You want it darker? Relegation would ruin Rovers revival prospects

“There’s a mighty judgement coming…
But I might be wrong….”
(Leonard Cohen, “Tower Of Song”)
Walter Zenga wasn’t the greatest choice as coach for Wolves but he must consider himself the unluckiest of the managers to depart Championship clubs this season.
Another five days and the Italia 90 hero picked out as the “sexiest member of the squad” by a visiting Madonna during that tournament (I’d blagged my way into that press conference) would, though time has been less than kind on his beauty as is the way for many of us, have got to take his team to Ewood to face an intensely vulnerable  team which has still managed just one clean sheet all season.
There seems likely to be one familiar face in the Black Country side’s dug-out with Scott Sellars, a reminder that there was life in the club even before the Jack Walker glory years, assisting caretaker Rob Edwards if no permanent appointment takes place.
On a weekend charged with distractions – I’m almost glad to be missing the game on holiday (Cue panto audience cries of: “BOOOO- Not a proper fan,then” from keyboard hard cases) – one fears that any loss of home points could see us dead in the water as far as the prospects of avoiding relegation are concerned.
The late but seemingly inevitable capitulation to the doziest of goals at Ashton Gate where there had otherwise been little to distinguish between teams in seventh and fourth-bottom slots respectively, was entirely typical of a team and manager accumulating hard luck stories and what-shoulda-been calculations but not, crucially, points.
It is ridiculously early for a quarter of the managers in the division to have been sacked before a third of games are completed but if, as expected, Philippe Montanier of Forest is also due to get his P45 any day, that would leave Owen Coyle’s Rovers as the only club in the bottom seven places not yet to have made a change.
That could become unique among the bottom nine if Mick McCarthy, one of the early tips for the Molineux vacancy, makes that particular move from Ipswich.
Wigan, too, called time on their man hours after Zenga got the bullet.
With guys such as Nigel Pearson, Dougie Freedman, Paul Lambert and even, yes, Sam Allardyce out of work (how ironic, if unlikely, if either of that last pair were to be in the opposition dug-out on Saturday), not to mention hard-nosed Billy Davies who may yet re-emerge, somebody is going to give themselves an even-money shot at improving.
There are no guarantees that swapping one manager for another pays dividends – look at Derby or Villa’s early results – but with each passing week it looks increasingly unlikely that Coyle can shape this squad into a unit capable of achieving sufficient results to survive in this division.
If Wigan, Derby and Wolves ascend then obviously someone will drop into the mix – Ipswich. Burton and Barnsley possibly – but already there are signs that Rotherham, despite themselves bringing in an experienced head, could be stranded with us for company.
Injuries are piling up (I’ll take the fifth on the one-man food poisoning outbreak other than to say we’ve got precisely what I expected from a bloke who turned up to sign looking like he’d come straight from a night out at Tokyo Joe’s such as Kevin Davies and Omar Kounde might have enjoyed) and with trips to Villa Park, Newcastle and Deepdale to come soon, the next two home games are of paramount survival importance. Anything less than six points from Wolves and Brentford at Ewood and we are likely to be stranded by Christmas.
For that reason alone, my ultimate respect to the people who’ve ignored calls to join what I consider a crass, ill-timed, buffoonishly-organised and plain embarrassing protest this Saturday and will concentrate, however unrewarding it might be currently, however much derision it brings, on backing the team.
To see two of BRAG’s finest discussing on Twitter the acquisition of air-horns three days before the game – whistles and rubber toys also a high priority it seems – reminded me of the young mums at my daughter’s old toddler groups discussing what to put in Party Bags for birthday parties at a local soft play centre.
Another leading light of Protests-And-Fanciful-Tales-R-Us claimed that the notion that the game was a 6-pointer was peripheral as one or two decent results had been achieved on Kean-era days when folks vented their displeasure by, err, walking from a pub to the ground with banners and shouting things.
While pondering that it was that particular action, not the excellence of Yakubu and co, which so discomfited Arsene’s Wenger’s defensive plans, I ruminated that it was a bit like the Parish priest beginning his sermon by telling the assembled that because he prayed that Rovers would win, and Rovers won, therefore the Almighty had answered his prayers.
