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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 29 - Injury-Ravaged Rovers Bounce Back

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This week's slightly extended "Accrington Observer" column...

Injury-Ravaged Rovers Bounce Back

Just one season in the Premier League, even finishing bottom, is the footballing equivalent of scooping the lottery jackpot. Rovers’ opponents last Saturday for example, were relegated after a single season and earned; if earned is the correct term, just shy of £100m for their efforts. To cushion the blow still further, Fulham will receive at least a further £75m or so over the next two seasons in the form of parachute payments to reward their failure. To say this gives them a head start on the majority of their divisional rivals is something of an understatement.

Such an abundance of riches enabled Fulham to spend approximately £25m of the total of £33m spent by all of the Championship clubs in January window just gone. Eighteen Championship clubs kept the club cheque book locked firmly in the safe, untouched, unwanted and unnecessary. As we now know, Rovers were a member of that parsimonious group.

Taking on one of the pre-season favourites for promotion is inevitably a challenge but when your squad has been ravaged by injuries and reinforcements have been as difficult to locate as a Rovers shirt in the home section of Turf Moor, you travel in hope rather than expectation. When your opponent has as its midfield fulcrum, a former Rovers Player of the Year and a man that former Rovers left-back Tommy Spurr described on our latest BRFCS podcast (out this week folks – go to www.brfcs.com/mb/index.php?/podcasts/ to hear in full !) as “absolutely, unbelievably talented...”; then it’s likely to be a long afternoon.

The afternoon started emotionally, with Tony Parkes being presented to the Ewood faithful before kick-off, amidst resounding applause and one or two tears I fancy. The injury-influenced selection headache manifested itself in Rovers demonstrating a cautious approach. Much like a health & safety conference - safety-first seemed to be the maxim. 

The game seemed to have all the hallmarks of a cup-tie, with Rovers playing the part of the lower-league hosts, aiming to keep it tight, hoping for a breakaway or set-piece opportunity to nick a result. Fulham also seemed keen to keep it tight but you sensed that they believed  they had the cutting-edge needed to score; though Fulham intriguingly haven’t won a game by more than a single goal margin since November. 

Fulham moved the ball faster, with more precision and posing greater danger. The probing usually started at the feet of Tom Cairney, the afore-mentioned former Rovers POTY. Watching Rovers fans could only dream of a midfield combining the talents of Cairney and Lewis Travis and wonder as to what that would do for promotion prospects.

Sadly, if incongruously, it was a mistake from Travis, the Man of the Match, that set up Bryan to find Mitrovic who relished the opportunity to swivel and fire a shot past Walton. Rovers still had some chances, Gallagher tested Rodak and in fairness, Rovers did have the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out; questionably as it transpired, for offside. 

To the naked eye from a vantage point in the Riverside, it looked like the cross had been flicked onto Lenihan, who it should be noted, finished with aplomb. The assistant referee certainly thought there was a flick, as his flag was raised immediately and interestingly, with little in the way of protest from Rovers. However, with the benefit of TV replays, it was hard to discern whether there was a flick from a Rovers player or indeed whether Lenihan had even strayed offside.

The referee’s decision is of course final – well, it is in a division that has no VAR and in fairness, justice was probably done. Rovers managed just a single shot on target in 90 minutes and that, despite at various points using Armstrong, Gallagher, Graham, Samuel and Brereton in various permutations. Rovers operating a “Bring A Striker To Work Day” it seemed.

Possible redemption was at hand with a further Ewood fixture on Tuesday evening. Despite Storm Ciara’s weekend battering, the game went ahead. Tony Mowbray had lost yet another midfielder to injury, this time Joe Rankin-Costello. On a bitterly cold evening that had brass monkeys seeking refuge from the cold, Rovers recalled the talismanic Danny Graham and the stalwart Elliott Bennett for the injured Gallagher and Rankin-Costello. Interestingly, neither would last an hour.

Rovers once again were out of the traps quickly with Adam Armstrong presented with a glorious opportunity to score virtually from the kick off. His finish lacked conviction but he was to have Rovers’ next two shots, seemingly keen to make amends. Most of what was good from Rovers usually involved Armstrong but lacked the required finesse in front of goal to make it really count.

Hull’s most potent threat came from set pieces, most notably a corner leading to a six-yard box skirmish before the referee’s intervention awarded Rovers a free-kick for an infringement to ease fears. Former Accrington Stanley loanee Mallik Wilks ballooned a chance high, wide and handsome into the Blackburn End summing up their first half efforts.

The second half started with Hull hitting the Rovers bar following a poor Lenihan clearance but it was to be a double-substitution from Tony Mowbray that was to prove to be a catalyst. Rovers seemed to blossom and a goalmouth scramble from a corner saw Lenihan stab home from close range. Many would have wagered that a single goal would prove sufficient to win this fixture, but all of a sudden, the team was inspired.

Armstrong perked up and picked up the ball, drifted to the right, looked up and aimed a beauty into the top left corner, a definite goal of the season contender, bettering his own previous goal of the season contenders. "Armstrong Of The Season" ? Almost from the kick off, Hull tied themselves in defensive knots and the keeper mishit his clearance to Samuel who struck it straight back into the bottom left corner this time. From nowhere, Rovers were now in their comfort zone and the crowd could relax and enjoy the remainder of the match with no concerns, other than how to fight off hypothermia.

Rovers moved up to eighth, at least temporarily and once more fuelled dreams of the play offs. However, the last two games have illustrated the gap between the very top sides in this division and the mid-table ones. Rovers are presently quite correctly positioned somewhere between the two. “The best of the rest”, just outside the play-offs feels like a more realistic stretch target – especially given a treatment room with more croc(k)s than Chester Zoo.

Charlton up next, football for a fiver – what a tremendous initiative from the home side - Rovers go into the Valley and will hope that they can put the home side on the skids. 





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Great stuff Ian - love this sign-off line - "Rovers go into the Valley and will hope that they can put the home side on the skids".

Showing your age a bit there though 😉 

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7 hours ago, oldjamfan1 said:

Great stuff Ian - love this sign-off line - "Rovers go into the Valley and will hope that they can put the home side on the skids".

Showing your age a bit there though 😉 

I can still remember buying that single from a record stall on Accrington market...😬

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