I’ve got no way of proving this scientifically but I’m prepared to bet that if you’d given all 8,000 Rovers season ticket holders a questionnaire in July asking who would be top of League One on this day and which two sides would be unbeaten the longest, I reckon you’d have got 8,000 nought out of threes.
Football, as Danny Baker says, is chaos and none of us who profess to be experts know the first thing about it worth sticking more than the the odd quid on the fix odds on!
Rovers ended one of those unlikely unbeaten runs to leap-frog Scunthorpe on Tuesday and if they do the expected business against Wimbledon on Saturday they will take their flourishing reputation, with three consecutive away clean-sheet wins, to the New Meadow, home of (currently) even-more-unlikely thus far undefeated pace-setters Shrewsbury Town.
Four league wins in a row, the first such instance in ten years, has had the stattos seeking even better sequences and my ever dependable pal Brian Clarke has come with a six-game run of victories in late 2000 as Rovers began their charge to promotion which culminated at Deepdale the following May.
Emulating that would of course still leave a hard winter ahead during which there will certainly be pitfalls and disappointments, shocks and setbacks amid the triumphs and highs.
I’m not taking anything for granted… a couple of good away wins, as many of my vintage will know, has often been the prelude to a crushingly disappointing let-down on an Ewood with the terraces swelled by a few hundred curious pay-on-the-dayers anxious to see if the team really has turned a corner.
But for the first time in many years there’s definitely a spring in the step of long-suffering fans and you can even imagine a few last-minute season tickets being shifted this week (Rovers have offered to refund anyone buying one the cost of any home league games they have already attended) as, at least temporarily, protests and boycotts are only maintained by the most obstinately joyless wasp-suckers.
Goodness, we might even have a bit of buoyancy and positivity at home games or on the message boards!
As I’ve said before I’m personally too old and not presumptive enough about the continued state of my health to be able to look at our plight and say “I’m not funding this until we’re back on the Gold standard and flying high.” That make take longer than I’ve got, quite frankly.
If it possibly means more to you to make a point which Venkys won’t be the least bit aware of you making (and even less bothered) than it would to watch a decent team with blue and white halved shirts making the people who do turn out happy and proud, be my guest and carry on.
There was such a joy in moments like Richie Smallwood’s opener on Saturday – I had to mentally remind myself that it isn’t against the rules for a midfielder to surge into the box and volley home from the penalty spot – that I genuinely feel sorry for anyone denying themselves such pleasures on a point of principal.
I know all the arguments about whether there’ll be a Rovers for our grandkids etc but for heaven’s sake, it’s entertainment, a leisure time pastime at the end of the day and when it’s there to be enjoyed in your footballing lifetime, you might as bloody well as like enjoy it.
If football club ownership had been an issue in medieval times we might have had the most bloody-minded refuseniks walking barefoot on nails along Nuttall Street while self-flagellating in sackcloth and ashes in protests.
Not for me. I go to experience the odd days it all comes together.
While our second and third goals at Spotland weren’t quite as gloriously executed, it was heartening to see Antonnson, recipient of an astonishing deluge of stick after his initial appearances, stick one away, a feat he repeated to tumultuous celebrations at Scunthorpe.
No, he might not be a complete all-round centre forward. Very few operating at third tier level are. But if he has the knack of putting away his opportunities, perhaps he can be our 21st Century Andy Crawford. I couldn’t recall much about his style either, other than he had a big arse, low centre of gravity, shielded it decently and was all left foot. But if it was there to be stuck in, stick it he did.
If you think tapping an odd ‘un in is the easiest part of a centre forward’s job, ask yourself how many times it happened to Chris Brown. The Swede’s goal at Glanford stadium was taken with similar aplomb to Smallwood’s days earlier and in both cases the decisive construction and execution were to be admired.
Danny Graham’s contribution was rather gifted to him but I think he will have a huge part to play over the months as the pack is inevitably shuffled. We could possibly have played seven or more cup games by the time we hit the 23 league game half-season mark around Christmastime and with Nyambe and Lenihan to return from injury, promising youngsters knocking on the door and the deadline day signings to integrate, a large squad without effete non-contributors such as we have had hanging around in past seasons (EG Byrne, Samuelsen, Williamson), is essential.
Downing, who started shakily but assisted in the shut-out a Spotland with increasing authority, was on the bench at Scunthorpe and Hart hasn’t featured in the 18 yet. They’ll have their part to play perhaps but if they don’t it will mean the guys in possession are doing the business.
As my co-writer this week Old Blackburnian (more from him shortly) points out we have been something of an “Ikea team” – all the components are there but Tony Mowbray seemed to have lost the instructions at the outset and was assembling the unit by trial and error early on.
But at Spotland on Saturday I looked at our list of substitutes and their side and thought, goalkeeper aside perhaps, that Keith Hill would have picked every one of our bench in his starting line-up…and he is probably one of several managers in the division who’ll feel the same in coming months.
Whether you feel our present status is beneath you, or us, or what, it was undeniably a great Rovers away day – a huge, largely well-behaved and good-natured following roaring encouragement throughout in response to a fine performance.
Positivity is infectious and the players can’t fail to be inspired by backing like they got during a clinical display which got better by the minute.
It was so comfortable that another font of Rovers knowledge, John Pittard, text me at one leisurely juncture to point out that Rochdale sub Oliver Rathbone was almost certainly the first player to play against Rovers whose dad and granddad both played for us.
My memories of games against Wimbledon are mixed (a solo drive to Selhurst for a 4-1 cuffing on a night England got shot out for 46 in Trinidad a low to rank with any) but the only time we met at Ewood at this level was on the occasion of my 21st birthday – a repeat of the 3-0 (Crawford, McKenzie, Rathbone) scoreline that day, the second game of a six-game winning sequence as it happens, would do rather nicely.
That run was followed incidentally by a draw, then seven more wins on the trot. If Mowbray can produce stats like that we can start talking about promotion!
Old Blackburnian now describes how the Spotland feelgood factor spilled over into Lincolnshire on Tuesday….
“Glanford Park rises to greet you as you depart the nearby motorway, with all the architectural splendour of a run-down DIY superstore.
The only clues as to its true purpose are the floodlight pylons rising in each corner and a few posters by the home turnstiles, but it was here that Rovers needed to find steel to match the Iron.
