the team suffered from the loss of his industry, and the level of possession plummeted.
On balance, the players who have arrived under Mowbray’s tenure suggest he’s not a bad judge of ability – but his selections and substitutions have been less confidence-inspiring.
Replacing Dack, Samuel and Antonsson with Chapman, Graham and Gladwin left us significantly weaker – offensively and defensively – and what should have been a comfortable victory became decidedly edgy.
Chapman is an exciting talent, oozing confidence and eminently watchable, but he gave Williams no protection at all – and, unfortunately, Williams needs plenty of support.
Gladwin isn’t up to speed and, judging by previous performances, the quality of his touch and some silky skills are undermined by a distinct lack of consistency and sharpness of movement.
As for Graham, the less said the better.
We won’t get off so lightly against better sides.
Fortunately, we haven’t seen anything yet to cause much concern about the competition.
In the championship, we were brought up short every now and again when, for example, Huddersfield or Derby produced performances at Ewood that painfully demonstrated a gulf in quality and organisation and effort.
This season, it would be good if it was us having that impact on others.
Still plenty of work to do, though.
Surprisingly, our record of goals against is currently one of the best in the division, and young Raya has to be given a chunk of credit for that. Still liable to make the odd howler, and sometimes uncertain under high balls, he also made two outstanding saves – in the first half when 3 Gillingham players bore down on him and a goal seemed inevitable, and then late in the game low down from close range.
So, it’s into the international break, and then away to the rejuvenated Oldham.
In all my time watching football, other than in exceptional circumstances, I’ve never regarded a draw away from home as any kind of disaster, certainly not early in the season away to the unbeaten table-toppers, and Saturday’s at Shrewsbury followed by a highly impressive home win against Rotherham sets Rovers up for a near-perfect eight days’ work with the proviso that they uphold Tuesday’s standards and overcome managerless (at the time of writing) Gillingham.
I predicted on Twitter just ahead of last weekend that very few if any sides will win three in a week and that a return of seven points would almost certainly see our position strengthened.
As far as my calculations see it, only Southend United have taken maximum points from the first two rounds and it’s possible that Tony Mowbray’s side could nudge into an embryonic play-off spot by Saturday tea-time which should at least see the ditsiest of the weekly knee-jerk reaction mob pipe down for a week.
A lot of the most annoying twaddle spouted on social media and message boards is to do with the fact that the modern fan, aided and abetted by football institutions and their broadcasting partners, is conditioned unto a memory span sufficiently short to make the average goldfish look like the font of all wisdom.
At times, Mowbray’s selections have looked as if they were in response to popular opinion, even if they almost certainly weren’t Scrap three at the back. Drop Graham. Drop Whitingham. Play Antonsson. Antonsson’s rubbish, recall Graham. Drop Graham again. Drop Ward. Start with Chapman.
I’m sure most of the time he sees what we think we see with rather more expert eyes. And the signs in the final phase at The New Meadow and from the first whistle back at Ewood were that he might be onto something.
Tuesday’s victory con brio had even the most cautiously-inclined of supporters like myself purring with approval. From the very off, Rovers moved the ball, and, crucially, themselves around the field in such sparklingly purposeful fashion that a stultefyingly mediocre Rotherham clearly couldn’t cope.
Having narrowly missed out on several early opportunities it could have been one of those irritating halves which ends in frustration but we kept at it and got our noses in front with the kind of simple set piece goal which looks simple precisely because it’s been practiced to death on the training ground and featured the class delivery of a very fine footballer coupled with an intelligent late near-post dart.
It was just reward for the team and for Marcus Antonnson, inexplicably and mercilessly maligned since his debut by those who see a couple of indifferent displays here and there as reason to vent spleen and fulfilment of their prophecies based on A - how “He couldn’t get in Leeds team; B - What “my mate who’s a keen Leeds fan says” and C - What fans of his former club say on their forum. (See also Paul Downing, composed and assured against Rotherham, written off by a good number as a bad signing five minutes after his deadline day capture).
It’s a strange way of greeting and encouraging new players. On most of those bases, we’d never have signed Graeme Le Saux or Ian Pearce and goodness knows what the reaction to taking unemployed Tony Gale on as he prepared for a career in non-league would have been.
I’m sure Brentford, Brighton and Bournemouth fans were grateful for our verdicts on Alan Judge, Shane Duffy and Josh King but it is possible for a bloke to become an altogether different player wearing one shirt than he looked in another and my starting point is that anyone pulling ours on starts afresh despite his past.
Having hit the woodwork a couple of times and had all and sundry other close calls everyone was a little disappointed we didn’t get the second we deserved before the interval as we all know the nature of a game can change subtly for no real reason after the break and so it proved.
For a spell in the second half, Rovers managed to make hanging onto the slender lead harder work than it ought to have been but Rotherham’s inability to really threaten other than one uncomfortable moment when we were thankful a ref’s assistant spotted an offence not immediately apparent, made it a bit of a mystery how they arrived as league top scorers having banged a few fives and fours in.
Quite how the number 24, Moore, one of those awkward long fellows who seem curiously unable to jump despite their height, is joint top scorer in the division was not immediately apparent, and while they enjoyed considerable possession Rovers eventually regained their metier and of course still had the boss card to play.
I’m in the minority in believing that Mowbray has got his handling of Harry Chapman bang on. I said to my companions early on that if we continued to stretch their back four as the two strikers and Bennett were doing early doors he would have a field day if introduced after an hour, and while their foothold back in the game meant his entry was slightly delayed and less of a banker, again he added a fresh irrepressible dimension against tiring defenders.
He will inevitably enthrall and infuriate in equal measure, as demonstrated by his fine goal and a mild, forgivable aberration moments later, both borne out of the incalculable Gazza-like self-belief plus eagerness to be star turn.
That second goal was much-needed and someone who loves individualists as much as I do isn’t complaining about the tendency towards greediness which deprived us of the added sheen of a third when that same effervescence drove the loanee to attempt a second shot and score rather than cross when his first effort was blocked. The celebration made me feel very old!
There will be a time for him to start games but on this I actually trust Mowbray who sees him train each day and may be a better judge than you or I how long he can impact upon a game for.
Whatever, it was great to see motion, skill and fluidity from most quarters both before and after the changes from the bench.
