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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 27 - A Kick Up The Rs

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This week - a double feature - a slightly extended "Accrington Observer" column...followed by the pre-match preview from @LoftForWords 

A Kick Up the R’s

Following Rovers rather ignominious exit at the hands of Birmingham City in the Third Round of the FA Cup, their reward was a weekend off. In fact, their reward was a warm-weather training break in warmer climes in Lagos – Portugal that is, NOT Nigeria, I won't ever make THAT mistake at the airport again. No such luxury for the supporters of course, robbed of our live football fix, we had to go shopping, walk the dog or rely on TV to watch Shrewsbury Town try their utmost to re-kindle the flames of “the magic of the cup”. 

Is it really just over a month or so that Rovers were riding the crest of a wave and speculation was rife that the January transfer window could be used to strengthen the squad? Talk was of a push for the play-offs, just a couple of prudent signings and bingo...roll out the red carpet!

Since then, on-field, Bradley Dack was ruled out for the season and results seriously wavered; off-field, Venky’s accounts revealed a continuing financial tale of woe, FFP warnings openly discussed and the squad remains resolutely un-strengthened.

Heading into Tuesday night’s encounter with QPR, Rovers found themselves firmly in mid-table but in this crazy division, still only six points off sixth-placed Preston and with a game in hand. You could conceivably make a case for a late rush for the play-offs for any team down to sixteenth-placed Derby County. All that is needed is a bit of luck and a run where a club won say five wins out of six games to close the gap. But what sort of lower-ranking Championship side could possibly string together such a run?

Rovers kicked off with an unchanged side from the fabulous away win at Hillsborough. For the kit nerds out there, QPR were resplendent in a jade green outfit enhanced by almost unintelligible gold lettering and numbers, that on a warmer evening might have made me fancy a mint Cornetto. 

It was the Angel of the North celebration that was on display early on for Rovers as Joe Rothwell sprayed a lovely diagonal ball to Armstrong. He controlled in impressive if unorthodox fashion, enabling him to cut inside and look up, calibrate his shooting boot and curl a lovely shot inside the far post. This mirror-image Arjen Robben routine seems to be one of Armstrong’s most effective party pieces.

Rovers continued to have the upper hand, moving the ball around impressively through a midfield axis of Rothwell, Holtby and Downing with Travis acting as minder. It was Travis who next came close, pressurising the keeper into a mistake but the attempt rolled along the line rather than over it and it was gratefully hoofed clear by Rangers.

Downing continued his modus operandioperating in midfield like a one-man DHL service; dropping deep, collecting as required, distributing effectively, delivering the ball as if it was a precious Ming vase to be protected at all costs. All that is missing is a card behind the front door when his colleagues aren't on the same wavelength.

Nyambe too picked up where he left off at Hillsborough, rampaging down the right at every opportunity. Rovers were defying the chills and warming to their task, forcing Chair to sit back and provide a defensive cushion to cover the dangerous and energetic Rothwell. A poignant moment then followed in the twentieth minute with a round of applause to mark the recent, untimely passing of a young Rovers fan, Tiana Thompson.

Shortly afterwards, Rangers had their first real attack of the game, a long ball finding Hugill who frankly beasted Lenihan, knocking it down to Chair who returned the favour and Hugill needed no second bidding to chip over the onrushing Christian Walton. All square, out of nothing, thanks to one lapse of concentration.

Unsurprisingly, this encouraged Rangers to be more progressive and raised anxiety in the home defence and home fans alike. Rovers were now having to work a lot harder to retain possession. Rovers regained the lead from a corner, even though Rothwell placed the ball conspicuously outside the quadrant (VAR? What is it good for?), then crossed for Darragh Lenihan to power home a header across the keeper to make it 2-1. How nice to report on an unmarked header in the penalty area being for Rovers benefit rather than against.

One little cameo worthy of note towards the end of the first half had Rothwell and Armstrong combining outside their own penalty area to snuff out a QPR attack. Tenacious, determined and effective, it was lovely to see the unglamorous work being relished with such enthusiasm. The last few minutes were a tad torrid, Todd Kane (yes, him) crossed dangerously but Rovers hung on for the half-time whistle with their advantage intact.

The second half started with Rovers bringing on Bennett for Rothwell who had not recovered from the knock sustained right at the end of the first half. It was clear early on that Rangers were determined to impose themselves on proceedings and this they did. 

The influential Eze started to dominate the midfield, probing and pressing, bringing his teammates into the game. Rovers struggled to hold the ball and when Travis did, in his fiftieth Rovers start, he was fouled roughly, three times in quick succession, drawing the first three yellow cards of the game. Travis seems to be becoming a marked man amongst Rovers opponents these days, presumably they recognise the danger he presents?

Chances however, were few and far between, the best being a free-kick from Downing, but not having the necessary whip nor dip to trouble the Rangers keeper and later, a header from Gallagher failed to hit the target. Darragh Lenihan imposed himself on the game once more, this time defensively, proving that Rangers most certainly had a collapsible Chair in midfield, as Darragh absolutely scythed him down and rightly earned himself a yellow card.