The opening half demonstrated why Scunthorpe started the evening above Rovers, they were vibrant, physical, hungry & played a simple game plan of pass & move which they executed with precision and enthusiasm.
The finest compliment I can pay is that Rovers fans’ current darling, Richie Smallwood, was consistently outmuscled and Corry Evans looked distinctly off the pace as he was hassled and harried into errors. There were more lost balls than in one of my golf rounds as desperate clearances continually cleared the low roof.
The chances that came fell largely to Scunthorpe and old boy Josh Morris looked exactly like the replacement for the injured Craig Conway that Rovers needed.
Young Harper showed some nice technique but a “welcome to League 1″ tackle early on quietened him down and it was no surprise when Dack replaced him at half time.
Rovers were much more urgent and much more competent after the interval.
I understand, though not from personal experience I should add, that super car engines need to warm up for a given period of time to ensure all the fluids reach optimal operating temperature before you should actually think about driving anywhere.
Perhaps this Rovers incarnation is secretly a footballing Ferrari needing 45 minutes to ensure everything is in order and sufficiently lubricated before setting out on a journey?
The goal came from some fine wing play by Bennett and a tidy, close finish from Antonsson, who seems to be developing a happy knack of scoring without ever really truly seeming to play well. He is a busy player, he works hard and the goals seem to be a fair reward for that endeavour.
Graham & Chapman both came on as Rovers switched to 4-5-1 to strengthen the midfield. Graham soon had a chance to seal the win but struck his shot straight at keeper Gilks, when it really was easier to place it anywhere else. There were many times when it looked like that could prove to be a costly error as Scunthorpe pressed hard for an equaliser.
The last 10 minutes saw at times both pretty impressive and pretty desperate defending but the Rovers goal somehow remained intact; no thanks to some acrobatics from Raya and a Williams clearance off the line.
Six minutes added time truly tested the nerves, the pulse & the blood pressure, but thankfully, the final whistle came – three points, four on the spin; momentum building.
Rovers will play far better and lose but already a pattern is emerging that games in League 1 will often be battles; less for the purist, more for the pragmatist. It is pleasing to see points now being won in these contests rather than the supine surrender we saw against Doncaster.
A lot of Labore, not much Arte just at the moment, but as long as the points are collected, I for one will not complain.”
Who was Rovers manager the last time we played Rochdale in a League match?
Answer a little later in the column.
Our first visit to Spotland for a third-tier fixture for 44 years certainly emphasises the fact that we’re playing lower-division football.
All four of our opponents thus far have locked horns with us at Championship level not that long ago but a trip over Owd Betts really is a throwback to the seventies.
My first visit to what is now known as – and I shall say zis only once – the Crown Oil Arena was in March 1972 and while I remember little snippets about the game, as well as the unfortunate result, there is one fact about the day that I’ve never ever forgotten.
My best mate Graham and I were in the first flush of being allowed to travel to away games without our dads and we duly wandered into the Ribblesdale Coaches office on Blackburn Boulevard during the week after school and stumped up our 18p or whatever it was to book travel.
When we arrived over the hills and saw the Spotland floodlights on Saturday we turned left away from the stadium and parked down a tree-lined lane.
Wandering up the hill towards the ground we counted the coaches already neatly lined up by the kerb.
Ours was the 52nd coach. I couldn’t believe we had enough fans to fill so many charas on an away trip…. and I still reckon there were a few arrived later than us.
To give some further impression of the huge volume of the away support, Rochdale had played at home to Wrexham, not a million miles distant, the previous Saturday before a gate of 2,640. The attendance seven days later when Rovers visited was 6,494.
Lifelong pals Graham and I (I was delighted and honoured to be at the christening of his first grandchild last weekend) have savoured and endured almost a half-century of footballing trials and tribulations together since and we will both be there again on Saturday with another big following as Rovers look set to take around 3,000.
But one hopes the day pans out differently.
We lost 2-1 that day despite a goal from “Tony Field, superstar,” as the then-current chant went (“how many goals have you scored so far?”) and I vividly recall being able to wander around all four sides of the ground.
Just turned 13, we would follow the bigger lads and fellas around and watch as they purposefully staked out their territory by sheer weight of numbers coupled with a suitable air of imminent malevolence, then shuffle onto the fringe of the phalanx.
Later in the same year we were back but not before a goal by Malcolm Darling, an old Rovers favourite, had knocked us out of the League Cup to give Rochdale a first ever win at Ewood.
Darling had shown early promise for Rovers despite the astonishing decision on his arrival in Blackburn to offer the young Scottish apprentice digs….. upstairs in a pub. He lodged at the Fox and Hounds across from the ground!
He was unable to repeat his feat in the league match which brought 1972 to a close however, Field again scorer of Rovers’ goal, the matchwinner.
That win saw us leap-frog Dale to 13th in the table, a salutary reminder that we were for a time mired in the Third Division, a circumstance some of our followers feel would precipitate the end of the club if not very Armageddon itself this time around.
After a good second half of that 1972-73 season we finished third…the last-ever time only two went up!
The following season we arrived on the back of a spectacular 5-0 win over Watford and a cup replay against Willington, won 6-1 and lay in a promising fifth position.
On a sad December Friday 24 hours before the game at Rochdale, Ken Furphy, who had re-invigorated fallen Rovers but been unable to quite seal promotion, left to join Sheffield United.
The man in charge when we beat Rochdale 2-1 at Spotland the following day and the answer to the poser at the top of the column?
None other than Richard Dinnis, all-round good guy and erstwhile Radio Lancs summariser, in caretaker charge until the coming of Gordon Lee in January.
Field was again on the mark twice in a 2-1 win but the game is remembered for a howler of a refereeing decision when Rochdale striker Leo Skeete palpably put the ball in our net only for it to burst through a hole in the side netting onto the dog track. The ref gave a goal kick!
Dale were relegated at the end of the season never to be promoted again until their current manager, our old boy Keith Hill, took the reins for the first time. Lee, after a decidedly mixed first few months of 1974, took us up the following season.
Meetings in the interim years were sporadic and possibly the best-remembered was the 6-1 League Cup win at Ewood (after a rather more forgettable 1-1 draw at Rochdale) in a game best remembered for Dunny’s hat-trick of penalties, two goals for Damien Duff and, perhaps most remarkably, one for Kaba Diawara, one of the least affectionately remembered of Graeme Souness’s signings.