At times it was almost like watching the Under-23s, irresistible again in thrashing Fulham’s kids 4-0 at Leyland on Monday. Damien and Dunny have really stamped a style on that team and the seniors will have to continue to play as well as they did on Tuesday to hold them at bay. Do get along to see them if you can sort a Monday night out or maybe catch a couple playing against Bury in the Checkatrade on Tuesday.
But perhaps, as we approach the 10-game mark, Mowbray has finally, whether by design or accident, hit upon a cohesive configuration to make a meaningful impression on League One with his nominated more experienced squad despite some bizarre ramblings last week about some of the signings.
We hadn’t played well enough early on to imagine a scenario where bringing a player such as Whittingham on as sub could be other than folly but even he has been gently re-integrated and, coming on for a team already bossing the game, with space opening up, he could be as influential in his more measured, less explosive way as Chapman.
Dack, who I don’t think we’ve seen the best of yet, is key and there are signs that he is growing into the role most of us imagined as a link between a front one or three and the midfield.
A little more sharpness and he will certainly provide a fulcrum and add to his first Rovers goal at Shrewsbury. He, the tireless hard-running pair Samuel and Antonnson and Whittingham all ought to have emphasised Rovers’ superiority against Rotherham.
It certainly nips firmly in the bud any daft notions of changing manager unnecessarily at this early stage of the season, although those whose powers of recall extend no further than the last 90 or even 45 minutes they have seen (or in many cases not actually seen at all) would undoubtedly be swayed as easily as the bloke in the pub on the Fast Show if we were to slip up on Saturday.
But my guess is that we will get more of the same against a side which looks set to have Peter Taylor, once linked with our hot seat, in charge. Like many visitors to Ewood this season they will undoubtedly come to park the bus for a point but we are beginning to look as if we have the personnel and wherewithal to combat that.
After 10 games, heading into an international break, we won’t really be that much nearer knowing whether we’re promotion material than we were when the boys ran out at Southend.
But six wins out of ten sounds so much better than five out of ten and for our five league games in October we don’t have to set foot outside the old Lancashire boundaries (it would have been six had the Blackpool trip not been put back to after the illuminations!). Four derbies and a Saturday game at home to Pompey who may bring a few should ramp up the intensity and provide an edge to the atmosphere missing against the likes of MK Dons and Wimbledon.
Throw in a home Tuesday against currently-bottom Plymouth and I can’t wait for it to unfold.
Meanwhile, same again Saturday please.
There are few positives following a relegation to League 1, but if you are to search for some small consolation, then the prospect of an away day in this attractive Shropshire market town is perhaps one of them. Albeit, the old town centre Gay Meadow ground is now a stylish, modern housing estate, replaced some 10 years ago, by another of those purpose-built out of town, next to a retail park, 10,000 seat stadiums.
The last time Rovers visited Shrewsbury, was 1993, in what turned out to be an epic League Cup tie, eventually culminating in a 4-3 extra-time win for Kenny Dalglish’s embryonic Premier League side, the winner coming from a fine goal from a recently signed centre back, who took the field in a shirt with neither a name nor number, one Ian Pearce.
This version of Rovers found themselves cast as underdogs. Shrewsbury were riding high at kick off, on the back of 7 (SEVEN) wins and a draw. Older Rovers fans will recognise the SEVEN reference, (thanks largely to Town legend Alf Wood !). This start to a season is exactly what many Rovers fans expected their team to deliver, but the reality has proved somewhat different. A decent run of four wins on the bounce was rudely interrupted by last week’s shock home defeat by AFC Wimbledon and this game presented a chance to restore confidence, both in the team and on the terraces.
Here was a chance to right a wrong, to make a statement to the rest of the division that last week was merely a blip and that Blackburn Rovers were ready to impose themselves.
The team sheet revealed returns to the starting line-up for Bradley Dack and Danny Graham at the expense of the injured Craig Conway and dropped Marcus Antonsson. There was some trepidation in the crowd as to the “strength and stability” (thanks Theresa) of the back four but equally, some anticipation of creativity and guile up front.
Shrewsbury have a simple game plan, one that should resonate with Rovers fans of a certain vintage; namely, play on the floor where possible, attack directly, lay the ball off to the flanks as quickly as possible and create chances in the opposition penalty area for a strong centre forward. Their most impressive performer being Shaun Whalley, a pacy right winger who had a loan, then permanent spell at Accrington Stanley in 2007-8.
It’s a game plan they executed very efficiently. Rovers so often passing sideways and backwards; slowly, deliberately, patiently but unthreateningly; would lose possession only to see their opponents with three swift, incisive passes create a dangerous shooting opportunity.
Rovers rode their luck a little in the first half. An early Samuel header apart, there was not a great deal to get excited about. The Rovers back four still looks fragile. Ward & Raya seem now to compete almost on a weekly basis for their own “Mishap of the Month” competition. Here they combined on one memorable occasion to create a threatening free kick for Shrewsbury on the edge of the area out of a situation that had barely homeopathic levels of danger. The warning signs were there and the inevitable happened after 57 minutes, a Raya flap at a cross leading to a scrambled close range effort.
Disconcertingly, for almost 15 minutes, it seemed that Mowbray had no idea how to react. The Plan A had failed for over an hour but no substitutes were even warming up. The frustration reached the fans who chanted for Mowbray to “Sort it out”, the very least that should be expected.
A triple substitution, the sort made usually only when playing “Championship Manager” (or if you are Birmingham City era Barry Fry), transformed the Rovers’ approach. Harry Chapman introduced himself to his full back by racing past him twice in short order. Dack restored to a central role, now seemed keen to influence proceedings. He had looked nothing like as effective wide left.
Dack is something of an enigma. He clearly has talent & technique but allied to a fondness for over-elaboration and a reluctance to do defensive chores. When he doesn’t create or score, he naturally looks like a luxury we can ill afford. Here though, he eventually came good, following another rapid thrust from Chapman. The cross was attacked and defended with vigour with Dack eventually stabbing it home for an equaliser.
Rovers had therefore given themselves only 5 minutes to win the game and many observers around me expressed delight at parity, but also frustration that for the preceding 80 odd minutes, Rovers had seemed one-paced, pedestrian and lacking any guile or imagination.
