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Herbie6590

Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 25 - Black(burn)adder Goes Forth

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

 

Black(burn)adder Goes Forth 

Rovers fans: “But it’s the same plan that we used last time...and the seventeen times before that...”

Gen. Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Mowbray: “EXACTLY...& that is what is so brilliant about it. It will catch the watchful opposition totally off guard. Doing precisely what we've done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time!"

(with humble apologies to Richard Curtis & Ben Elton)
 

For quite some time now, Rovers have been struggling to find a solution to the “Danny Graham Question”. Graham has proved to be one of the best value for money signings made in the Venky’s-era and perhaps even further back. The unique skills, experience and characteristics he provides sadly do not as yet include eternal youth and are proving very difficult to replace. Of course, that was before the untimely and unfortunate injury to Bradley Dack which has served to bring the problem into even sharper focus.

Dack and Graham have proved to be quite the double-act for Rovers, instrumental in both the promotion success from League One and in establishing the newly-promoted side in the Championship. But now Tony Mowbray faces the task of replacing the both of them at the same time and it’s proving to be quite the conundrum.

Mowbray seems to have been a proponent of the wide-striker concept for some time. Back in 2017, he signed Marcus Antonsson on loan from Leeds to play wide-left and in January 2018, added his former Coventry City confidant Adam Armstrong on loan from Newcastle to play wide-right. Armstrong’s pace lends itself to taking on and outpacing a full-back but despite this, "#minishearer" seems still to have a hankering to play through the middle.

This approach has continued in the Championship albeit with a changing cast list. First Ben Brereton was brought in late in the summer 2018 transfer window. Sam Gallagher, a former Rovers loanee that had worked under Mowbray at the end of the fateful relegation season returned on a permanent deal last summer. Each has been played in the wide-right role but with little tangible success thus far.

Last Saturday, against PNE, once again we enjoyed/endured the spectacle of a 6 feet, 4 inches tall striker labouring down the right flank, trying to link up with an overlapping right-back in Ryan Nyambe, all with the intention, it seems, of providing crosses for the diminutive Adam Armstrong (5 feet, 8 inches tall). I have noted in previous columns that this is a tactic that was used by Mark Hughes; but once, in specific circumstances, aimed at allowing Roque Santa Cruz to exploit Patrice Evra’s stature. It was not the default setting. 

Armstrong of late, thankfully, seems to have revelled in the opportunity to fill the goal-scoring vacuum created by Dack’s absence, but the bizarre spectacle of Rovers continually launching long, high balls down the middle and Gallagher trying to provide crosses from the flanks to him remains mystifying. Armstrong is clearly most potent when receiving the ball to feet, running directly at retreating defenders, unsettling them with his pace and so it proved early on against Preston.

Once more against North End, Rovers hit the ground running and took an early lead. However,  there were a number of Rovers fans who insisted that tactically, the worst thing Rovers could then do on Saturday was to make that a two-nil lead; dark humour indeed. As it transpired, there was no need for concern. 

Following a lengthy hold up which saw the unfortunate Corry Evans stretchered off following a painful and probably season-ending encounter with head-high boot of Clarke, Paul Gallagher played a delightful free-kick into the Rovers box. Despite the close attention of Johnson and Lenihan, perhaps inspired by Harry & Meghan, they chose that moment to step back from actual front-line defending. The knock down fell to Harrop who smashed the ball into the top right-hand corner leaving Walton helpless. The lead had lasted less than a quarter of an hour. Steve Waggott may well have attributed this goal to the presence of Preston fans in the lower tier of the Darwen End.

What then transpired, was either a competitive local derby with neither side able to establish superiority or frankly, a dull match in which two out of form, but evenly-matched sides struggled to find any real fluency to their play – depending upon your perspective. Once more Rovers failed to better their Lancashire rivals – seven games now since a Jordan Rhodes inspired Rovers came out on top. As the poet John Hegley once quipped, "The main difference between Blackburn and Preston, is that Preston is more western...". There was little to choose between the two sides here.

The highlight possibly came even before kick off, when Morten Gamst Pedersen emerged from the tunnel looking as sprightly as many of the current first-team squad and resplendent in a current Rovers shirt bearing his name and the number 12.

The outstanding contributor on the field was also a veteran left-winger, the doughty Stewart Downing, another with a trusty left foot and a few years MGP’s junior; his every touch silky and considered. For those of sufficient vintage, his range of passing and ability to find a yard to cross are reminiscent of David Wagstaffe. Though Downing’s fitness levels are possibly a tad higher, Waggy’s left foot could land the ball pretty much on a given blade of grass so arguably he didn’t need to run. Rovers haven’t had much success in signing veterans in recent years but Downing thankfully has certainly halted that trend.

For Tony Mowbray, the search for a Baldrick-style cunning plan goes on. Brereton wasn’t even in the squad on Saturday, rumours suggest a loan move to the Netherlands to join ADO Den Haag is in the offing and that might be best for all parties. Alan Pardew may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if he can rekindle some form in Brereton then his Wembley cup final dance deserves a reprise.

Gallagher continues his struggle for form from out on the right-hand touchline and Danny Graham looks a little like Ernie Wise did after Eric Morecambe’s passing, lost without his partner in crime and contemplating a life in retirement. The January transfer window is still open but the overwhelming message coming out of Ewood is seemingly one of austerity, expectations are low, but for Mowbray, the problems grow.

Charlie Mulgrew has seemingly opted to return to Rovers from Wigan rather than continuing his loan...perhaps he can play outside-right ? Mulgrew's 27 goals from 99 appearances is a strike rate that seems unlikely to be matched any time soon by Gallagher or Brereton.

Next up a trip to Hillsborough and for me, a local match that offers the prospect of being back home before even 606 starts. Whether General Mowbray tries something different is open to question; after all, doing what we’ve done on nineteen previous occasions is the very LAST thing that the Owls will expect. 

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Short and not so sweet. Obvious;ly following my mum's advice of "  If you can't say anything good about Rovers, don't say anything at all ". Let's hope you've a win to write about next week.

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