I talk and socialise with a lorra, lorra Rovers supporters but I don’t actually know or go to the game with  anyone who is carrying out the 18-75 thing so I can’t really comment on the mindset.  ( “BOOO — Not proper fans,then”)
But for people to bang on about anyone not joining in “not caring about the future of the club” is plainly bonkers.
All the many fans I occasionally go away with, go in the pub before with, meet at the ground and see around where I live (parents of quite a good number of Rovers shirts in our Preston school on non uniform days) care deeply and passionately about the club and express it in their own way.
I freely admit I haven’t really pondered at length whether there’ll be a club for my kids/grandkids to support. I’ve got more pressing health concerns of my own than to over-theorise about Rovers and, yes, I’m more concerned whether my kids will be provided for and whether there’ll be a funded, functioning NHS to look after or employ them, education, jobs, affordable houses …our kids are bright and lively-minded and I’m sure capable of deciding what and how they spend their leisure time doing . (“BOOOO-  Not a proper fan,then”)
I can’t see them ever not supporting Rovers. Even their mum was a home-and-away fan back in the day, I met her on a coach to Exeter in 1980! she’s only just relaxed a ban on Hollands Pies in the house because they sponsored Burnley and frowns if I bring Moorhouses Beer in.
Rovers is still, to me, what I do for recreation, enjoyment, pleasure, however hard or unappealing a spectacle it is sometimes or however unpalatable people find it that I can prioritise the elements of life in such an order.
I’m not these days a very vociferous fan at the ground – I hardly ever sing (voice cracks horribly after two bars as I found fronting teenage bands), seldom even shout much but enjoy the day out in my own way.  (“BOOO-  Not a proper fan, then”)
One of the more outlandish forum fools questioned my credentials as a fan because a previous column revealed that I had the absolute gall to sit there having a conversation unrelated to football ahead of kick-off time.  Really, I ought not to be allowed within a mile of the place.
The small-mindedness of many of those putting down the very fans who, yes, almost certainly will, sin of sins,  still be there when we’ve 4,000 on, is the very attitude which puts many of us off.
Whether your priority is persuading Venkys to leave (and be succeeded by whom is the £120m question?) or turning up because that’s what you enjoy doing in your leisure time, I insist that quite what division we are in next season is still crucial.
This is a club presently and for the immediate future committed to paying average Championship players a total sum of around a million pounds a month in wages at a conservative estimate.
Anyone looking to buy such an institution has to come up with that sum one month, the next month, the month after that and so on unless we accept that we start again from the bottom with even less gifted cut-price  frees and lower-division wages.
Whatever fantasies people have about a mythical boycotting 12,000 who would return en masse immediately if  Venkys left (the former an unlikely prospect I would wager), the third and fourth divisions are cruel and humiliating places to subsist unless you’re immediately successful.
I realise there will be a storm of outraged anguish from foam-mouthed internet forum miserabilist martyrs who like nothing more than to proclaim that they are “more committed fans” (some of them certainly ought to be) because they “care more about Jack’s legacy” and scoff at anyone over the age of 25 having the temerity to base an opinion on experience, I can assure you that being a dire Third Tier side is an even less appealing a prospect than being a dire Second Tier side.
True, the stadia will have improved since the Spotlands and Roots Halls and Layer Roads of the past  but I’d much prefer to remain, as we have for 136 out of 141 years of existence, what used to be known as “Full Members of the Football League,” a status you surrendered outside the top two divisions.
For that reason my only concern on Saturday as I hopefully watch the game in a Spanish bar, is that we win it, not what kind of a front our fans present to the world, which pretty much knows by now that our owners are crap and we dislike them.
Venkys anyway, it seems, are as ever  the slowest kids in the class to catch on, almost as damning a trait as their  over-eagerness to sign up for football’s equivalent of dodgy time-share or pyramid schemes in the early months of their tenure.
But whistles and rubber toys and generally idiotic behaviour – don’t tell me I haven’t seen exhortations for pitch invasions – won’t make them sell up. A new coach might help us stay up.
That’s priority number one for me.
Third division status might make them consider exit strategy it but who will be buying?
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Bada Bing! Sam’s a made guy as Rovers see to business