At least it partly made up for Rochdale incredibly beating us in a two-legged semi-final in the same competition’s second-ever season in 1962.
After leaving the Accrington Observer in 2003 – our head offices were in Rochdale and I spent a bit of time there making many friends, particularly on the sports desk –
I spent a few seasons covering Rochdale for Sunday newspapers.
The folks at the club were always welcoming and helpful and I am ecstatic that after his recent te-instatement a full house of Rovers fans tomorrow will have the pleasure I had for many years of hearing long-time stadium announcer Dave Sweetmore crank out punk and indie favourites at such ear-splitting volume residents of terraced houses nearby would ring in complaining.
Small wonder as you could usually wind your window down around Norden and catch the tunes.
Dave was unquestionably the best-known and most celebrated of his ilk in the business and had moved to fresh pastures where he DJ’s professionally in clubs with a large and devoted following.
But the old job recently became available again and I’m sure he’ll treat us with plenty of Buzzcocks, Jam, Smiths, Joy Division and Clash on Saturday, not to mention more contemporary bands carrying the torch, pre-match and at at half-time.
As I sat next to DJ Dave in my regular press box spot, I watched Steve Parkin and then Hill develop a very decent side. The number of centre-forwards who made a name at Spotland and graduated was bewildering – Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert, Adam Le Fondre, Chris Dagnall and Glenn Murray all served with distinction in the short time I sat there.
I found it incredible, and said so at the time, that not one of these players was ever considered by Rovers, a few miles up the road and a club which most of them would have walked the distance to sign for at the time.
Quite often we would be joined in the press area by manager Hill himself, stood in a little doorway behind us shouting his instructions to the players from a nicely elevated view above the dug-outs.
Now there are few among us in the sports reporting corps who haven’t made recourse to the odd oath or two, but I used to genuinely blush as Hilly unleashed the more indelicate selections from his vocabulary just a few feet from home and away directors and their wives.
I’d often chuckle and turn round to see my pal ex-Football League ref Tony Leake, a mad keen Roverite, there in his capacity as an assessor, smile back.
While he is an engaging character and often mischievously humorous lad, Hilly has a serious side, an eye for talent and the ability to put a coaching staff together capable of polishing rough material.
He always had innovative ways of looking at and interpreting the game and I’m surprised after one relative failure at Barnsley, no-one else has taken a gamble on his talent. Rochdale’s gain of course.
We’ve certainly had worse.
Hill’s team haven’t got going yet this season but he will have them up for this one, make no mistake.
One hopes Mowbray proves as valuable to our club as Hill has been over a long period of time to his, removing the stigma of being a permanent fourth tier club and building something completely in contrast to the run-down music-hall joke they were sometimes cast as.
Mowbray’s deadline day signings however were hardly the sort to get the supporters buzzing – although if Rakeem Harper is half as good as the PR suggests he might do – and smacked of last-minute necessity to boost the numbers rather than any bold statement of promotion-seeking intent.
I saw Harper briefly at Stanley the other week and he looked neat and tidy without setting the place on fire. He’s very young at 17 though and it would be unwise to expect too much.
Paul Downing has had some degree of experience at this level with four solid seasons at Walsall but the news about Daragh Lenihan – how damaging was that 20 minutes limping on at Southend? – makes it a little more galling that we missed out on our number one target, Heneghan at Motherwell.
Doubly annoying that Lenihan’s one-time suitors Sheffield United pipped us too.
Young full-back Hart is an odd one. If any of the young guns looks ripe for a promotion, it’s Jack Doyle who can operate at full back or wing back.
If Mowbray is adamant that our fledglings aren’t ready, I’m sure even a few hundred grand – Venkys’ regular late-window modus operandi – would have enabled him to pick up a couple of players of proven pedigree to ensure a genuine promotion push rather than quarter-to-eleven deadline day take-a-chancers.
Curiously, Mowbray, who has talked down the need for Rovers to retain Category A Academy status, seems reluctant to utilise what increasingly looks to be an outstanding crop of youngsters in the Under-21’s who are deservedly harvesting rich plaudits as they continue a coruscating unbeaten streak this season.
They were again hugely impressive in beating (penalties after a 2-2 draw) a vastly more seasoned Wigan side in the Lancashire FA Senior Cup at Leyland on Monday.
It really is a pleasure to watch such a well-drilled Rovers team in which every player thoroughly knows his job within a well-honed, effective and at times thrilling pattern of play.
I’m sure those who have the interests of say, Willem Tomlinson, Doyle and Joe Rankin-Costello at heart must raise a quizzical eye upwards when we recruit young players in similar positions with not that much more senior experience.
The Lenihan injury news is a grave concern and one hopes Mulgrew’s knock with Scotland was no more than that…we can ill afford to lose the presence and game-changing ability he provides.
Funny enough, watching the League One goal highlights last weekend I saw a young player discarded by Rovers not long ago pop home a free-kick even better than Mulgrew’s two goal efforts this season when Josh Morris netted to win unbeaten Scunthorpe, our opponents on Tuesday, the tightest of games at Gigg Lane before the break.
If we can gather a minimum of four points from tomorrow’s game and Tuesday’s at Scunthorpe, we will be not far off the mix. Any less and catching up will take some doing.
Four games unbeaten, three of them away, would be a decent run but at least one of these needs to be won to get the momentum properly rolling along. Six points would make a powerful statement.
In this episode, the panel of Linz Lewis, Michael Taylor, Scott Sumner & host, Ian Herbert dissect the fortunes of their favourite football team, celebrate the return of a Rovers' institution "4000 Holes" and wonder whether modern football is really made for 50-somethings...(it is, don't panic).
They also have to reflect on another game that was played recently but they really didn't want to, trust me:
It’s just typical that after a week in which derby despair – and my, it was desperate, a real embarrassment on every level – was followed by genuine, encouraging sightings of green recovery shoots, Rovers get landed with an international break lay-off to press the pause button on progress.
It’s probably as well that Lancashire’s newest and rather unlikely derby is on hold with a key duo like Mulgrew and Evans missing. Maybe the absence of cameras when it is re-scheduled, hopefully soonish, preceded by both clubs continuing to do well, will add to the atmosphere and turn-out.