Listening undercover to Shrewsbury fans on my walk back to the car park, they seemed genuinely concerned that they were going to lose in that last period, but they too were frustrated that when on top, they couldn’t find what would surely have been a killer second goal.
A fair result ? Perhaps not if you are Salopian but at least Rovers came back at the unbeaten league leaders on their own patch and rescued something. Consecutive defeats whilst not terminal, would surely have raised the stakes. This at least bought some breathing space.
If Rovers are the “Ikea team” that I have previously suggested – all the parts but no assembly instructions – the evidence of this encounter suggests that a vital nut & bolt or dowel might actually be missing. That or we need to learn how to use the Allen key properly to tighten things up.
Raya, whilst an excellent shot-stopper with fine reflexes repeatedly seems prone to a costly error and is vulnerable to crosses. The defence lacks pace on its flanks and with Elliott Ward in the middle makes the heart flutter at least once or twice a game.
The balance of the midfield remains elusive for Mowbray. Smallwood probably the one real success doesn’t seem to bring out the best in Evans, who frankly should be bossing games at this level. The lack of “proper” wingers when Conway is out and a lack of genuine pace (Chapman excepted) means opposition defenders can push forward with little concern from a ball over the top.
Mowbray seems uncertain as to the best combination of forwards. He has choice in abundance but as one seems to find form, a change in partner or an absence of a partner undermines the promise. This is the sort of dilemma that ought to have been resolved with pre-season friendlies against tough opponents. Tell me again what we learned in stuffing York City ?
The bright spot is that when the three subs were thrown on, we seized the initiative and could conceivably have stolen the 3 points. Chapman is a real prospect. He is so effective coming off the bench against tiring full backs. Can he keep that up as a starter ? Can he be trusted to treat possession with respect when we are under the cosh ? Will he do his share of helping the full back ? Well, I guess there’s a really good way to find out…
With two upcoming home games that are eminently winnable, this is a crucial week in Mowbray’s tenure. By next Saturday at 5pm, we will have played 10 league games – P8 W4 D1 L3 could become P10 W6 D1 L3 in other words, only just shy of the “2 point a game” average that would surely see automatic promotion (extrapolated over the season of course).
At time of writing, Rotherham are above us in the league table, a victory would overhaul them. Gillingham now shorn of the services of Bradley Dack are in the relegation spots. This is a crucial week. It’s an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the division. Much like today’s game was. “Carpe diem” Rovers.
It was with some relief, shortly after a soul-sapping defeat at home to AFC Wimbledon, to spy a newspaper headline in which our manager proclaimed: “We’ve got to learn to break teams down”
No wotsit, Sherlock.
Having absorbed the fact that Tony Mowbray evidently does understand the basic tenets of the game, not always glaringly obvious from the Riverside, it would be doubly gratifying if he and those he is responsible for could perhaps try putting these ingenious fundamentals of football into practice.
You can moan all you want about teams coming here to shut up shop and nick one on the break or straining every sinew of robust physicality while employing all and sundry sleights of gamesmanship and chicanery available to them, but if you continue, as we do at home, to attempt less crafty forward passes in a game than the All Blacks, you’ll struggle.
On the back of two grand away wins backed by large, enthusiastic away following,the “sick building syndrome” neurosis that has permeated Rovers teams for the best part of a decade was thrown into sharp focus, particularly playing a visiting side whose lees-than-vociferous support could comfortably have fit into the tap room at the Fox and Hounds.
I’ve heard various explanations and theories for our stage fright in front of a crowd that comes to see us do well. Venkys’ tenure and its oppressive air of misery precipitating a lack of atmosphere, no singing, home fans outsung by large Darwen End away contingents which we shouldn’t encourage – but most of them seem to me superfluous in the face of alarming stats which can’t be attributed to people sat watching.
Personally, I’m not a singer, very seldom even a shouter, and even if I was my asthmatic, weedy voice wouldn’t last more than two minutes, a relief I’m sure to all who sit by me.
As a gentlemen at Rovers AGM once articulated it: “I don’t contribute much to the atmosphere myself, but, my, I like to experience it and get the benefit when the crowd is buoyant.”
Years spent in press boxes closely watching every kick and header and observing all 22 players with marks to conjure up on the whistle have shaped the way I sit and watch the game now. And I’ve got two passionate Rovers fan daughters to make my share of the racket.
I’m certainly not in favour of limiting away contingents. Not only is it financial hara-kiri, I actually like to see our crowd geedn up in response to a loud throng at the far end. We lost the particular game (narrowly, cruelly and undeservedly in my book), but Leeds at Ewood last season was one of my favourite nights for a long while – I might have even hurled one of my odd wasspish insults at a visiting player so caught up in it all was I.
But I’ll tell you how much of a problem this thing of ours has become.
The last time Rovers won half of their home games or more in a season – surely the enduring minimum requirement for successful teams – was in 2009-2010.
Since then, in two woebegone Premiership seasons we won 7 and 8 out of 19 respectively.
In five Championship seasons ranging from flirting with the play-offs to relegation the ratios (out of 23) were 10, 11,11, 8 and 8.
Two defeats and a win at Ewood this season make it 64 wins out of 156 in league football. One in three over the last two and a bit seasons. An astonishing 92 of those 156 visiting sides have left Ewood with a point or better.
The only answer to those stats and the lack of atmosphere is the simplest one of all, one which makes Tony Mowbray’s earlier clarion call look like something Jean-Paul Sartre dreamed up: Damn well play football better!
There was nothing deeply philosophical about the Dons’ approach but it had made us look more like benign Wombles than them by just after the quarter-hour mark.
Kwesi Appiah, the kind of perpetual-menace muscular, rumbustious presence we so lack, demonstrated that Richie Smallwood DOES occasionally give the ball away and drove at the heart of our defence.
Two blokes to block such a trickery-free straight-line thrust ought to be enough, but if both contrive to fall down then the opposing striker might well minuetto allegretto around both and accept the invite to blast home.
It wasn’t as if Wimbledon spent the next 74 minutes desperately hanging on either, which is borderline criminal.
Their own sporadic forays forward as they largely protected the lead looked as likely to produce a second as our one-dimensional fumbling did to spark an equaliser. Raya and Williams both did well to prevent worthy efforts finding the target.
No woodwork struck, no goalkeeper tipping them over the bar (I can recall the one save from Dack’s header), no desperate, courageous bodies scrambling to hold firm at set pieces.