Rovers it seemed had now settled for the 2-1. Pressure built, but Rangers couldn’t create a clear-cut chance, the final whistle blew and the sense of relief was palpable. A modest attendance of 11,505 (excepting the 292 from QPR) went home happy.

Next up for Rovers, is a trip to the Mowbray/Downing heartlands of Teesside. Rovers find themselves in tenth but astonishingly, only four points outside the play-offs. It will probably need more “arte” than was on display tonight to close that gap, but the “labore” is not an issue based on this evidence.

 

Preview From Loft For Words

https://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/queensparkrangers/news/51832/from-a-home-defeat-by-luton-to-a-5-0-away-win--interview

 

From a home defeat by Luton to a 5-0 away win - Interview
Tuesday, 28th Jan 2020 03:32 by Clive Whittingham

Blackburn Rovers are a team almost as ludicrous as QPR, with defeats to Luton, Charlton and frequently Birmingham set against big wins at Sheff Wed and elsewhere. Ian Herbert tried to make sense of it all for us. 

How would you assess the season so far?

Largely underwhelming. Much like a DVD box set where the script writers like to keep the plot twists and cliff-hangers flowing to maintain interest, the performances and results so far have ebbed and flowed from the ridiculous to the sublime to keep us on tenterhooks. 

Lose at home to Luton, demolish Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, standard Rovers fare really. Our current league position of mid-table is probably a fair reflection of the totality of our efforts thus far. On our day, we can play some decent stuff, but much like England at a tournament, as soon as we come up against anyone good, we tend to lose. 

That said we have also conjured up home defeats to Charlton and Luton plus away defeats to Birmingham (twice...once in the cup...against ten men) and Huddersfield along the way, so losing to mediocrity is now a core competency. Rovers are an equal-opportunity opponent.

League Results So Far: 
Blackburn 1-2 Charlton (Phillips og 54 – Purrington 43, Taylor 77) 
Fulham 2-0 Blackburn (Cairney 34, Mitrovic 81) 
Blackburn 1-0 Middlesbrough (Graham pen 25) 
Hull 0-1 Blackburn (Williams 62) 
Blackburn 0-0 Cardiff 
West Brom 3-2 Blackburn (Phillips 22, Livermore 31, Diangana 40 – Dack 1, Johnson 45) 
Blackburn 2-0 Millwall (Williams 18, Dack 74) 
Reading 1-2 Blackburn (Swift b57 – Armstrong 8, Dack 48) 
Blackburn 1-2 Luton (Travis 37 – Collins 17, Pearson 57) 
Blackburn 1-1 Forest (Armstrong 63 – Lolley 65) 
QPR 4-2 Blackburn (Wells 30, Eze 48, Osayi-Samuel 60, Hugill 77 – Dack pen 57, Armstong 88) 
Blackburn 2-2 Huddersfield (Holtby 20, Dack 33 – Grant pen 13, Bacuna 63) 
Birmingham 1-0 Blackburn (Colin 31) 
Preston 3-2 Blackburn (Barkhuizen 53, 82, Johnson pen 65 – Rudd og 1, Gallagher 11) 
Blackburn 2-1 Sheff Wed (Adarabioyo 88, Buckley 90 – Murphy 83) 
Leeds 2-1 Blackburn (Bamford pen 30, Harrison 35 – Williams 40) 
Blackburn 3-2 Barnsley (Dack 24, 86, Downing 69 – Chaplin 48, Woodrow 82) 
Blackburn 1-0 Brentford (Dack 11) 
Stoke 1-2 Blackburn (Evans og 80 – Dack 13, Gallagher 84) 
Blackburn 1-0 Derby (Armstrong 54) 
Swansea 1-1 Blackburn (Ayew 10 – Graham 4) 
Bristol City 0-2 Blackburn (Johnson 2, Armstrong 77) 
Blackburn 0-0 Wigan 
Blackburn 1-1 Birmingham (Armstrong pen 55 – Mrabti pen 63) 
Huddersfield 2-1 Blackburn (Stankovic 25, Mounie 71 – Graham 7) 
Forest 3-2 Blackburn (Lolley 22, Grabban pen 25, 55 – Downing 39, Worral og 71) 
Blackburn 1-1 Preston (Armstong 3 – Harrup 17) 
Sheff Wed 0-5 Blackburn (Holtby 19, 45, Dawson og 36, Lenihan 48, Gallagher 90)

Much like us it’s a 5-0 win one week and a disaster the next, why so inconsistent?

If we could solve that mystery we could take on all-comers. We haven’t been helped by injuries but that excuse could be proffered by virtually every team in the league in reality. 

Tony Mowbray has developed a resolute habit of tinkering with his line-ups, formation and tactics - often within the same half - but ultimately, we lack a bit of real quality and the injury to Bradley Dack hasn’t helped that. Unforced individual errors creep in, morale slumps, effort falls away, results go awry...the players then seem to buck their ideas up...rinse & repeat.

