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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 26 - Five Star Rovers Offer Owls No Sanctuary

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

Five Star Rovers Offer Owls No Sanctuary

Thanks to the city planners of Sheffield over many iterations, the streets around Hillsborough are a warren of one-way systems, traffic lights, tram-only streets and on match-days; coned-off carriageways designed to allow the departing spectators a sporting chance of getting at least half a mile away from the ground without being run over. Experience therefore dictated that last Saturday I would park a little further away from the ground and ensure that I would not get caught up badly in post-match gridlock. I need not have worried.

Football supporters the world over travel to games with no certainty of the outcome. That is of course, the joy of sport; on the day, almost anything can and does happen. This isn’t cinema, theatre, ballet or opera – nothing is scripted. choreographed or is “in the can”; here, the actors make it up as they go along. Sport is competitive improvisation. Sometimes, let’s be frank, it’s pretty mundane, but equally, every now and then, you are fortunate enough to be present at one of those “I was there...” moments, memories of which you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Saturday was one of those for sure.

Going into the game on the back of a winless run stretching to six games in all competitions, the pre-match mood was subdued, expectations structured, enthusiasm in check. Hillsborough is one of those traditional football grounds, a massive Kop behind one goal, stanchions obscuring your view, four completely different stands (though how the Leppings Lane stand has never been demolished and replaced remains an open wound in English football history). Rovers had a modest, but noisy and exuberant following, little did we know what was about to unfold.

A bright start saw Rovers in a kit mash-up resembling a Dundee tribute act, dictating the speed and the pattern of the game. However, an early corner somehow found its way back to Walton in three passes leaving Lenihan, Adarabioyo and Gallagher marooned upfield, believing themselves victims of a practical joke. Rovers soon got into gear though, sharp inter-passing, movement off the ball, pace and no little invention followed. Who are you and what have you done with my Rovers?

The opener came from Holtby but was a result of some persistence and invention from Armstrong who was causing mayhem, repeatedly cutting in at pace from the inside-left channel. An early goal up, we’ve been here before of course. Sam Gallagher in his now accustomed wide-right role looked a handful, cutting inside his marker, using his physique but invariably fifteen to twenty yards wide of goal. If only he could have the opportunity to run onto a pass through the middle eh? Nyambe too was immense, a warhorse on the right hand side, playing full-back, midfield and wing simultaneously. 

The next significant moment came when midfield powerhouse Lewis Travis won a 60/40 midfield challenge that drew a foul from Wednesday’s Massimo Luongo, interpreted by the referee as a red card offence. To the naked eye it was definitely a foul, certainly a yellow, but the red card was a surprise. We have been and will be on the receiving end of some dodgy refereeing decisions, that’s football, so when one goes your way, the imperative is to capitalise and for once, Rovers did just that. “It’s more difficult to play against ten men...” is one of the great football clichés and let’s be honest, Rovers have not always been arch exponents of despatching weakened opposition, so there was some trepidation at this point.

Travis picked up the ball outside the area and shaped a lovely shot arcing towards the bottom left-hand corner only for it to hit the inside of the post, rebound off the back of Wednesday keeper Dawson’s head and dribble into the goal. At this point, Rovers felt that the tide was inexorably moving in their direction, but memories of Preston away are not yet expunged. Another football cliché is muttered in the away end; “next goal is going to be important...”

Well so it proved, Armstrong and Holtby linking up menacingly once again ensured that the half-time pies, pints and coffees could be enjoyed in a more relaxed frame of mind, wrapped in the comfort of three-nil security blanket. The home fans vocalised their disappointment and large swathes voted with their feet, not returning for the second half. Social media chat then informed us that Rovers had once lost a game at Hillsborough in 1960...by five goals to four; surely not?

Garry Monk threw the last remaining dice at half-time making his final two substitutions but the second half continued much where the first had left off. Downing conducting the orchestra, Armstrong and Nyambe troubling the full backs and centre backs with direct running and the defence resolutely solid, albeit under minimal threat from the featherweight Owls’ attack. A corner early on was volleyed home, side-footed by Darragh Lenihan with some aplomb and there we were; over forty minutes to go but no jeopardy at all. What fresh madness is this?

Holtby went into full show-boating mode, Rothwell picked up a ridiculously unnecessary yellow and was rightly substituted to prevent the referee having the chance to even up the numbers. By now, the home fans that had remained in the ground were demanding red cards for Rovers players merely for breathing noisily in the general direction of their heroes. The steady trickle for the exits continued and it was at that point even the most jaundiced Rovers fan could start to relax and really enjoy the remaining half-hour, secure in the knowledge that there was no heart for the fight remaining in the opposition.

The only remaining unresolved questions; how many more, could Gallagher score from the wing, would Brereton be introduced, is this the time for a Rankin-Costello debut?

The answers; one, no – he moved inside to a central role to score...I know, yes and yes.

The weight of pass from Rankin-Costello to Gallagher for the fifth was worthy of Stewart Downing himself, there can be no higher praise. Gallagher, made a robust case for being played through the middle by smashing it home with his left foot and that was that.

Scoring five goals in a victory doesn’t come around too often, especially away from home. I’m lucky enough to have witnessed two such trips now, albeit more than twenty-three years apart; on an actuarial basis, I might just, possibly, see one more, I really hope so !

*Thanks to Andy Currie @andy_brfc for the "before & after" photos of an emptying Hillsborough



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Great old ground but looks sad barely half full. Sheffield's a great football city and both clubs should be in the Premier....Wednesday have been badly managed for decades.

Agree about the Leppings Lane stand though. Football with all its riches should have paid for it to be knocked down and renamed

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7 hours ago, jim mk2 said:

Great old ground but looks sad barely half full. Sheffield's a great football city and both clubs should be in the Premier....Wednesday have been badly managed for decades.

Agree about the Leppings Lane stand though. Football with all its riches should have paid for it to be knocked down and renamed

I know people in Sheffield may refuse to call it anything other than Hillsborough but they must tire of it being a byword for disaster. 

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