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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 37 - ‘Tic & Tykes Take Turns To Top Tony

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‘Tic & Tykes Take Turns To Top Tony

The weekend just gone should have seen Glastonbury in full flow and in the absence of the real thing, the BBC rolled out some footage of classic performances from years gone by to fill the void in their schedules. I wish I’d spent at least two 90-minute sessions this week watching some old VHS tapes of vintage Rovers instead of hugging a laptop and cursing sporadically at a couple of modern day instalments of the soap opera that is Blackburn Rovers F.C.

If there’s one thing you can count upon in this stilted, strange, subdued season, Rovers inability to capitalise on a hard-earned and promising league position is almost certainly it. After an insipid start to the campaign, Rovers finally seemed to coalesce into a team that might threaten the play-offs on the back of a defeat to Leeds back in November. They followed up this narrow defeat with a run of five wins and a draw to set up a couple of home Christmas fixtures that seemed primed to launch a promotion challenge of substance. 

Almost inevitably, the two limp home draws that followed were surpassed by two lame away defeats to celebrate the dawn of 2020. Before you had chance even to start a New Year’s resolution, prospects of glory slipped away faster than a midnight bottle of bubbly.

Rovers then tantalised their fans once more, with a run of one defeat in ten to re-kindle hope, before a calamitous performance at Derby seemed to signal finality to aspirations. The three-month COVID interlude however, allowed injured players to recuperate, gave the manager opportunities to work with his squad and a chance to prepare for a mini-season of nine games that might just lead to two or three more. The Bristol City win encouraged optimism and once more, on the cusp of possibility, with a chance to make a bold statement of intent, Rovers chose to retreat into their shell and their warm, safe place of mediocrity. 

It’s hard to pin down what must have taken place in training last week that caused professional footballers to turn in a couple of abject performances on Saturday and Tuesday. One thing is for certain; the team cannot blame a hostile atmosphere, a referee influenced by noisy home supporters, or a long, uncomfortable journey for their travails. This was self-imposed torpor. 

Wigan were nothing special but they have secured some very impressive results this season based on some basic tenets of discipline, organisation and work rate. The pantomime villain that is Paul Cook has certainly found a way to frustrate Rovers in recent seasons and Rovers run of winless visits to Wigan stretches now to thirteen years.

Such is the joy of football statistics, that defeat at Wigan made it just one win in six for Rovers. This is not the form of a side gearing themselves up for a play-off push. Compare and contrast with the resurgent Derby County, aided of course by the impact of Wayne Rooney, who have chalked up five straight wins to overtake Rovers. They might just be the team that sneaks into the play-offs under the radar.

A chance for redemption on Tuesday tea-time, a trip to South Yorkshire and a meeting with bottom of the table Barnsley was spurned, in the words of Rowan Atkinson “like a rabid dog...”

The litany of woes was familiar. A line-up missing vital components for various reasons, players out of position, lack of energy in the opening quarter of an hour, poor finishing, ill-discipline generating another poor result against a team apparently deep in the relegation mire. The hapless Ben Brereton summing up the evening in a brief cameo performance, capped off with what initially looked a harsh red but, with the benefit of replays, it justified the referee’s interpretation of violent conduct.

Tony Mowbray’s somewhat formulaic response to going a goal down contrasted deeply unfavourably with the tactical switches made by each of his opposite numbers, first on Saturday and again on Tuesday. Rovers suddenly look wooden, lumpen, ponderous and deeply predictable. The inexorable conclusion to draw from the re-start is that Bristol City really aren’t any good and that victory clearly flattered Rovers.

An optimistic mathematician might try make the case that Rovers still have a chance of reaching the play-offs; but an optician would urge an eye-test in order to ensure that the evidence can be properly considered. Perhaps we should all take a drive to Barnard Castle ? Rovers have a run of very tasty fixtures coming up now, Leeds, Cardiff, WBA and Millwall the next four. 

Essentially, six straight wins would deliver a points total good enough for the play-offs only once in the last three seasons. Rovers have managed four wins in a row on one previous occasion earlier this season, initiated intriguingly by a win over Barnsley. To expect six in a row following this defeat by Barnsley is plainly fanciful. Just pride and contracts to play for now. Marcelo Bielsa will doubtless be quaking in his boots.

 

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