The crowd resorted, as losing home crowds invariably do, to deeming every opposition contact a foul, every penalty area block a handball and generally demonising the referee who might not have been the best but certainly wasn’t as responsible for our demise on the day as our sheer lack of brains was.
At one point every stoppage was greeted by those inevitable anguished howls about timewasting (a trick I’d fully expect us to pull at one-nil up away, too) but deep into stoppage time Williams took about eight seconds over a throw-in. It summed the day up for me. At one down we had even less urgency over a restart than they had.
I’ve seldom seen a team with three strikers and a “goalscoring number 10” (and I’m not convinced by Dack myself) on the field look as unthreatening and that configuration was mercifully jettisoned sharpish.
I dread to think what would have happened had Evans, already overrun by the likes of the combative Parrett, been left to fend in the middle on his own in a 4-3-3.
It really does need sorting out this home thing. Every team which won automatic promotion in the Football League last season won more than half their homes. Only Blackpool of the clubs promoted through play-offs failed to – but they only lost four.
In League One Sheffield United and Bolton lost only three at home, Millwall (promoted via play-offs) only four.
Bolton last season presumably faced similar conundrums to us… teams setting their stall out for a point in a two-thirds empty stadium…but they dealt with it from the off. Wigan appear to have had no collective paralysis before the dwindling DW faithful this time.
If we are better suited and more at ease playing away, we get a chance to prove it this weekend as we visit the unbeaten surprise-package leaders.
I’ll be very surprised if Shrewsbury last the course but their boss Paul Hurst has enjoyed some good success in his managerial career in non-league, then league football. And he has a qualification in sports writing to fall back on if times get tight!
Whatever the outcome of our seventh match of the season it won’t be as embarrassing as the tenth game we ever played at this level – a 7-1 shoeing at the old Gay Meadow in 1971!
Incredibly, though it was the seventh game without a win, Ken Furphy survived that in an age when sounding off on social media meant writing a angry letter to the Evening Telegraph on Sunday afternoon possibly for publication on the following Thursday, if you made the cut, when the more extreme emotions had quelled somewhat.
I remember hearing Sam Leitch read the result out on TV and back then no further information whatsoever was available until the Last Sports newspaper was delivered to your papershop at about 5.30pm.
Nothing at all.
No mobiles, no ceefax, no local radio, no internet…so off I went to see if a mistake had been made. The paper would contain, teams, line-ups, and a report up to about ten minutes into the second half. Any late goals or further crucial details would be stamped in pinky-orange print in a column left empty for such purposes headed “Stop Press.”
I think Roger Jones had had to go off injured, we might have had someone sent off too and I’m almost sure Don Martin took the green jersey – no sub keepers – and the stop press read something like:
65 4-1 WOOD (Shrewsbury)
74 5-1 WOOD (Shrewsbury)
82 6-1 WOOD (Shrewsbury)
88 7-1 WOOD (Shrewsbury)
Old Alf Wood, a formidable lower league warhorse of centre-forward got five (35 for the season too) that day, possibly sharing with Dimitar Berbatov the distinction of being the only two fellas to do so against Rovers in my lifetime.
It wasn’t the only time we got beat there either. We lost the following two seasons too and in three consecutive visits in the 1980’s. The usual rule there, since that first hammering, is that if we score we take a point at least.
We have won three out 12 in the league and even some of the scorers make you feel nostalgic for those great days out (Shrewsbury old town centre is not without an impressive multitude of welcoming hostelries even today, I’ll warrant) … Price, Curry, Sellars, Lowey, Brotherston.
I can’t think about the place without remembering my great old pal Tony Marsden, sadly no longer with us, the both of us giggled away from meeting up for one of those victorious ventures to landing back in Hyndburn with Church CC stalwarts Ken Fergusson and Jack Houldsworth, just carrying on like we hadn’t a care in the world. We laughed about that outing for years. Miss you, old bud.
Of course on our last trip to the quaint old coracle-boat ball-rescuing ground by the river, Ian Pearce, the sub with no number, struck the extra-time winner in a 1993 League Cup tie which had briefly looked like proving the first real cup embarrassment for Jack and Kenny’s “moneybags” Rovers!
It might not be as dramatic this time but table-toppers Shrewsbury will certainly be full of it, as may be Rotherham, Tuesday’s visitors, who have been banging a few in on a decent run of their own before a defeat at Bradford Saturday last.
Time to walk the walk, Tony. And time for those great away fans (a sell-out again) to do their bit as they invariably do.
I’ve got no way of proving this scientifically but I’m prepared to bet that if you’d given all 8,000 Rovers season ticket holders a questionnaire in July asking who would be top of League One on this day and which two sides would be unbeaten the longest, I reckon you’d have got 8,000 nought out of threes.
Football, as Danny Baker says, is chaos and none of us who profess to be experts know the first thing about it worth sticking more than the the odd quid on the fix odds on!
Rovers ended one of those unlikely unbeaten runs to leap-frog Scunthorpe on Tuesday and if they do the expected business against Wimbledon on Saturday they will take their flourishing reputation, with three consecutive away clean-sheet wins, to the New Meadow, home of (currently) even-more-unlikely thus far undefeated pace-setters Shrewsbury Town.
Four league wins in a row, the first such instance in ten years, has had the stattos seeking even better sequences and my ever dependable pal Brian Clarke has come with a six-game run of victories in late 2000 as Rovers began their charge to promotion which culminated at Deepdale the following May.
Emulating that would of course still leave a hard winter ahead during which there will certainly be pitfalls and disappointments, shocks and setbacks amid the triumphs and highs.
I’m not taking anything for granted… a couple of good away wins, as many of my vintage will know, has often been the prelude to a crushingly disappointing let-down on an Ewood with the terraces swelled by a few hundred curious pay-on-the-dayers anxious to see if the team really has turned a corner.
But for the first time in many years there’s definitely a spring in the step of long-suffering fans and you can even imagine a few last-minute season tickets being shifted this week (Rovers have offered to refund anyone buying one the cost of any home league games they have already attended) as, at least temporarily, protests and boycotts are only maintained by the most obstinately joyless wasp-suckers.
Goodness, we might even have a bit of buoyancy and positivity at home games or on the message boards!
