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    Blue Eyed Boy Column: No hard promises but Rovers learning to fly


    Our Rovers reflections this week come from Riversider23, who you can follow on Twitter on @MarkMark37m   

    Ten games in, and we’re in a play-off position with a game in hand. Early days, but well-placed.

    There will be stumbles on the road to promotion – like the Wimbledon game, for example – but the signs are becoming much more positive and hopeful.

    Having said that, the last 20 minutes of the laboured win against Gillingham put a serious dent in my growing confidence that automatic promotion could be a realistic target.

    On a high after an enjoyable performance the previous Tuesday, we could see the makings of a strong team and a bright future.

    Samuel, Antonsson, Dack, Smallwood, Downing and Chapman were all impressive and good to watch.

    Add Lenihan and he will strengthen the defence one way or another.

    On the evidence of the pre-season games and the Checkatrades against Stoke and Bury, there are several youngsters – including Nuttall, Platt, Travis and Doyle – who should prove to be improvements to the first team squad. I’m sure there are others too – like Mols and Hart and Harper – that I haven’t seen enough of yet.

    Throw all those in the mix along with the odd January addition and there’s a risk of getting carried away.

    We could even get back to competing with the big boys, mid-table in the Championship…

    But less of the dreaming, and back to earth and Gillingham.

    Mowbray’s selection of Whittingham ahead of Evans was interesting. I guess the logic was that with Gillingham sitting right back, Whittingham’s eye for a slick and penetrative pass would be more useful than the extra security that Evans can bring.

    Would Whittingham take the opportunity to leave his anonymity behind and blossom into a Berkovic?

    It looked possible but, as the game wore on, he drifted more and more into the half-hearted stroll that suggests he doesn’t really like hard work.

    Smallwood had been magnificent on the Tuesday – tackling with bite, using the ball quickly and effectively, and giving a master-class in “tidying-up” not seen since Savage. He’s a joy to watch, and the passionate beating heart of this team.

    But even he seemed affected by having Whittingham alongside him and, as experiments go, I’m not sure it’s worth repeating.

    As it turned out, Gillingham did offer very little threat. A rigid and retreating 4-1-4-1 left the Rovers with plenty of possession and, with better crossing than Williams or Bennett could provide, they should have created many more chances than they did.

    The brightest spark was Dack – always available, finding space between the Gillingham lines and looking to move forward. With his head down a bit too much, and the ball getting stuck between his feet, he isn’t yet – as Mowbray might say – quite the finished article. He is though, along with Chapman, the player most likely to create danger for opposing defences.

    There’s a suggestion that Dack isn’t properly up to match-speed/fitness, and that can be the only reason for his removal after 60 minutes. From that point on, it was downhill as the cohesion of the team suffered from the loss of his industry, and the level of possession plummeted.

    On balance, the players who have arrived under Mowbray’s tenure suggest he’s not a bad judge of ability – but his selections and substitutions have been less confidence-inspiring.

    Replacing Dack, Samuel and Antonsson with Chapman, Graham and Gladwin left us significantly weaker – offensively and defensively – and what should have been a comfortable victory became decidedly edgy.

    Chapman is an exciting talent, oozing confidence and eminently watchable, but he gave Williams no protection at all – and, unfortunately, Williams needs plenty of support.

    Gladwin isn’t up to speed and, judging by previous performances, the quality of his touch and some silky skills are undermined by a distinct lack of consistency and sharpness of movement.

    As for Graham, the less said the better.

    We won’t get off so lightly against better sides.

    Fortunately, we haven’t seen anything yet to cause much concern about the competition.

    In the championship, we were brought up short every now and again when, for example, Huddersfield or Derby produced performances at Ewood that painfully demonstrated a gulf in quality and organisation and effort.

    This season, it would be good if it was us having that impact on others.

    Still plenty of work to do, though.

    Surprisingly, our record of goals against is currently one of the best in the division, and young Raya has to be given a chunk of credit for that. Still liable to make the odd howler, and sometimes uncertain under high balls, he also made two outstanding saves – in the first half when 3 Gillingham players bore down on him and a goal seemed inevitable, and then late in the game low down from close range.

    So, it’s into the international break, and then away to the rejuvenated Oldham.

    Fingers crossed.


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