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.