Regular readers will know though that I hate these bloody international weekends with a vengeance and, just when we get a scintilla of momentum going, other sides will stack up a point or two on Saturday and Sunday. But on this occasion, with a Christening for the Blue Eyed family to attend this Sunday lunchtime it’s a bit of a result.
Certainly a novelty for Fleetwood who would be playing the like of Atherton Collieries and Maine Road a decade ago.
The Burnley game was all so predictable in its unfolding horror, a vastly superior team toying with us, even to the extent of being able to visibly step off the gas and enjoy a 45-minute keep-ball training exercise in the second half, before a sold-out away end in an otherwise half-empty Ewood.
The two imbeciles who ran on the pitch were an awful manifestation of what’s become a a sinister unpleasant element, an embittered, twisted section of our support which was in any case thooughly out-sung and shouted by our neighbours, who at least introduced a modicum of humour into what’s become over recent years, startlingly ugly all-out hatred.
“We’re going to Wembley, you’re going to Shrewsbury,” I had to admit caused me a wry forced smile after listening to ghastly youths in a nearby bar shouting that witless and charmless “What do you think of Burnley?” call-and-response abomination for a solid pre-match hour. Neanderthal stuff.
I sat depressed towards the front of the Upper Jack Walker behind a young blonde slip of a mum, almost certainly under 30, periodically stood up v-signing the Clarets End while shouting obscenities as her nine-year old daughter looked bewildered and not a little upset by the horrendous spectacle.
A large meathead next to my daughter stood up throughout the first half-hour blocking a family’s view behind, making unfunny “six fingers” signs to the visitors. When he occasionally alighted his gaze on the pitch, it was to drunkenly roar “@#/? off….” to the Burnley players or “come on….” to his Rovers heroes.
Unfortunately he was unable to extend either phrase to a third word as he clearly didn’t know the name of a single player on either line-up. What a relief when he and his rather less irksome companions decided to retire to the bar on 32 minutes, never to be seen again.
As for those who applauded and cheered the pathetic actions of the pitch invaders – these people always look even more ridiculous than even they themselves can possibly imagine before waddling their unathletic frames across a sports field don’t they? – have a read of noted football writer John Nicholson’s imperious recent essay on “lad culture” http://www.football365.com/features/john-nicholsonand stay away from football, perhaps saving your money for the next big EDL rally.
Oaf that he was, the first intruder was scandalously unchallenged by stewards and I don’t blame the Burnley players who decked him as he made his pitiful grab at Westwood. Dyche was quite right when he said security was unacceptably lax, even more of a joke when you consider the song and dance involved in attending these games. Folk getting in with flares showed the bag and body search routine to be a joke, too, if morons are determined to take crap like that in they’ll find a way.
There was little else to cheer either, as one of the least passion-fuelled, least intense, least competitive East Lancs derbies from a Rovers point of view I have ever witnessedunfolded.
Fellow supporter Brian Clarke unearthed a remarkable little-known quirk of history when he revealed that next September it will be fully half a century since Rovers beat a side from a higher division in the League Cup despite spending 32 of those years out of the top flight.
Mowbray got some deserved stick for his selection against Burnley and the lack of urgency shown on the night so he deserves considerable credit for the changes he made to personnel and formation against MK Dons on Saturday.
Samuel and Chapman both showed enough in the Carabao Cup to deserve to be involved and finally Tony listened to someone (maybe Mark Venus if not the fans) and jettisoned the ineffective and over-cautious (certainly at home) one up front set-up.
Antonsson certainly wasn’t great on full debut – but not so bad as to deserve the writing off he’s had by the messageboard vultures, for goodness sake – and for very different reasons I’d currently have Graham and Nuttall, of whom more later, in front of him but the system inarguably carried more positive intent and threat.
After years of failed gaffers banging on about “starting games on the front foot” I’d practically given up on us putting anything meaningful together until A) the natives get vocally restless about the half-hour mark or we go a goal down, so I was barely concentrating when Williams, woeful against Burnley, popped up on the edge of the area and expertly put us ahead before I’d really settled in my seat.
Unfortunately Williams appeared to enjoy his foray into a central area of the pitch so much that he remained as distant from his left touchline as was possible without putting a knock on the snooker table in Ewood Club for the rest of the period, allowing his namesake the Dons right back the freedom of one third of our half. With Conway also found wanting in his covering duties, an equaliser was inevitable.
Mulgrew’s free-kick expertise always offers us an even chance within a few yards of the other penalty area though, particularly if the goalkeeping is average, and while the visitors threatened in a spell they bossed after the interval, one of Mowbrays’s substitutions proved to be the winning choice.
Harry Chapman showed such effervescence, enthusiasm, ambition and skill that he helped put a gloss on the scoreline to suggest the margin of victory was rather more comfortable than a nervy first 75 minutes had intimated at.
Mulgrew’s pure footballing nous and positional awareness earned him a third, Chapman having won the corner I think, which any fox-in-the-box poacher would be proud to notch up and the fourth was a few seconds of total football joy.
There was something about the Duggie or Fergie (Duff or Dunn for younger readers perhaps) in the insouciant, impudent way Chapman danced onto the otherwise disappointing Gladwin’s pass through challenges to the by-line and pulled a delicious ball back which the rapidly-improving Samuel could hardly do other than but stroke into the net.
Both our opening and closing goals were the type I imagined Bradley Dack would provide with regularity and if he can kindly arrange to focus his attention onto getting fit and showing us what he really offers as the division’s costliest signing of the summer, we’re getting somewhere “in and around the attacking part of the field” as Mowbray said, employing football’s current cliché de rigeur.
Defensive reinforcements are imperative however, even assuming Mulgrew and Lenihan stay beyond the window closure. It’s been a quiet few weeks since the Sheffield clubs expressed tentative interest in the pair while Feeney and Graham seem to have moved to the front of the most-likely-to-leave list.
No-one would lament Feeney’s exit but I’d be disappointed if Graham’s stay ended like this. Many were predicting a hatful of goals for him in League One and while he has never looked as impressive as he did in his blistering initial loan stint here, I certainly hoped for more than a few friendly tap-ins from a bloke who made a fool of a couple of Manchester United superstars earlier this year.
While many of Mowbray’s signings have shown promise, his last couple for the time being in these next two days, if he is able to pull them off, could be his most important.
