Blue Eyed Boy indisposed again this week so the man on the next seat, Riversider23, shares his thoughts
What a season this is turning out to be!
After a desperate start in August, followed by a long period of mediocrity and resignation, for about half an hour on Saturday the side was transformed, and the crowd was buzzing like it hasn’t been for years.
It’s important to remember that things are never quite as good or as bad as they seem but, if we could have held out for the 2-1 win, I think that many of us – perhaps foolishly – would have been putting thoughts of relegation behind us.
That’s how good that 30-minute spell was.
And so, in spite of the added-time disappointment, Mowbray’s tenure remains an unbeaten one, including what looked like a tough little run away at Norwich and Fulham and at home to Preston. Looking at the fixtures ahead, they all seem just a little less daunting now.
Preston had started strongly – competent and well-organised – and took the lead through Barkhuizen, who was put through after Nyambe missed an edge-of the-box header that he should have done better with. Steele, Nyambe and Mulgrew closed on Barkhuizen and looked like they had things covered but the ball flew high into the net off Steele. That familiar sinking feeling, going behind early on.
Slowly but surely, the Rovers clawed their way back into the game, and by the end of the first half looked the more likely to score.
When the goal came just before half-time it was from an unlikely source, with Elliott Bennett hitting his sweetest strike yet.
Just as surprising was that it had been Bennett who had started the fightback with some determined chasing and harrying, and a crunching tackle that created the kind of crowd response that Phil Jones memorably triggered in his marauding Premier League debut.
It was another collector’s item – this time, a goal from an otherwise desperate Conway in open play – that put us ahead after 53 minutes, but you have to wind back to the first half for the most memorable moment in a game of pleasant surprises.
And that was the sublime skill and confidence that Lucas Joao displayed for a few joyful seconds on the edge of the Preston box just before half-time – turning, shimmying, rolling the ball this way and that with the sole of his boot, all to the general bamboozlement of four or five defenders, some of whom ended up on their backsides more than once.
Joao had already started to impress with his overall play. My only previous sight of him had been his short substitute appearance against Cardiff, in which he looked distinctly dodgy. Hard to imagine how he then managed to get his three goals at Norwich and Fulham, coming on in both games just for the last half-hour. But on Saturday he looked a very good centre-forward – strong, mobile, intelligent, finding space, holding the ball up, good in the air, powerful shot. A man transformed. More the Portuguese international than the Sheffield Wednesday hand-me-on.
I’m sure this comes with match-sharpness, and I hope he’ll get even better with more time on the pitch. Sometimes it takes a few games for players to get properly up to pace, and to settle in to the side around them.
So, from around 43 minutes to around 75 minutes it was a joy to watch the Rovers play Preston off the park. And remember, they’re not a bad side at this level.
Then the substitutions changed the game completely.
We had been expecting Mahoney to appear and to bring an added touch of guile – this time to an already flying team – but, for the first time, he was ineffectual at best.
It was the introduction of Gallagher that made all the difference. Unfortunately, that Gallagher was our Paul, not “our” Sam. The local lad came on to warm and generous applause, that he returned with respect after the final whistle, and for the intervening 20 minutes he probed and prodded and picked holes in a tiring defence, and created the equaliser that robbed us of two crucial points.
On to the last 8 matches then, of which only 3 are at home, and it’s high time to start comparing the “run-in”s of our nearest competitors for safety. Rotherham are gone, and Wigan’s poor run and form has left them adrift too. I reckon there are then 6 others from whom we need to catch just one. The Tammy Abrahams effect at Bristol City produced a shock score for them against Huddersfield and will probably be enough to keep them up. Forest, Birmingham and Ipswich all seem to be limping to the season’s end – as were Wolves up until the last couple of games, when they’ve picked up surprisingly well. I suspect it will be Burton that we pass, though the most satisfying outcome might be to get one over on Wolves again…
Anyway, the atmosphere at Ewood has changed, and gone up another notch. In the end, Paul Gallagher’s impact was a harsh reminder that we’re still too vulnerable at the back when attacked by players with quality and nous, but – to offset that – there was a sustained period of such confidence and creativity and dominance that parts of the Enclosure were bouncing. Much more of it and there could even be congas on the Riverside.