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Herbie6590

Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 24 - Lack of Dack Sets Rovers Back

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This week's "Accrington Observer" column...with a few added extras...

Lack of Dack Sets Rovers Back

They say you don’t choose your football team, rather it chooses you by dint of circumstances. Call it fate or luck if you will. Just imagine the alternative. A sort of due-diligence process, whereby you scored your potential team on various characteristics and arrived at a “suitability ranking”. Many modern-day supporters happened at their favourites by simply looking at the league table or if more cosmopolitan, the Champions League winners’ roster.

Had I been able to decide on the criteria to be used in such a scorecard, the prospects of my potential club to reach the FA Cup final would have been one of the key factors. I loved the FA Cup. (My choice of tense there is a conscious decision). I am of a generation that remembers FA Cup final day as being one of those rare occasions when you could watch a live game on TV (not even the League Cup final was broadcast live back then). The week after, you then had England v Scotland live in the Home Internationals, truly saturation coverage.

I loved the whole FA Cup final day; much like an over-indulgent wedding, paid for by a proud father of an only daughter; no expense spared, nothing too good for his pride and joy. All that pomp, circumstance and sense of occasion rolled into an easy to consume televisual feast. The build-up, long before the days of reality TV let’s not forget, had cameras at the team hotels, on the coaches, circling helicopters following their route, pre-game interviews on the pitch; I couldn't get enough of this heady mix. Add an FA Cup final edition of “It’s A Knockout” and “Question of Sport” to the mix and that was your day pretty much sorted.

I was insanely jealous of fans of lower level teams who reached Wembley – Sunderland, Fulham, Southampton, West Ham and QPR all had their moment of glory. Two semi-finals being the best we could muster; Cardiff and Old Trafford each great days out, but victory eluding us on each occasion. Morten, oh Morten, I still cannot believe you missed THAT header...

We should really have won it during the Dalglish years. Victory in 1993 or 1994 would have made the perfect appetiser to the entrée of 1995’s league triumph. That Boxing Day knee injury to Alan Shearer possibly the significant contributory factor. Despite Steve Livingstone’s best efforts, the 1993 quarter final against Sheffield Utd will be remembered for a heart-breaking penalty kick defeat.

Anyhow, enough whimsy, coming back to modern times – we now enjoy kick-off times all over the shop, half-empty, no three-quarters empty stadiums, VAR in some but not all games, replays in some rounds but not all, weakened teams being selected by clubs all over the country, TV coverage largely behind paywalls...what on earth has happened to this famous old competition? How did we, the supporters, ever allow it? Let’s be honest, the FA Cup is finished isn’t it? Well it most certainly is for Blackburn Rovers, for this season, before even the 3pm Saturday games kicked off.

Saturday’s lunchtime encounter with Birmingham City was entirely in keeping with the current malaise surrounding the team. A number of chances created, falling to misfiring strikers, contriving on one spectacular occasion to block a goal bound shot of their own, with the Birmingham keeper and defence AWOL. Scant consolation is that Danny Baker no longer produces his famous "Own Goals and Gaffes" videos, for this particular clip would have been a shoo-in.

Since that excellent win at Bristol City, the high point of an unbeaten run which raised hopes of January fuelling a promotion push, the talk has instead moved to noting that it’s now five games without a win in all competitions. Rovers seem to have discovered and mined a rich seam of inconsistency over the last 12 months or so with an efficiency that would have put the most productive members of the NUM to shame. This latest sequence though has caused more than a little concern, coming as it does after the serious injury recently sustained by Bradley Dack.

There were plenty of unsubstantiated rumours doing the rounds that the current transfer window would see Rovers cashing in on their prime asset, a potential sale to West Bromwich Albion being the most vaunted destination. The recent publication of Venky’s London Ltd accounts (Rovers’ parent company) indicate that losses continue to grow despite promotion. If sufficient income can neither be generated on matchdays, nor via commercial activities, then logically, player sales is the only way to go. Of the current squad, Dack is very much the crown jewel, his injury may well have upset his fellow players, supporters and finance director equally, but for fundamentally different reasons.

On the field, the Forest league game and Birmingham cup game highlighted that without Dack, Mowbray remains unsure which formation is the best alternative. Quite often, playing several different ones within the ninety minutes. Versatility is a much-prized asset but players like Stewart Downing have played at least four positions, Gallagher and Brereton continue to be used in wide positions and Armstrong has played wide left, right and centrally, often in the same game. The search for a “Dack-less formation” goes on, but this constant tinkering has been occurring for over a year; the inconsistencies in form likewise.

The expectations of supporters for the window are now being managed by Mowbray with talk of there being “no treasure chest”. At best it seems, a loan or two, perhaps not even that. The “need to sell first” chat is gathering momentum, but with Dack injured, who else could raise the necessary finance? More to the point, cash in the bank doesn't score goals nor make saves or tackles, so it would have to be spent wisely – and how confident would any fan be in that regard currently?

Sadly, the two substantial fees spent by Rovers in the last year have resulted in under-achievement and deep disappointment. Sam Gallagher and the increasingly forlorn Ben Brereton, seem unable to live up to the promise ignited by the size of their fees. Of course, the fees aren’t set by the players but they seem to be having a similar effect on them as a sizeable fee once did on Kevin Davies.

The impact on Brereton especially is heart-wrenching. Many Rovers fans will have read Matt Jansen's excellent book over the Christmas holidays and will have learned of the fragile nature of confidence and how difficult it is, once lost, to restore in an elite athlete. At this point, one has to wonder whether Rovers should engage the services of a sports psychologist like Prof Steve Peters to work with Ben to rebuild his confidence. If you spent £7m on a supercar, you would in all likelihood ensure it was regularly serviced and maintained. Rovers cannot afford to write this fee off, they surely must consider all options to recover this situation and help the player.

Ultimately as we know, Davies had to leave, start again and reinvent himself (very successfully) at a local rival under the tutelage of a manager once described by David Dunn the best man manager he ever played for, yes, Sam Allardyce of course. Right now, given the pressure that is starting to build and the recent caustic press comments of the manager, the chances of Brereton, Gallagher and Mowbray all being at Ewood in January 2021 seem slim.

Curiously though, at that point, by dint of circumstances, we will almost certainly still have Bradley Dack.

 

 

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It's taken me whilst now to summon up the enthusiasm to read your latest missive. I'm glad I did though. You're dead right about the FA Cup being tarnished.

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