We got a look at some of the lads pressing for a place in the enjoyable Checkatrade win at home to Stoke’s kids (and, bafflingly, Charlie Adam). Travis and Doyle acquitted themselves decently at full back.
We didn’t learn much we don’t already know about Nyambe, Williams, Graham, Whittingham, Feeney and Gladwin but Willem Tomlinson was bright and energetic while the memorable moments were provided by Chapman again and sub Joe Nuttall.
Not everything Chapman tried came off but I like players who try it in the belief it can actually be done. There’s a bit of the Duncan McKenzie about him. Younger and quicker, too if not yet always as supremely blessed in his decision-making.
Nuttall has been scoring for fun for the Under-21’s and looked hungry and boisterous here, capped by a fine piece of opportunism from Chapman’s wonderful slide-rule through ball. His obvious up-and-at-em lust for fniding space and scoring excites me.
He looks to me one we can chuck in at some stage and he could surprise a few. It’s the Third division, not the Champions League and an unknown quantity is sometimes a wily card to play.
One or two claimed the 1,500 attendance at the Stoke game as Rovers’ lowest ever gate (2,161 v Wimbledon in a League Cup second leg, 5-0 down from the first game the previous low) for an accredited if arguably theoretical “first-team” fixture but noted Rovers archivist Bernie Horne points out that in October 1970 we had 561 on a Lancashire Cup tie at home to Rochdale.
I’m not sure if second division sides, which we then were, were obliged to put a first choice side out in that competition at the time and a line up of: Barton, Charter, Eccles, Sharples, Kopel, Atherton, Bradford, Wood, Dunning, Parkes, Whalley suggests that Eddie Quigley had no intention of doing so – not one of those players started the league matches either side!
Roll on Rochdale.
In this final part, Jim Wilkinson brings the story of Howard Kendall's second season at Ewood to its painful conclusion. A side that exceeded all expectations tried gainfully to pull one last effort out of the fire but financial constraints left the team just too light on creativity at the crucial point.
Eventually, both HK & Rovers would of course taste glory, Rovers having to wait 10 years longer than Howard, but without his intervention in 1979-81; would the Rovers' fairytale of 1995 have been possible?
Burnley preview by MikeE:
I was thinking of waiting until after the Bradford game to post this, but it seems that ‘3 days isn’t enough’ for a preview no matter how well written it was by riverholmes. So here is your Rovers vs Dingles preview, you ungrateful turds
Going into this season, we had the highs of running a Europa League team (Sparta Prague) close to a draw and an 8-0 battering of 6th tier York City. This has been followed by the worst beginning to a season we could’ve hoped for, with pre-season ending in 3-1 defeat to League 2 Carlisle United, followed by two resounding defeats in the League (2-1 to Southend away, and 3-1 to Doncaster at home – repeat, AT HOME).
In amongst all this crap, we beat Coventry 3-1 in the first round of the Carabao (wtf?) Cup. Apparently, this is the new name of the League Cup, rather than the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy equivalent (which is the Checkatrade Trophy). Could they not just insert ‘League’ in the name, just to distinguish which competition is which? Anyway, as this is the only competition so far in which we’ve earned a positive result (despite sounding like it’s named after Bullwinkle’s Mexican cousin), I’ll try to approach it with a sense of optimism. Remember that Sheffield Utd didn’t win a game last August and ended up winning League 1! Let’s hope esteemed Grandad Tony Mowbray can do the same.
I don’t need to explain how important these matches are to both sets of fans (though I may need to use pictures for that lot). Rovers vs Burnley is one of the oldest rivalries in world football, without getting nearly as much hype from the media as other ‘rivalries’ such as Blackpool vs Fleetwood or Bolton vs…erm…
Souness described out rivalry as one of the most intense he’d known (even after Galatasaray vs Fenerbahce, Rangers vs Celtic, or Liverpool vs Everton) as did Mark Hughes (even after Utd vs City, Real vs Barca, or Liverpool vs Everton). Our rivalry MATTERS.
For 35 years, we held a proud record of never being beaten by this lot until a couple of years ago; just one in a long line of records destroyed by our Chicken Overlords. The decline of our record started long before that, however, as it is now 7 years since we last beat the Dingles (1-0 when Martin Olsson took his famous dive, and Dunny smashed it in from the penalty spot). Since then we’ve had a succession of lucky draws (‘David Dunn was miles offside, he hates Burnley!’ and Rhodes shinning it in of the defender’s clearance), followed by 3 losses on the bounce – two of which came at Ewood *sigh*, including the fateful record-ending 1-0 loss *double sigh*.
Make no mistake, we are now the underdogs of this fixture with Burnley being promoted to the Premier League at JUST the right time, after we were relegated from it at JUST the wrong time. It couldn’t have been written, even by the most optimistic of b*****ds, but it happened. But it strikes me now that we have always thrived as the underdogs; Premier League win competing against the likes of Utd, Newcastle, Liverpool and Leeds, Worthington Cup win vs Spurs (Mark Hughes, anyone?), and going from near-relegated to Europa League in a single season (Mark Hughes, anyone?)
Let us take on the spirit of Bob Crompton, Mr. Blackburn Rovers, once regarded as the greatest player (and moustache) in the world and he came from Blackburn. He captained Rovers to two First Division Championships, captained England 22 times (out of 41 caps) with esteem, heart, and skill, later going on to manage our (and his) beloved club to our last FA Cup win in 1928. The Rovers board thought they could do better, so they removed him as manager, leading us to plummet until Crompton was rehired. He then led us from the relative doldrums (above our current position) to be Second Division champions! His wonderful record with us culminated in both the saddest and happiest way a Rovers fan such as he would wish to pass away. He sadly died the evening after he led Rovers to a sound 3-2 victory over the b*****ds. I feel like more needs to be made of this brilliant man with his remarkable record (sod your Matthews or your Finney or your…erm, who have Burnley got? McIlroy?).
As for this game, we are underdogs and under no pressure to win (unless you count our sickening start to life in League One, or the pressure of the match itself, or pressure from the Police to make the match as unenjoyable as possible for either set of fans). I think we need to abandon the ‘expansive football’ approach, especially with Sean Dyche being in the Allardyce mould of ‘percentages, lump it’ football. Play a rigid back 4, with a midfielder sitting back when needed, and give 5 of our attacking players freedom to attack rather than pass, pass, pass. I felt we played this way fantastically when we battered this lot in the April Fool’s Day massacre and we need to take inspiration from games like that. Just hope one of our lot squares up to a few of them - remember our galactico midget Salgado? THAT’s the attitude we need!
