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.”