As I’ve said before I’m personally too old and not presumptive enough about the continued state of my health to be able to look at our plight and say “I’m not funding this until we’re back on the Gold standard and flying high.” That make take longer than I’ve got, quite frankly.
If it possibly means more to you to make a point which Venkys won’t be the least bit aware of you making (and even less bothered) than it would to watch a decent team with blue and white halved shirts making the people who do turn out happy and proud, be my guest and carry on.
There was such a joy in moments like Richie Smallwood’s opener on Saturday – I had to mentally remind myself that it isn’t against the rules for a midfielder to surge into the box and volley home from the penalty spot – that I genuinely feel sorry for anyone denying themselves such pleasures on a point of principal.
I know all the arguments about whether there’ll be a Rovers for our grandkids etc but for heaven’s sake, it’s entertainment, a leisure time pastime at the end of the day and when it’s there to be enjoyed in your footballing lifetime, you might as bloody well as like enjoy it.
If football club ownership had been an issue in medieval times we might have had the most bloody-minded refuseniks walking barefoot on nails along Nuttall Street while self-flagellating in sackcloth and ashes in protests.
Not for me. I go to experience the odd days it all comes together.
While our second and third goals at Spotland weren’t quite as gloriously executed, it was heartening to see Antonnson, recipient of an astonishing deluge of stick after his initial appearances, stick one away, a feat he repeated to tumultuous celebrations at Scunthorpe.
No, he might not be a complete all-round centre forward. Very few operating at third tier level are. But if he has the knack of putting away his opportunities, perhaps he can be our 21st Century Andy Crawford. I couldn’t recall much about his style either, other than he had a big arse, low centre of gravity, shielded it decently and was all left foot. But if it was there to be stuck in, stick it he did.
If you think tapping an odd ‘un in is the easiest part of a centre forward’s job, ask yourself how many times it happened to Chris Brown. The Swede’s goal at Glanford stadium was taken with similar aplomb to Smallwood’s days earlier and in both cases the decisive construction and execution were to be admired.
Danny Graham’s contribution was rather gifted to him but I think he will have a huge part to play over the months as the pack is inevitably shuffled. We could possibly have played seven or more cup games by the time we hit the 23 league game half-season mark around Christmastime and with Nyambe and Lenihan to return from injury, promising youngsters knocking on the door and the deadline day signings to integrate, a large squad without effete non-contributors such as we have had hanging around in past seasons (EG Byrne, Samuelsen, Williamson), is essential.
Downing, who started shakily but assisted in the shut-out a Spotland with increasing authority, was on the bench at Scunthorpe and Hart hasn’t featured in the 18 yet. They’ll have their part to play perhaps but if they don’t it will mean the guys in possession are doing the business.
As my co-writer this week Old Blackburnian (more from him shortly) points out we have been something of an “Ikea team” – all the components are there but Tony Mowbray seemed to have lost the instructions at the outset and was assembling the unit by trial and error early on.
But at Spotland on Saturday I looked at our list of substitutes and their side and thought, goalkeeper aside perhaps, that Keith Hill would have picked every one of our bench in his starting line-up…and he is probably one of several managers in the division who’ll feel the same in coming months.
Whether you feel our present status is beneath you, or us, or what, it was undeniably a great Rovers away day – a huge, largely well-behaved and good-natured following roaring encouragement throughout in response to a fine performance.
Positivity is infectious and the players can’t fail to be inspired by backing like they got during a clinical display which got better by the minute.
It was so comfortable that another font of Rovers knowledge, John Pittard, text me at one leisurely juncture to point out that Rochdale sub Oliver Rathbone was almost certainly the first player to play against Rovers whose dad and granddad both played for us.
My memories of games against Wimbledon are mixed (a solo drive to Selhurst for a 4-1 cuffing on a night England got shot out for 46 in Trinidad a low to rank with any) but the only time we met at Ewood at this level was on the occasion of my 21st birthday – a repeat of the 3-0 (Crawford, McKenzie, Rathbone) scoreline that day, the second game of a six-game winning sequence as it happens, would do rather nicely.
That run was followed incidentally by a draw, then seven more wins on the trot. If Mowbray can produce stats like that we can start talking about promotion!
Old Blackburnian now describes how the Spotland feelgood factor spilled over into Lincolnshire on Tuesday….
“Glanford Park rises to greet you as you depart the nearby motorway, with all the architectural splendour of a run-down DIY superstore.
The only clues as to its true purpose are the floodlight pylons rising in each corner and a few posters by the home turnstiles, but it was here that Rovers needed to find steel to match the Iron.
The opening half demonstrated why Scunthorpe started the evening above Rovers, they were vibrant, physical, hungry & played a simple game plan of pass & move which they executed with precision and enthusiasm.
The finest compliment I can pay is that Rovers fans’ current darling, Richie Smallwood, was consistently outmuscled and Corry Evans looked distinctly off the pace as he was hassled and harried into errors. There were more lost balls than in one of my golf rounds as desperate clearances continually cleared the low roof.
The chances that came fell largely to Scunthorpe and old boy Josh Morris looked exactly like the replacement for the injured Craig Conway that Rovers needed.
Young Harper showed some nice technique but a “welcome to League 1″ tackle early on quietened him down and it was no surprise when Dack replaced him at half time.
Rovers were much more urgent and much more competent after the interval.
I understand, though not from personal experience I should add, that super car engines need to warm up for a given period of time to ensure all the fluids reach optimal operating temperature before you should actually think about driving anywhere.
Perhaps this Rovers incarnation is secretly a footballing Ferrari needing 45 minutes to ensure everything is in order and sufficiently lubricated before setting out on a journey?
The goal came from some fine wing play by Bennett and a tidy, close finish from Antonsson, who seems to be developing a happy knack of scoring without ever really truly seeming to play well. He is a busy player, he works hard and the goals seem to be a fair reward for that endeavour.
Graham & Chapman both came on as Rovers switched to 4-5-1 to strengthen the midfield. Graham soon had a chance to seal the win but struck his shot straight at keeper Gilks, when it really was easier to place it anywhere else. There were many times when it looked like that could prove to be a costly error as Scunthorpe pressed hard for an equaliser.
The last 10 minutes saw at times both pretty impressive and pretty desperate defending but the Rovers goal somehow remained intact; no thanks to some acrobatics from Raya and a Williams clearance off the line.