I’m going for a 4-3 Rovers win (hoping the scum used up all their luck vs Chelsea), with Dunny lacing up his boots for our 95th minute penalty winner.
Links between the clubs:
Jim Appleby, Eric Binns, Adam Blacklaw, Marshall Burke, Andy Cole, Paul Comstive, John Connelly, Gordan Cowans, Nathan Delfouneso, Peter Devine, Shane Duffy, David Hamilton, Kevin Hird, Lenny Johnrose, David Jones, Walter Joyce, Michael Keane, Alan Mahon, Andy Marriott, David May, Jay McEveley, Keith Newton, Bradley Orr, Johnny Price, Steven Reid, Paul Robinson, Cameron Stewart, Andy Todd, Keith Treacey.
Obligatory fan interview:
My girlfriend’s father is, unfortunately, a Dingle. On the bright side, it provides me the perfect opportunity to ask questions to someone from the USA (Uther Side of Accy):
Before we kick off, how do you feel about our Chicken Overlords?
It is a mess. As they are a private company, there is not a lot you can do about it although I think the ACVs on Ewood and Brockhall are excellent ideas. Questions do need to be asked of the quality/ suitability the due diligence carried out by the FA, the Premier League (at the time), the Football League (now), especially around the involvement of agents. Left a really rotten smell. Maybe questions should also be asked of the Walker family of the due diligence they carried out when they sold.
Despite enjoying your demise, I hope it eventually levels out. Without rivalries, football would be a bloody dull sport.
So, we’ve held a proud record of 35 years unbeaten over you and you’re now 7 years into your own run. Reckon you can match it?
Pointless record especially when teams don’t play each for long periods. Absolutely meaningless.
Of the list of players who played for both clubs, who is your favourite (FYI, mine is Andy Todd)?
Despite being past his best with us, I would go with David May. His class shone through when we needed it to.
What do you make of your start to the season and ours, and do you think either will matter come the big game?
Clarets start couldn’t have been better, however a poor result on Saturday will take the shine off. Rovers start is not good; pretty dreadful to be honest. But while our lofty status above you and our respective starts make us favourites, that’s irrelevant come matchday. It’ll be a tighter game than either set of fans think, imo… but, we’ll still come out on top!
Will Dyche remain at Burnley much longer? He’s well past the average tenure of a manager in either the Premier League or Championship.
Sean Dyche will stay at Burnley for a while yet, I reckon. I think he would have gone by now if money was a big motivator. Let’s see at the end of this season.
What is your likely starting eleven, who is your dangerman, and who is your weak link?
Difficult one, that. I can see Dyche resting a lot of first team players -- Heaton, Defour, Cork, Brady, Lowton, S Ward etc. Burnley don’t really have an outstanding player, we play as a unit. The most skilful player is Defour but doubt he will play. Fringe players and players returning from injury will most likely start. Our weak link is a lack of quality goal scorer. Here is my line up for what it is worth.
Rubbish game, but 2 - 1 to us. Not really bothered about the result as long as there are no needless injuries or suspensions.
FYI, my girlfriend then wanted to add her thoughts on the game, which pretty much amount to this:
For all the indignities heaped upon Rovers fans over seven years of failure, the constant simmering anger and despair of the long-suffering supporters – and we’re unquestionably down to a few thousand of the most fiercely loyal and tolerant at the stadium now – I’ve never witnessed such a startling and damning sound as I heard at around a quarter to five on Saturday.
For every Venkys Out chant, for every attack on a manager (Kean and Coyle both vehemently targeted individually on occasion) and for every groan or boo of dissatisfaction individual players have come in for (Andrews, Best, Murphy, Orr etc) over the years I have never previously heard a decent home turn-out (including, importantly, many non-season ticket holders who were willing to give the new team a trial run) turn so unanimously and vociferously in venomous vocal condemnation of what they saw before them and vent their spleen on the team as a collective.
At the precise moment fans chanted “You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” – not just a few, practically everybody – there were four of Tony Mowbray’s summer signings on the field as well as men like Elliott Bennett, Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Graham, who along with the withdrawn Peter Whittingham, we were told, were players the like of which humble third tier outfits would not be able to cope with being on the same pitch as.
It was simply staggering – although surprisingly not remarked upon by Rovers’ closest press commentators who deign to suggest “Five talking points” after each game. If that wasn’t second or third on the agenda in any pub full of fans following the game, they must have had a hell of a stripper on.
We’ve had home humiliations – Cardiff 4-1, Peterborough 3-0 up after 20 minutes, Birmingham similar, and we’ve had teams wipe the floor with us, Huddersfield the season before last under Lambert a particular low point – but usually we’ve had the consolation of a doughty fightback of some kind or the fact that the opposition were just too classy for us.
I’ve heard some of the most pitiful stuff I’ve ever heard trotted out by Rovers supports this week to attempt to explain the stark reality of a pointless start against two of league football’s perennial nearly men.
“Teams are trying harder against us because we are former Premier League champions.”
“We’re a big scalp, the team everybody wants to beat.”
Get real, pussycats. We are no longer considerd so storied or monied to be regarded as any kind of fading aristocrats or elite.
After five largely wretched seasons in the Championship hoovering up rubbish such as Chris Brown, Paul Taylor, Simeon Jackson, Lee Williamson and Luke Varney, any residual sheen or lustre from our gold-standard spending 1990s or early 21st century glory years is a distant memory.
It’s like me claiming to have been in awe of Ipswich in 1967 because they’d won the league five years earlier. Ancient history.
Teams – and more to the point smart opposing managers like Phil Brown and Darren Ferguson – know full well that Rovers are damaged goods psychologically and that Ewood, statistically, is a ground more than half of visiting sides have walked away from with one or three points for a period of more than half a decade now.
Let’s not flatter ourselves that we’re bringing an exciting touch of glamour to deprived footballing regions only for them to insult our largesse.
We get a few thousand at home and take a fair –to-above-average following away. We’re hardly Newcastle or Man City rolling up.
Footballers, if they are truly professional, want to win any game. The win bonus on offer is usually sufficient to ensure that.
