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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 11 - Rangers Revelry Means Rovers Regress

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

 

Rangers Revelry Means Rovers Regress

At a family Christmas gathering in the early 90’s, doubtless over a mince pie, I found myself deep in conversation with my maths teacher uncle, discussing various mathematical concepts, including “regression to the mean”; doesn’t everyone after all? The context being that as a Burnley fan, he was keen to point out that Rovers were, at that point (1993/4), serially over-performing and nature being nature, eventually Rovers would drift back towards their mean performance level. In his view, charitably this was mid-table second division at best but more likely, third division and so he recommended that I enjoy the ride as it wouldn’t last – not a biased opinion, merely mathematical modelling he assured me !

As the conversation unfolded, I recall using the example of QPR as a club that could be a template for Rovers in the long term. They’d had moments of fleeting glory, winning the League Cup in 1967 as a third division team and pushing the all-conquering Liverpool side of the mid-70’s all the way to the final round of matches in the Championship race, before eventually finishing as league runners-up in 1976. An attractive blue & white kit, a neat & tidy stadium generating a lively atmosphere, a history of flair players including the likes of Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Dave Thomas, Gerry Francis, Trevor Sinclair and Les Ferdinand plus of course former Rovers like Mike Ferguson and Simon Barker – there are worse role models I argued.

Sadly, my uncle’s grasp on statistical outliers combined with the cyclical nature of sporting achievement meant that in the long term he was proven correct, but that said, I feel sure he would give up Dyche’s recent achievements for just one Claret league title, even if it was 25 years ago. Since the 1990’s, Rangers like Rovers, have moved between divisions, they have won the second-tier title, won a Wembley play-off final and had Mark Hughes as manager, the parallels go on.

Saturday morning social media provided the kiss of death though as various Tweets highlighted that Rangers hadn’t beaten Rovers at what was then called Loftus Road since 1993. I was there that day and so was Tim Flowers as he made his debut; a scrappy Les Ferdinand goal deflected via Colin Hendry, saw Rangers win 1-0. The sense of inevitability that this run would come to an end was now palpable; possibly matched only by those Match of the Day highlights that show a player receiving an innocuous, early yellow card...you just know that red card is going to follow. That or the classic Star Trek meme when a previously unknown science officer in a red shirt is beamed down with Kirk, Spock & McCoy – inevitably doomed. Statistical probability can only be defied for so long...regression to the mean remember ?

The performance on Saturday was essentially supine. A low key opening from both sides saw the ball moved slowly, inaccurately, with little purpose but Rovers initially at least were very much in it; albeit without ever giving the impression that each player had learned his lines properly and was sure of his mark. Hampered by the loss of Cunningham, substitute Bell couldn't deal with a cross and Burnley’s loanee Nakhi Wells scored for Rangers. Williams failed to clear early in the second half, two-nil and in all honesty that was that. No way back for raggedy Rovers from here.

Tony Mowbray has much credit in the bank in this correspondent’s view but notwithstanding this, the evidence of recent weeks suggests that Mowbray still has not settled upon a preferred formation or a team selection. The amount of tweaking to personnel and tactics seen so far this season suggests that games are still being treated as experiments in a live environment, pre-season practice games seemingly failing to identify a definitive solution. 

Gallagher is in, but out of position, then in and in position, then out altogether. Ben Brereton can only watch from his convalescence and nod in acknowledgement and perhaps sympathy. We are trying to wean ourselves off our Danny Graham dependency, but like hungry schoolkids in a sweet shop, it’s far too easy to have just one more sugar rush and hang the consequences; so he’s back in after being out. Rothwell is in and out like an ill-judged hokey-cokey at a silver wedding do. The signing of Holtby means Evans, Travis, Johnson and Downing know one of them has to be out for him to be in. Now if you achieve some decent results, it’s “effective squad rotation” or “healthy competition”, but if you don’t, it’s “managerial uncertainty” or even worse incompetence.

Rovers’ performance on Saturday was lame, disjointed, half-hearted and one-paced; as grey and unattractive as that away kit, despite what Jack Pitt-Brooke of “The Athletic” might have Tweeted. Fragile at the back, lacking guile and creativity in midfield and largely toothless up front. The only consolation being that QPR’s defence had its own lax moments and somehow gifted Rovers two goals, lending the final scoreline a veneer of respectability the performance scarcely deserved.

Rangers main instruments of torment were the midfielders Eze and Chair; for all the pressure they were subjected to, they might as well have been dictating play from actual easy chairs; slippers on, resting on a footstool. Chair was eventually substituted after 72 minutes, perhaps he didn’t have the legs for 90 minutes? He was replaced from the bench by Pugh – the sedentary puns merely cushioning the feeling of disappointment.

Just two short weeks ago, I speculated as to the possibility of back to back wins becoming four in a row, making a bold statement that would make the rest of the division sit up and take notice. Well, football has a way of making us all look daft from time to time and the last fortnight has reminded us that promotion from this most challenging of divisions requires fortitude, skill and determination on a scale that right now appears to be elusive.

International weeks sometimes interrupt good runs causing momentum to be lost; this one has arrived just in time to allow a serious Rovers rethink, hopefully to avoid further regression. Let us hope this time is used wisely.

 

 

 

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