Fine margins in the Championship this season, sometimes we have been on the right side, sometimes not. It’s astonishing that we are still in with a chance of the play-offs having lost more than a third of our games. Crazy division.

Where is the team strong and weak? Best players/weak links?

Midfield is probably our strength simply because we have stockpiled midfielders much like Sainsbury do Creme Eggs come January 1. Notwithstanding injuries and illness a plenty, we can currently boast one of the Championship’s brightest young things & one of its most accomplished veterans.

Lewis Travis is the BYT and seems recently to be adding an element of “shithousery” to his range of many talents. He has taken to winding up the opposition and their fans at will these days and is eminently capable of adding a cherry on top by then setting up or scoring a goal. A terrific prospect with a great future if he continues to develop.  
The gnarled veteran is Stewart Downing. Our best thirty-something signing since Mark Hughes (was Danny Graham 30 when we first signed him ? - subs please check). Downing treats possession with the utmost respect and has a passing range that is the envy of his teammates. He’s certainly shown the cynics (me...) that he still has value to add.

Our defence has been brittle most of the season. Loan keeper Walton has dropped a few clangers but of late seems finally to be settling in, another loanee Cunningham had his season cut short by a cruciate injury, the third defensive loanee Adarabioyo has provided height, strength and culture to the back four; but he can’t do it all on his own. 

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Fans attitude towards Mowbray?

Seems to be polarising. 

One camp “the hawks”, are convinced that Mowbray is not the man to lead the club back to the Premier League and that every match he remains in charge is an opportunity wasted. They point to his spending, reluctance to blood youngsters and constantly playing players out of position.

The other, “the doves” argue that he has brought us back from League One at the first time of asking, is a thoroughly decent chap, has stabilised a footballing madhouse and so deserves patience and time.

The main problem with Mowbray is that he has been significantly backed in the transfer market but his record is poor. The signings of Brereton (1 in 13) and Gallagher (4 in 27) for c.£12m have potentially brought us once more to the brink of FFP trauma and now of course, we can’t even sell Dack to balance the books. 

Mowbray’s best signings (Dack apart) have probably been the loanees he has brought in; Reed last season, Adarabioyo and Cunningham this. 

Venky’s though seem to be generally satisfied with the stability he has brought and I can’t see any imminent change on the horizon. 

Of course were they to decide to make a change, the chances of them actually competently hiring someone better are at best uncertain and perhaps this concern stops any sustained and vocal anti-Mowbray sentiment from taking hold.

As long as we are improving our league position year on year whilst not threatening our financial future, I’d take that. Hopefully Mowbray can deliver but at the moment he’s drawing down on the reserves of goodwill.

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Any January business?

To keep the fans happy (Cynical? Me?) there seem to have been a few rumours in the local press of “bids being prepared” for Polish wingers and goalkeepers but nothing tangible nor in reality, hugely credible. Expectations are rock bottom, but on the plus side, they are being fully met.

The club’s cheque book remains firmly under lock and key. Sightings of it in action next week seem less likely than Bradley Dack starting on Tuesday night. Perhaps we could try to sell Ewood Park for say £250m to the company that bought Pride Park off Derby County ?

Ins: Sam Gallagher, 23, CF, Southampton, £5m >>> Stewart Downing, 34, LM, Free >>> Bradley Johnson, 32, CM, Derby, Free >>> Tom White, 22, CM, Gateshead, Undisclosed >>> Lewis Holtby, 29, AM, Unattached, Free >>> Christian Walton, 23, GK, Brighton, Loan >>> Greg Cunningham, 28, LB, Cardiff, Loan >>> Tosin Adarabioyo, 21, CB, Man City, Loan

Outs: David Raya, 23, GK, Brentford, £3m >>> Paul Downing, 27, CB, Portsmouth, Free >>> Charlie Albinson, 22, GK, Southport, Free >>> Jack Rodwell, 28, DM, Released >>> Craig Conway, 34, LW, Released >>> Ben Gladwin, 27, CM, Released >>> Scott Wharton, 21, CB, Northampton, Loan >>> Charlie Mulgrew, 33, LB, Wigan, Loan

POTY candidates?

The aforementioned Travis and Downing are amongst the front-runners. Adam Armstrong is trying to fill the Dack-shaped goal scoring hole of late and if he keeps it up, will be in the conversation certainly. If I had to award it right now, Downing just shades it for me based on his all-round contributions thus far.

Expectations for the rest of the season?

After Dack was ruled out for the season we went on a wretched run that suggested relegation might rear its ugly head but things have since stabilised thankfully. I predicted 12th in your pre-season preview and I still expect to be within one place either side of that come season’s end. Play-off talk is fanciful but we should have enough to steer clear of any trouble. Famous last words...*gulp*.

Links >>> Official website >>> Lancashire Telegraph – Local Paper >>> BRFCS message board and podcast >>> Rovers Chat – Blog >>> Our reciprocal interview with Rovers Chat

The Twitter @ianherbert, @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

 

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