If we really are reduced to arguing that a passionate Roots Hall home contingent or a larger-than-usual Doncaster following for the first away game is a factor in raising the odds against us we ought to be thoroughly ashamed.
Where we must look for reasons is inwardly, are our manager and players up to the job? So far resoundingly not with hopefully a few tough decisions to be taken and one or two looking at themselves so as to say: “What more could I have done to avoid this start?”
One or two, like Caddis I suspect, will prove to have been folly, mistakes of acquisition which all managers make. The trick is identifying the error quickly and eradicating it.
Remember every one of those 2-3,000 walk-ons on a lovely August afternoon was a potential bury-my-reservations season ticket holder who went home thinking: “Same old crap, different division, I’ll keep my money in my wallet and come to one or two if they pick up.”
I called the pre-season 100-point talk delusional nonsense all summer but nothing had prepared anyone but the most avowed pessimist for the meek, simpering manner in which Mowbray’s side has failed to even compete adequately for the first six points of this campaign.
I certainly didn’t subscribe to the arrant “walk this league” twaddle (read some of that back if you want to see why some fans might enjoy doing a number on us) but nor did I or do I believe that the personnel available to Mowbray are incapable of giving a better account of themselves. But, boy, do they need to start showing signs thereof soon.
I dismissed as hysterical bullshit the notion that Mowbray should be judged on the first ten games. But I’ll revise that – three more displays like the first two and serious questions will have to be asked.
Whether the likes of Dack, Gadwin, Whittingham, Samuel and Smallwood and co will eventually sparkle in this league remains to be seen.
Antonnson, Nuttall, Chapman and the likely Celtic loanee Liam Henderson offer Mowbray options but they deserve to be introduced into an environment where at least the senior pros are taking responsibility. So far they pointedly aren’t.
One thing which isn’t in doubt however is that if the manager’s selection and tactics aren’t quickly tinkered with after an appalling set of Mowbray errors for the openers, nobody is going to be able to show their best in a system ill-designed for the parts available.
Whatever formation you imagine we are playing, three at the back with two wing backs only offers a foundation if your three at the back are solid and able to concentrate and your wide fellas are capable of contributing going forward along with their defensive chores.
Mowbray reiterated on Saturday evening that there was nothing wrong with the system. He’s right, there isn’t if you have the 1974-78 Dutch World Cup side at your disposal, or perhaps peak Dani Alves and Roberto Carlos with Baresi, Costacurta and Maldini inside, Lothar Matthaus holding while Carlos Valderama and Messi slip balls through to Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.
With the best of wishes, it’s not gonna work with Derrick Williams and Elliott Ward key men in it.
And if your midfield is packed with holding type players and has little inclination and even less options to move forward or get the ball to attacking players then the system looks what it did on Saturday, ponderous and slow, calculated to offer incessant sideways and backwards movement as the opposition get behind the ball in droves with a centre forward not in the first flush of youth or indeed inclined much towards industry when so isolated, rendered virtually a passenger.
Smallwood showed flashes of a quicker, crisper ability to demand the ball, think swiftly and shift it but by the second half he had reverted to anonymity among his less pro-active colleagues.
The one time Rovers worked an opening, Graham, who thought he’d bought himself a gap with a neat shimmy, found a second defender showing enough commitment and awareness to block what momentarily seemed a golden chance.
That’s not a team fired up to beat the champs of 22 years ago. It’s a team where everyone knows his job and knows when he needs to step in and help his mate out in a difficult moment.
There are no stats recorded in Rothmans for how many times you get your head, chest, upper thigh or arse in the way of a cross or shot but the way the game panned out the importance of the kind of doggedness and defensive determination Doncaster displayed throughout was thrown into sharp relief shortly after the interval.
A rather casual attempt from a strangely disinterested-looking Mulgrew wasn’t the best but it ought to have presented no real problem for Ward, heavily lambasted for pre-season aberrations, and Marquis (a striker Roves might have coveted before he extended his Keepmoat contract) would have been considered ungrateful to have missed out on such a gift as the hapless centre-back tumbled like some Sunday morning hungover mate of the manager’s who hasn’t played for 20 years drafted in on a bumpy pitch five at Pleasington.
Of course there was no-one anticipating a potential mistake other than Marquis.
Around that point Mowbray chucked his three subs on. The possibilities of injury aside, I thought there was an argument for doing that after half an hour, or at least half time, when the initiative was still there to be seized by any configuration which could carry a threat to Doncaster as eventually Gladwin, and to a lesser extent the thus-far underwhelming Dack, did.
These were players, we were told, who had “bought into Tony’s vision.”
At the moment “Tony’s vision” looks as singularly odd as but less convincing even than the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult’s who persuaded his followers that a spaceship following the Hale Bopp comet was about to pick them up if they shed their earthly existence.
I dunno about that but a move to Sheffield United or Wednesday by any available form of transport must look increasingly appealing with an unsteady hand at the helm already plain to the players.
By the time Mulgrew’s crass challenge, outpaced onto a straightforward but incisive through ball from a midfield runner – how many times has that happened at the other end lately? – gave Donny a cushion, the game was up.
I would have had Nyambe as my Rovers MOTM (with maybe 6/10 and nobody else above 5) personally but I’d remarked to Old Blackburnian beside me early on that I felt queasy anytime he and Raya were left in tandem and so it proved to be a route to complete bathos as the pair’s fatal hesitation offered the lively May a comic third to unleash the collective anger and derision of the crowd.
All Rovers can do to win back the faith is improve a great deal, which shouldn’t really be rocket science. I’m unconvinced by the argument that we will rise to the top because we have better players than everyone else, no-one knows that, but we certainly can’t be the bottom two material we have looked in the first 180 minutes of a long campaign.
It would be devastating not to pick up at least a point at Valley Parade on Saturday. It’s a long time, although in some ways it doesn’t seem it, since we went there. Their two years in the Prem coincided with our two out of it if I remember rightly.
Their top flight experience was fleeting but they have had Wembley finals and promotions to enjoy and with imaginative pricing they have an excellent home following and a good start behind them.
An unexpected away win has often been the catalyst for a Rovers revival in years past and with a decent following ourselves just over the dark side who will, as ever, faithfully and admirably support the team as if they’d won the last two, there must be at least something for them to drape hopes on.
Then on Wednesday it’s the game you either most dreaded or most desired when the Caraboa Cup draw was made.
