In all my time watching football, other than in exceptional circumstances, I’ve never regarded a draw away from home as any kind of disaster, certainly not early in the season away to the unbeaten table-toppers, and Saturday’s at Shrewsbury followed by a highly impressive home win against Rotherham sets Rovers up for a near-perfect eight days’ work with the proviso that they uphold Tuesday’s standards and overcome managerless (at the time of writing) Gillingham.
I predicted on Twitter just ahead of last weekend that very few if any sides will win three in a week and that a return of seven points would almost certainly see our position strengthened.
As far as my calculations see it, only Southend United have taken maximum points from the first two rounds and it’s possible that Tony Mowbray’s side could nudge into an embryonic play-off spot by Saturday tea-time which should at least see the ditsiest of the weekly knee-jerk reaction mob pipe down for a week.
A lot of the most annoying twaddle spouted on social media and message boards is to do with the fact that the modern fan, aided and abetted by football institutions and their broadcasting partners, is conditioned unto a memory span sufficiently short to make the average goldfish look like the font of all wisdom.
At times, Mowbray’s selections have looked as if they were in response to popular opinion, even if they almost certainly weren’t Scrap three at the back. Drop Graham. Drop Whitingham. Play Antonsson. Antonsson’s rubbish, recall Graham. Drop Graham again. Drop Ward. Start with Chapman.
I’m sure most of the time he sees what we think we see with rather more expert eyes. And the signs in the final phase at The New Meadow and from the first whistle back at Ewood were that he might be onto something.
Tuesday’s victory con brio had even the most cautiously-inclined of supporters like myself purring with approval. From the very off, Rovers moved the ball, and, crucially, themselves around the field in such sparklingly purposeful fashion that a stultefyingly mediocre Rotherham clearly couldn’t cope.
Having narrowly missed out on several early opportunities it could have been one of those irritating halves which ends in frustration but we kept at it and got our noses in front with the kind of simple set piece goal which looks simple precisely because it’s been practiced to death on the training ground and featured the class delivery of a very fine footballer coupled with an intelligent late near-post dart.
It was just reward for the team and for Marcus Antonnson, inexplicably and mercilessly maligned since his debut by those who see a couple of indifferent displays here and there as reason to vent spleen and fulfilment of their prophecies based on A - how “He couldn’t get in Leeds team; B - What “my mate who’s a keen Leeds fan says” and C - What fans of his former club say on their forum. (See also Paul Downing, composed and assured against Rotherham, written off by a good number as a bad signing five minutes after his deadline day capture).
It’s a strange way of greeting and encouraging new players. On most of those bases, we’d never have signed Graeme Le Saux or Ian Pearce and goodness knows what the reaction to taking unemployed Tony Gale on as he prepared for a career in non-league would have been.
I’m sure Brentford, Brighton and Bournemouth fans were grateful for our verdicts on Alan Judge, Shane Duffy and Josh King but it is possible for a bloke to become an altogether different player wearing one shirt than he looked in another and my starting point is that anyone pulling ours on starts afresh despite his past.
Having hit the woodwork a couple of times and had all and sundry other close calls everyone was a little disappointed we didn’t get the second we deserved before the interval as we all know the nature of a game can change subtly for no real reason after the break and so it proved.
For a spell in the second half, Rovers managed to make hanging onto the slender lead harder work than it ought to have been but Rotherham’s inability to really threaten other than one uncomfortable moment when we were thankful a ref’s assistant spotted an offence not immediately apparent, made it a bit of a mystery how they arrived as league top scorers having banged a few fives and fours in.
Quite how the number 24, Moore, one of those awkward long fellows who seem curiously unable to jump despite their height, is joint top scorer in the division was not immediately apparent, and while they enjoyed considerable possession Rovers eventually regained their metier and of course still had the boss card to play.
I’m in the minority in believing that Mowbray has got his handling of Harry Chapman bang on. I said to my companions early on that if we continued to stretch their back four as the two strikers and Bennett were doing early doors he would have a field day if introduced after an hour, and while their foothold back in the game meant his entry was slightly delayed and less of a banker, again he added a fresh irrepressible dimension against tiring defenders.
He will inevitably enthrall and infuriate in equal measure, as demonstrated by his fine goal and a mild, forgivable aberration moments later, both borne out of the incalculable Gazza-like self-belief plus eagerness to be star turn.
That second goal was much-needed and someone who loves individualists as much as I do isn’t complaining about the tendency towards greediness which deprived us of the added sheen of a third when that same effervescence drove the loanee to attempt a second shot and score rather than cross when his first effort was blocked. The celebration made me feel very old!
There will be a time for him to start games but on this I actually trust Mowbray who sees him train each day and may be a better judge than you or I how long he can impact upon a game for.
Whatever, it was great to see motion, skill and fluidity from most quarters both before and after the changes from the bench.
At times it was almost like watching the Under-23s, irresistible again in thrashing Fulham’s kids 4-0 at Leyland on Monday. Damien and Dunny have really stamped a style on that team and the seniors will have to continue to play as well as they did on Tuesday to hold them at bay. Do get along to see them if you can sort a Monday night out or maybe catch a couple playing against Bury in the Checkatrade on Tuesday.
But perhaps, as we approach the 10-game mark, Mowbray has finally, whether by design or accident, hit upon a cohesive configuration to make a meaningful impression on League One with his nominated more experienced squad despite some bizarre ramblings last week about some of the signings.
We hadn’t played well enough early on to imagine a scenario where bringing a player such as Whittingham on as sub could be other than folly but even he has been gently re-integrated and, coming on for a team already bossing the game, with space opening up, he could be as influential in his more measured, less explosive way as Chapman.
Dack, who I don’t think we’ve seen the best of yet, is key and there are signs that he is growing into the role most of us imagined as a link between a front one or three and the midfield.
A little more sharpness and he will certainly provide a fulcrum and add to his first Rovers goal at Shrewsbury. He, the tireless hard-running pair Samuel and Antonnson and Whittingham all ought to have emphasised Rovers’ superiority against Rotherham.
It certainly nips firmly in the bud any daft notions of changing manager unnecessarily at this early stage of the season, although those whose powers of recall extend no further than the last 90 or even 45 minutes they have seen (or in many cases not actually seen at all) would undoubtedly be swayed as easily as the bloke in the pub on the Fast Show if we were to slip up on Saturday.
But my guess is that we will get more of the same against a side which looks set to have Peter Taylor, once linked with our hot seat, in charge. Like many visitors to Ewood this season they will undoubtedly come to park the bus for a point but we are beginning to look as if we have the personnel and wherewithal to combat that.
After 10 games, heading into an international break, we won’t really be that much nearer knowing whether we’re promotion material than we were when the boys ran out at Southend.
But six wins out of ten sounds so much better than five out of ten and for our five league games in October we don’t have to set foot outside the old Lancashire boundaries (it would have been six had the Blackpool trip not been put back to after the illuminations!). Four derbies and a Saturday game at home to Pompey who may bring a few should ramp up the intensity and provide an edge to the atmosphere missing against the likes of MK Dons and Wimbledon.
Throw in a home Tuesday against currently-bottom Plymouth and I can’t wait for it to unfold.
Meanwhile, same again Saturday please.
Edited by Kamy100