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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 39 - Rovers Season Peters Out Into Consolidation

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Rovers Season Peters Out Into Consolidation

Having entertained the division’s best side last week and emerged very much as second-best; the midweek win at Cardiff provided a welcome fillip and with it, a source of optimism for the visit of the division’s second-best team, West Bromwich Albion. Hopes of the play-offs now a vague arithmetical possibility, as opposed to sporting probability, Tony Mowbray named an unchanged team from the Cardiff game and hoped for an unchanged result. 

On the side-lines, Tony Mowbray sported the polo shirt and suit combination oft-favoured by golf club captains on prize-giving day whilst Slaven Bilic carried himself with the demeanour of a visiting law professor whose energetic, exuberant lectures are renowned throughout the faculty. Intriguingly, Bilic actually was a lawyer and is apparently fluent in four languages. This gives him ample opportunity, either to apologise to Laurent Blanc in his mother tongue for scandalously cheating him out of an appearance in the World Cup final of 1998 or at least advocate enthusiastically for a commuted sentence.

Sporting a kit resonating with FC Nantes overtones, it was Albion that looked like sophisticated European campaigners. The Brazilian Pereira and former Burnley favourite Austin proving to be quite the handful, combining on more than one occasion to threaten and then with the help of Krovinovic, finally to deliver the opening goal their endeavours deserved. Bilic meanwhile on the touchline, no doubt studying the fine print of Pereira’s loan deal contract, looking for a water-tight “option to buy” clause.

Rovers struggled to make a lasting impression the opening forty-five, the best chance falling to the normally oh-so-reliable Danny Graham, but not on this occasion. A tame, close-range header finding the keeper Johnstone, in the middle of his goal, rather than the vacant space either side.

The second-half started in a similar vein to the first, Pereira probing, then forcing a low save from Walton, the rebound falling to Krovinovic, who somehow hit the post rather than the gaping, largely undefended goal as Walton lay prostrate and helpless. It was to prove a costly miss as Albion failed to capitalise. Bilic at this point seemed to be enthusiastically demonstrating the various ways he would like to litigate against his players for non-performance clauses.

A brave quadruple substitution from Tony Mowbray invited scorn as the act of a desperate man...

“Boss, we have to do something...”

“Very well...THIS is something...let’s do it...” 

But in his defence, it worked exquisitely. Gallagher showed energy, strength and awareness in equal measure to deliver a neat pass inside for Rothwell to finish with the minimum of fuss; all square, all to play for.

 Albion’s O’Shea forced another low, diving save out of Walton who kept out the swerving effort with what appeared to be his nose. No, nez, never as Francophone Rovers fans might say...possibly. 

There was still time for another of the gang of four substitutes, Holtby; to find Gallagher with a delightful through ball. A first time pass inside fell to the feet of the fifth replacement, Davenport, but he could only fire his shot straight at Johnstone. Danny Graham could empathise. 

Still time remained for a sequence that would normally be seen only in a testimonial, or as a choreographed move at a Harlem Globetrotters match. Rothwell, Holtby, Gallagher all having a chance to get a shot away instead repeatedly and comically dribbled, passed and dozy-doed their way across the Albion area like an energetic country-dancing outfit. Finally, Holtby tried unsuccessfully to backheel it in from the six-yard box. A point just enough to keep a theoretical dream alive, but the reality dawned that nothing less than three handsome wins from hereon in would sustain the improbable play-off place.

A visit to the New Den has been a relatively happy hunting ground for Rovers over recent seasons but in the absence of fans, it seemed that Rovers were struggling to find a catalyst to spark a performance. A bright opening soon petered out and Rovers’ consistent use of non-full backs in the full back role was to cost them, as a cross via several deflections eventually found its way to the on-loan Mason Bennett, who slotted home to give Millwall a lead that they had threatened for some time. 

Rovers huffed and puffed and posted some deeply impressive possession statistics but the one stat that matters most resolutely stayed at “nil”. Tony Mowbray threw on his full complement of substitutes with the result that the team at one point seem to consist entirely of creative midfielders, each aiming to create something for a central striker that didn't exist.  

It was the same, lame game that had been on show at Barnsley, albeit with a tad more endeavour, but as for cutting-edge there was none. Just two games left now and perhaps a chance to experiment with some of the much-vaunted youngsters now nothing is at stake. A season of consolidation is not necessarily a bad thing, but with the futures of so many players still uncertain and post-COVID finance challenges, the next six weeks could be the biggest challenge that Tony Mowbray has faced at Ewood, handling relegation to League One included.  





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