I’m in the latter camp and can’t wait.
A decent pricing structure and absence of TV coverage should generate at least the impression of a big game and despite the bubble travel arrangements our cousins will bring a large contingent hoping to see them extend their recent upper hand in the exchanges.
If many Rovers have lost a little faith this fortnight, they can certainly be won back by this time next week. A result against Bradford and at the very least a dogged performance on Wednesday and the team will be just about in credit with the ever-forgiving football fan.
You know just what to do to make us happy,Tony and the boys!
BRFCS forum member riverholmes as kindly done written a preview for the upcoming match against Bradford City.
Bradford City vs. Blackburn Rovers
The season that Rovers were promoted to the Premier League from Division One, managed by Graeme Souness in 2000-01, was the season that Bradford City finished rock bottom in the Premier League, earning just five League wins all campaign. Rovers’ wilderness years in the second tier were behind and Bradford’s decline just beginning.
As the clubs swapped places, Rovers had the bright new stars in Duff, Dunn and Jansen, to be joined by the likes of Tugay, David Thompson and Brett Emerton, Bradford contemplated how to offload Beni Carbone, Ashley Ward and Robbie Blake.
That relegation season, Bradford waved goodbye to a remarkable run in the Intertoto Cup, reaching the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Zenit St Petersburg. Rovers, of course, were on the cusp of their own European adventures. 16 years later and a couple of league cup final appearances a piece (Bradford reached the final in 2013) and the two clubs meet in the Third Tier.
Rovers’ recent transfer activity has troubled me somewhat, reminding me of some of the more inauspicious moments in the Roy Hodgson/Brian Kidd/Souness era of transfer dealing marked by targetting so-called solid players (such as Christian Dailly) and players that the manager had previously worked with at some earlier point in their careers.
The scale now is very, very different but some of Mowbray’s major signings for the new season have been players he previously worked with or was connected to: Dominic Samuel (Coventry); Richie Smallwood (Middlesbrough); Harry Chapman (Middlesbrough). Bradley Dack’s best season was for Gillingham in this same division when Mowbray was managing Coventry and trying to sign Gladwin.
Dipping into the old boys’ network was a favourite policy of Graeme Souness. Sometimes it worked, such as in Bjornebye, Tugay and Friedel but it worries me when it becomes a trend, as it suggests that the manager is not examining all the options open to him and is, perhaps, acting hurriedly. Not knowing the market inside out can sometimes mean not know the players stepping out against your team.
I expect Dominic Samuel to do well at this level and Dack is a young, technically gifted player with pedigree at this level – and in the right team, will do well. To my mind Mowbray has overlooked some important areas of the pitch and has gone for too many average players.
In the close season, Mowbray needed to get in a fast, skilful wing-back/midfielder. Our promotion winning side under Souness was abound with attacking pace in Duff, Gillespie and Bent – combined with the skill that Duff possessed, allied with Dunn, Jansen and later in the season, Mahon, Hignett and Eyal Berkovic. The combination of pace and skill Rovers had meant that the lack of pace at the back in Craig Short, Berg and Tiny Taylor wasn’t so much of an issue. The defenders could drop deep, knowing that the attack would have the opposition pinned back. Not that we’re shopping for the calibre of those heady days any more.
At the back, this season, Rovers needed a decent, fast central defender, if the youngsters were not deemed ready. A quick defender would ease the pressure on Nyambe and cover Mulgrew. Lenihan could finally be pushed into defensive midfield which is his preferred position and the one in which, I think, he will eventually assume and go on to have a fine career in.
The letting go of players like Connor Mahoney (Bournemouth), Josh Morris (Scunthorpe) and, arguably, Jack O’Connell, seems short-sighted now – albeit, efforts were made a little too late to keep Mahoney. He could’ve been the outlet we so sorely lack – or could’ve earned us a tidy sum, if he’d been tied down to a longer contract back in the day when he was playing for the U21s alongside £1 million Jordan Slew.
Bradford are in decent form, barring a defeat to Doncaster in the Carabao Cup. Last season they got to the play-off final, only to lose to Millwall. In the summer, they lost some key players in that team in Mark Marshall (Charlton), Josh Cullen (Bolton), Roy McCardle (Scunthorpe) and James Meredith (Millwall).
However, they did sign a midfielder from AFC Wimbledon called Jake Reeves, who they are very hopeful about as a creator in their team. They also have experienced and technically decent players in Nicky Law (ex-Rangers), Tony McMahon (ex-Boro right back), and Romain Vincelot. Upfront, they have pace and power in Dominic Poleon (ex-Leeds) and Charlie Wyke, if he is fit, is a regular goalscorer for them.
Their manager Stuart McCall wasn’t ecstatic about the performance in beating Gillingham 1-0 but two league wins is a solid start and they have their French captain, Vincelot to come back into the team. If Rovers are to win, they’ll likely do so by exposing the dodgy form of keeper Colin Doyle and the defensive frailties in the side. Two familiar names in their squad are Matt Kilgallon, at centre back or left back and Paul Taylor, who’ll likely start on the bench.
I expect Bradford to nick a win. They’re not, I think, as strong as last year and their early wins mask a bit of an unsettled side. However, I think Rovers’ players, positionally, don’t really know what they’re doing – and I wonder about complacency with some. Bradley Dack, clearly, is the key attacking player. If Mowbray can find him a settled position in the side, he will lead the side – he can be our David Dunn of season 2000-01.
Welcome to Episode 82b of the BRFCS podcast. This is an unscheduled edition, rushed out due to ...er...popular (?) demand; well at least 4 of you asked.
Hosted by Ian Herbert, the panel has Josh Boswell, Linz Lewis making a return appearance and of course, our very own Kamy.
One fool thinks that the Burnley game is going to be OK, the rest are less sanguine, there is widespread confusion regarding formation & tactics and some discussion of great & some not so great starts to previous seasons...
We hope you enjoy it...!
Rovers have confirmed that Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson has signed from Leeds United on a season long loan deal.
The Swedish international moved to Leeds last summer for a reported £2 million fee.
Antonsson has signed in time to be available for the game against Doncaster Rovers tomorrow and Rovers have been given permission by Leeds to play in all the cup competitions that the club participates in this season.
There is also speculation that Rovers will sign Celtic midfielder Liam Henderson on a season long loan deal later today.