Six minutes added time truly tested the nerves, the pulse & the blood pressure, but thankfully, the final whistle came – three points, four on the spin; momentum building.
Rovers will play far better and lose but already a pattern is emerging that games in League 1 will often be battles; less for the purist, more for the pragmatist. It is pleasing to see points now being won in these contests rather than the supine surrender we saw against Doncaster.
A lot of Labore, not much Arte just at the moment, but as long as the points are collected, I for one will not complain.”
Who was Rovers manager the last time we played Rochdale in a League match?
Answer a little later in the column.
Our first visit to Spotland for a third-tier fixture for 44 years certainly emphasises the fact that we’re playing lower-division football.
All four of our opponents thus far have locked horns with us at Championship level not that long ago but a trip over Owd Betts really is a throwback to the seventies.
My first visit to what is now known as – and I shall say zis only once – the Crown Oil Arena was in March 1972 and while I remember little snippets about the game, as well as the unfortunate result, there is one fact about the day that I’ve never ever forgotten.
My best mate Graham and I were in the first flush of being allowed to travel to away games without our dads and we duly wandered into the Ribblesdale Coaches office on Blackburn Boulevard during the week after school and stumped up our 18p or whatever it was to book travel.
When we arrived over the hills and saw the Spotland floodlights on Saturday we turned left away from the stadium and parked down a tree-lined lane.
Wandering up the hill towards the ground we counted the coaches already neatly lined up by the kerb.
Ours was the 52nd coach. I couldn’t believe we had enough fans to fill so many charas on an away trip…. and I still reckon there were a few arrived later than us.
To give some further impression of the huge volume of the away support, Rochdale had played at home to Wrexham, not a million miles distant, the previous Saturday before a gate of 2,640. The attendance seven days later when Rovers visited was 6,494.
Lifelong pals Graham and I (I was delighted and honoured to be at the christening of his first grandchild last weekend) have savoured and endured almost a half-century of footballing trials and tribulations together since and we will both be there again on Saturday with another big following as Rovers look set to take around 3,000.
But one hopes the day pans out differently.
We lost 2-1 that day despite a goal from “Tony Field, superstar,” as the then-current chant went (“how many goals have you scored so far?”) and I vividly recall being able to wander around all four sides of the ground.
Just turned 13, we would follow the bigger lads and fellas around and watch as they purposefully staked out their territory by sheer weight of numbers coupled with a suitable air of imminent malevolence, then shuffle onto the fringe of the phalanx.
Later in the same year we were back but not before a goal by Malcolm Darling, an old Rovers favourite, had knocked us out of the League Cup to give Rochdale a first ever win at Ewood.
Darling had shown early promise for Rovers despite the astonishing decision on his arrival in Blackburn to offer the young Scottish apprentice digs….. upstairs in a pub. He lodged at the Fox and Hounds across from the ground!
He was unable to repeat his feat in the league match which brought 1972 to a close however, Field again scorer of Rovers’ goal, the matchwinner.
That win saw us leap-frog Dale to 13th in the table, a salutary reminder that we were for a time mired in the Third Division, a circumstance some of our followers feel would precipitate the end of the club if not very Armageddon itself this time around.
After a good second half of that 1972-73 season we finished third…the last-ever time only two went up!
The following season we arrived on the back of a spectacular 5-0 win over Watford and a cup replay against Willington, won 6-1 and lay in a promising fifth position.
On a sad December Friday 24 hours before the game at Rochdale, Ken Furphy, who had re-invigorated fallen Rovers but been unable to quite seal promotion, left to join Sheffield United.
The man in charge when we beat Rochdale 2-1 at Spotland the following day and the answer to the poser at the top of the column?
None other than Richard Dinnis, all-round good guy and erstwhile Radio Lancs summariser, in caretaker charge until the coming of Gordon Lee in January.
Field was again on the mark twice in a 2-1 win but the game is remembered for a howler of a refereeing decision when Rochdale striker Leo Skeete palpably put the ball in our net only for it to burst through a hole in the side netting onto the dog track. The ref gave a goal kick!
Dale were relegated at the end of the season never to be promoted again until their current manager, our old boy Keith Hill, took the reins for the first time. Lee, after a decidedly mixed first few months of 1974, took us up the following season.
Meetings in the interim years were sporadic and possibly the best-remembered was the 6-1 League Cup win at Ewood (after a rather more forgettable 1-1 draw at Rochdale) in a game best remembered for Dunny’s hat-trick of penalties, two goals for Damien Duff and, perhaps most remarkably, one for Kaba Diawara, one of the least affectionately remembered of Graeme Souness’s signings.
At least it partly made up for Rochdale incredibly beating us in a two-legged semi-final in the same competition’s second-ever season in 1962.
After leaving the Accrington Observer in 2003 – our head offices were in Rochdale and I spent a bit of time there making many friends, particularly on the sports desk –
I spent a few seasons covering Rochdale for Sunday newspapers.
The folks at the club were always welcoming and helpful and I am ecstatic that after his recent te-instatement a full house of Rovers fans tomorrow will have the pleasure I had for many years of hearing long-time stadium announcer Dave Sweetmore crank out punk and indie favourites at such ear-splitting volume residents of terraced houses nearby would ring in complaining.
Small wonder as you could usually wind your window down around Norden and catch the tunes.
Dave was unquestionably the best-known and most celebrated of his ilk in the business and had moved to fresh pastures where he DJ’s professionally in clubs with a large and devoted following.
But the old job recently became available again and I’m sure he’ll treat us with plenty of Buzzcocks, Jam, Smiths, Joy Division and Clash on Saturday, not to mention more contemporary bands carrying the torch, pre-match and at at half-time.
As I sat next to DJ Dave in my regular press box spot, I watched Steve Parkin and then Hill develop a very decent side. The number of centre-forwards who made a name at Spotland and graduated was bewildering – Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert, Adam Le Fondre, Chris Dagnall and Glenn Murray all served with distinction in the short time I sat there.
I found it incredible, and said so at the time, that not one of these players was ever considered by Rovers, a few miles up the road and a club which most of them would have walked the distance to sign for at the time.
Quite often we would be joined in the press area by manager Hill himself, stood in a little doorway behind us shouting his instructions to the players from a nicely elevated view above the dug-outs.
Now there are few among us in the sports reporting corps who haven’t made recourse to the odd oath or two, but I used to genuinely blush as Hilly unleashed the more indelicate selections from his vocabulary just a few feet from home and away directors and their wives.
I’d often chuckle and turn round to see my pal ex-Football League ref Tony Leake, a mad keen Roverite, there in his capacity as an assessor, smile back.
While he is an engaging character and often mischievously humorous lad, Hilly has a serious side, an eye for talent and the ability to put a coaching staff together capable of polishing rough material.
He always had innovative ways of looking at and interpreting the game and I’m surprised after one relative failure at Barnsley, no-one else has taken a gamble on his talent. Rochdale’s gain of course.
We’ve certainly had worse.
Hill’s team haven’t got going yet this season but he will have them up for this one, make no mistake.
One hopes Mowbray proves as valuable to our club as Hill has been over a long period of time to his, removing the stigma of being a permanent fourth tier club and building something completely in contrast to the run-down music-hall joke they were sometimes cast as.
Mowbray’s deadline day signings however were hardly the sort to get the supporters buzzing – although if Rakeem Harper is half as good as the PR suggests he might do – and smacked of last-minute necessity to boost the numbers rather than any bold statement of promotion-seeking intent.
I saw Harper briefly at Stanley the other week and he looked neat and tidy without setting the place on fire. He’s very young at 17 though and it would be unwise to expect too much.
Paul Downing has had some degree of experience at this level with four solid seasons at Walsall but the news about Daragh Lenihan – how damaging was that 20 minutes limping on at Southend? – makes it a little more galling that we missed out on our number one target, Heneghan at Motherwell.
Doubly annoying that Lenihan’s one-time suitors Sheffield United pipped us too.
Young full-back Hart is an odd one. If any of the young guns looks ripe for a promotion, it’s Jack Doyle who can operate at full back or wing back.
If Mowbray is adamant that our fledglings aren’t ready, I’m sure even a few hundred grand – Venkys’ regular late-window modus operandi – would have enabled him to pick up a couple of players of proven pedigree to ensure a genuine promotion push rather than quarter-to-eleven deadline day take-a-chancers.
Curiously, Mowbray, who has talked down the need for Rovers to retain Category A Academy status, seems reluctant to utilise what increasingly looks to be an outstanding crop of youngsters in the Under-21’s who are deservedly harvesting rich plaudits as they continue a coruscating unbeaten streak this season.
They were again hugely impressive in beating (penalties after a 2-2 draw) a vastly more seasoned Wigan side in the Lancashire FA Senior Cup at Leyland on Monday.
It really is a pleasure to watch such a well-drilled Rovers team in which every player thoroughly knows his job within a well-honed, effective and at times thrilling pattern of play.
I’m sure those who have the interests of say, Willem Tomlinson, Doyle and Joe Rankin-Costello at heart must raise a quizzical eye upwards when we recruit young players in similar positions with not that much more senior experience.
The Lenihan injury news is a grave concern and one hopes Mulgrew’s knock with Scotland was no more than that…we can ill afford to lose the presence and game-changing ability he provides.
Funny enough, watching the League One goal highlights last weekend I saw a young player discarded by Rovers not long ago pop home a free-kick even better than Mulgrew’s two goal efforts this season when Josh Morris netted to win unbeaten Scunthorpe, our opponents on Tuesday, the tightest of games at Gigg Lane before the break.
If we can gather a minimum of four points from tomorrow’s game and Tuesday’s at Scunthorpe, we will be not far off the mix. Any less and catching up will take some doing.
Four games unbeaten, three of them away, would be a decent run but at least one of these needs to be won to get the momentum properly rolling along. Six points would make a powerful statement.
In this episode, the panel of Linz Lewis, Michael Taylor, Scott Sumner & host, Ian Herbert dissect the fortunes of their favourite football team, celebrate the return of a Rovers' institution "4000 Holes" and wonder whether modern football is really made for 50-somethings...(it is, don't panic).
They also have to reflect on another game that was played recently but they really didn't want to, trust me:
It’s just typical that after a week in which derby despair – and my, it was desperate, a real embarrassment on every level – was followed by genuine, encouraging sightings of green recovery shoots, Rovers get landed with an international break lay-off to press the pause button on progress.
It’s probably as well that Lancashire’s newest and rather unlikely derby is on hold with a key duo like Mulgrew and Evans missing. Maybe the absence of cameras when it is re-scheduled, hopefully soonish, preceded by both clubs continuing to do well, will add to the atmosphere and turn-out.
Regular readers will know though that I hate these bloody international weekends with a vengeance and, just when we get a scintilla of momentum going, other sides will stack up a point or two on Saturday and Sunday. But on this occasion, with a Christening for the Blue Eyed family to attend this Sunday lunchtime it’s a bit of a result.
Certainly a novelty for Fleetwood who would be playing the like of Atherton Collieries and Maine Road a decade ago.
The Burnley game was all so predictable in its unfolding horror, a vastly superior team toying with us, even to the extent of being able to visibly step off the gas and enjoy a 45-minute keep-ball training exercise in the second half, before a sold-out away end in an otherwise half-empty Ewood.
The two imbeciles who ran on the pitch were an awful manifestation of what’s become a a sinister unpleasant element, an embittered, twisted section of our support which was in any case thooughly out-sung and shouted by our neighbours, who at least introduced a modicum of humour into what’s become over recent years, startlingly ugly all-out hatred.
“We’re going to Wembley, you’re going to Shrewsbury,” I had to admit caused me a wry forced smile after listening to ghastly youths in a nearby bar shouting that witless and charmless “What do you think of Burnley?” call-and-response abomination for a solid pre-match hour. Neanderthal stuff.
I sat depressed towards the front of the Upper Jack Walker behind a young blonde slip of a mum, almost certainly under 30, periodically stood up v-signing the Clarets End while shouting obscenities as her nine-year old daughter looked bewildered and not a little upset by the horrendous spectacle.
A large meathead next to my daughter stood up throughout the first half-hour blocking a family’s view behind, making unfunny “six fingers” signs to the visitors. When he occasionally alighted his gaze on the pitch, it was to drunkenly roar “@#/? off….” to the Burnley players or “come on….” to his Rovers heroes.
Unfortunately he was unable to extend either phrase to a third word as he clearly didn’t know the name of a single player on either line-up. What a relief when he and his rather less irksome companions decided to retire to the bar on 32 minutes, never to be seen again.
As for those who applauded and cheered the pathetic actions of the pitch invaders – these people always look even more ridiculous than even they themselves can possibly imagine before waddling their unathletic frames across a sports field don’t they? – have a read of noted football writer John Nicholson’s imperious recent essay on “lad culture” http://www.football365.com/features/john-nicholsonand stay away from football, perhaps saving your money for the next big EDL rally.
Oaf that he was, the first intruder was scandalously unchallenged by stewards and I don’t blame the Burnley players who decked him as he made his pitiful grab at Westwood. Dyche was quite right when he said security was unacceptably lax, even more of a joke when you consider the song and dance involved in attending these games. Folk getting in with flares showed the bag and body search routine to be a joke, too, if morons are determined to take crap like that in they’ll find a way.
There was little else to cheer either, as one of the least passion-fuelled, least intense, least competitive East Lancs derbies from a Rovers point of view I have ever witnessedunfolded.
Fellow supporter Brian Clarke unearthed a remarkable little-known quirk of history when he revealed that next September it will be fully half a century since Rovers beat a side from a higher division in the League Cup despite spending 32 of those years out of the top flight.
Mowbray got some deserved stick for his selection against Burnley and the lack of urgency shown on the night so he deserves considerable credit for the changes he made to personnel and formation against MK Dons on Saturday.
Samuel and Chapman both showed enough in the Carabao Cup to deserve to be involved and finally Tony listened to someone (maybe Mark Venus if not the fans) and jettisoned the ineffective and over-cautious (certainly at home) one up front set-up.
Antonsson certainly wasn’t great on full debut – but not so bad as to deserve the writing off he’s had by the messageboard vultures, for goodness sake – and for very different reasons I’d currently have Graham and Nuttall, of whom more later, in front of him but the system inarguably carried more positive intent and threat.
After years of failed gaffers banging on about “starting games on the front foot” I’d practically given up on us putting anything meaningful together until A) the natives get vocally restless about the half-hour mark or we go a goal down, so I was barely concentrating when Williams, woeful against Burnley, popped up on the edge of the area and expertly put us ahead before I’d really settled in my seat.
Unfortunately Williams appeared to enjoy his foray into a central area of the pitch so much that he remained as distant from his left touchline as was possible without putting a knock on the snooker table in Ewood Club for the rest of the period, allowing his namesake the Dons right back the freedom of one third of our half. With Conway also found wanting in his covering duties, an equaliser was inevitable.
Mulgrew’s free-kick expertise always offers us an even chance within a few yards of the other penalty area though, particularly if the goalkeeping is average, and while the visitors threatened in a spell they bossed after the interval, one of Mowbrays’s substitutions proved to be the winning choice.
Harry Chapman showed such effervescence, enthusiasm, ambition and skill that he helped put a gloss on the scoreline to suggest the margin of victory was rather more comfortable than a nervy first 75 minutes had intimated at.
Mulgrew’s pure footballing nous and positional awareness earned him a third, Chapman having won the corner I think, which any fox-in-the-box poacher would be proud to notch up and the fourth was a few seconds of total football joy.
There was something about the Duggie or Fergie (Duff or Dunn for younger readers perhaps) in the insouciant, impudent way Chapman danced onto the otherwise disappointing Gladwin’s pass through challenges to the by-line and pulled a delicious ball back which the rapidly-improving Samuel could hardly do other than but stroke into the net.
Both our opening and closing goals were the type I imagined Bradley Dack would provide with regularity and if he can kindly arrange to focus his attention onto getting fit and showing us what he really offers as the division’s costliest signing of the summer, we’re getting somewhere “in and around the attacking part of the field” as Mowbray said, employing football’s current cliché de rigeur.
Defensive reinforcements are imperative however, even assuming Mulgrew and Lenihan stay beyond the window closure. It’s been a quiet few weeks since the Sheffield clubs expressed tentative interest in the pair while Feeney and Graham seem to have moved to the front of the most-likely-to-leave list.
No-one would lament Feeney’s exit but I’d be disappointed if Graham’s stay ended like this. Many were predicting a hatful of goals for him in League One and while he has never looked as impressive as he did in his blistering initial loan stint here, I certainly hoped for more than a few friendly tap-ins from a bloke who made a fool of a couple of Manchester United superstars earlier this year.
While many of Mowbray’s signings have shown promise, his last couple for the time being in these next two days, if he is able to pull them off, could be his most important.
We got a look at some of the lads pressing for a place in the enjoyable Checkatrade win at home to Stoke’s kids (and, bafflingly, Charlie Adam). Travis and Doyle acquitted themselves decently at full back.
We didn’t learn much we don’t already know about Nyambe, Williams, Graham, Whittingham, Feeney and Gladwin but Willem Tomlinson was bright and energetic while the memorable moments were provided by Chapman again and sub Joe Nuttall.
Not everything Chapman tried came off but I like players who try it in the belief it can actually be done. There’s a bit of the Duncan McKenzie about him. Younger and quicker, too if not yet always as supremely blessed in his decision-making.
Nuttall has been scoring for fun for the Under-21’s and looked hungry and boisterous here, capped by a fine piece of opportunism from Chapman’s wonderful slide-rule through ball. His obvious up-and-at-em lust for fniding space and scoring excites me.
He looks to me one we can chuck in at some stage and he could surprise a few. It’s the Third division, not the Champions League and an unknown quantity is sometimes a wily card to play.
One or two claimed the 1,500 attendance at the Stoke game as Rovers’ lowest ever gate (2,161 v Wimbledon in a League Cup second leg, 5-0 down from the first game the previous low) for an accredited if arguably theoretical “first-team” fixture but noted Rovers archivist Bernie Horne points out that in October 1970 we had 561 on a Lancashire Cup tie at home to Rochdale.
I’m not sure if second division sides, which we then were, were obliged to put a first choice side out in that competition at the time and a line up of: Barton, Charter, Eccles, Sharples, Kopel, Atherton, Bradford, Wood, Dunning, Parkes, Whalley suggests that Eddie Quigley had no intention of doing so – not one of those players started the league matches either side!
Roll on Rochdale.