“Just when I thought I was out….dey pulled me back in!”

(E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt as Sylvio Dante  in the Sopranos with his Pacino/Michael Corleone impression).

This thing of ours eh?

I’ll come clean.

After waking up with the usual and sometimes puzzlingly inexplicable matchday spring in my step on Tuesday morning, the day wore me down.

After starting out wishing the hours away till match time, a  couple of absolute soakings in the line of duty before clocking off had lowered my enthusiasm level for another fun night at Ewood from 100% raring to go early in the day to somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent at tea-time.

I’m not great health-wise and don’t drive these days and I’ll be honest, if my step-daughter had come home from work (she’s just beginning her career with long days in a hospital 20-odd miles away from where we live) and said, look, I really don’t feel like a quick change round after driving home in the rain and setting off again, I’d have quite understood.

I’d maybe have called on my pal for me and daughter number two a lift but I’m not completely denying the fact that I might have even opted to cut losses for once with energy at a low and watch the goals fly in on TV with a glass of red as the heavy rain fell outside.

One can barely imagine coming off Ewood more stupefied by the torpor of a performance than that against Ipswich on Saturday and the appeal of another 90 minutes of the same was diminishing exponentially.

But, trooper that she is, our Mills was into her “32 Conway” shirt, as quick as her mum could wrap a sandwich up to take to the game, little sister was up for it and, thus galvanised by their enthusiasm, the three of us dutifully set out.

As downtrodden as we felt following the fortuitous point we took off the resilient Tractor Boys, whose failure to capitalise on their superiority was largely down to relying on two of our goal-shy rejects to score, we skipped into the Tuesday night drizzle elated as Owen Coyle’s side for once pretty fully lived up to their manager’s sometimes daft and certainly much-derided pre-match talk.

As well as Coyle’s often infuriating posi-jabber, even poor Jason Steele, quite routinely nominated for press duty (believe me, nobody volunteers for it) on account of being one of the few to emerge from the Ipswich game in credit,  came in for stick for daring to suggest the rare clean sheet was indicative that we were “heading in the right direction.”

Of course I thought it was a load of bollocks too but for goodness sake what do you expect the lad to say: “We’re clearly not good enough and canon fodder for superior visiting teams  and we’ll more than likely lose on Tuesday”?

Of course no-one over the age of 14 should take anything a footballer or manager says at face value and like most of the message board cognoscenti I fully expected a whupping despite Forest’s weary away record.

But if there’s one thing as good or arguably even better than a comfortable win, it’s the narrowest of wins after a tumultuous end to a game which sees your opponents lose their rag and have one sent off (who had just escaped second and third bookings for a) a dive and b) blatant dissent worthy of Nick Kyrigios) while another makes a berk of himself by going down pole-axed to feign injury then springs up and decides to have a fight with the bloke who never initially touched him when the ref susses his deceit out. Chaos! Disorder in the house! We love it! That perked me up alright.

How on earth did Mills not go? (In fairness he could probably have sent Gallagher off for his part quite justifiably too).

But hold out we did, leaving only peripheral mysteries of the night unexplained, such as why was the Forest coach standing in for banned Philip Montanier on the touchline wearing  a pair of sun-glasses atop his head all night after darkness had fallen and a biblical deluge poured down?

Forest are nowhere near as good as their coaching staff obviously believe them to be sending them out to play so expansively and without recourse to pressing/closing down away from home.

No-one typified that more than Henri Lansbury, whose hairdo screams: “Look at me, Bale, Zlatan, Becks, I’m one of them, in that class, me.”

Coveted by Burnley, he looked a bit of a wash-out to me, deeper and deeper as the evening wore on and ending up picking the ball up at the edge of his own penalty area but creating and prompting nothing of significance. Beckenbaur-esque pitch-map wise maybe, but only when Der Kaiser was 53 and playing in the odd charity game.

Forest had plenty of efforts but many of them were powder puff or denied by brave blocks, reminiscent of those wins against PNE, Boro and Birmingham last season.

Sometimes a red mark on the thigh or shin from blocking a goalbound effort can be as significant a contribution at 2-0 as a  third goal and the back four is beginning to look a thing of some recognisable shape and form.

To compound our joy after, an enraged car full of corporate Forest fans who’d clearly left early to make an instant getaway were hurling profanities into the night sky as Bolton Road remained blocked off to foil their plans until every last spectator was safely across to the far side.

The power of football to punch you in the gut one minute then lift you stratospherically to ridiculously ecstatic highs next eh?

In the cold, moon-bathed light of the morning after our myriad long-term problems of course remain and we could even be back in the bottom three when you read this.

We certainly could be on Saturday if we don’t shape ourselves against a very much-improved Bristol City.

But, after deriding Coyle’s “Fortress Ewood” talk last week it would be remiss of me not to point out that we have in fact taken points from four of the last five at home.

I said last week four points was minimum from two home games but look at the Championship results overall and only Newcastle (and possibly any winner of Sheffield Wednesday v  Cardiff) will have taken six out of six from the pair of fixtures.

Four other sides had back-to-back home games and none of them won both. It’s surprising how few teams ever do.

There was certainly much encouragement from the Forest game. True, they are a side who seem to think they’re a little bit more fluent and dangerous than they actually are and unlike several visitors this campaign they allowed us to pass it and move them about a bit from the off.

Gallagher was as much a handful as he was anonymous three days earlier and both his goals were a result of smart, slick decision-making on a surface which encouraged attempting the bold and invoked the inevitable defensive mistakes. Nobody would have begrudged a penalty apiece on the night.

Emnes too was much improved from Saturday and though his goals have temporarily dried up he was industrious and enough of a handful for his partner to benefit greatly.

Those who heavily criticised the decision to restore Lowe to right back have a point but he did nothing calamitous defensively and freed  Marshall – who picked up a tweak in the warm-up and received intensive treatment, I’m told – to create, unburdened by defensive priorities.

This he did with a smart first-time knock for the opener which Gallagher latched onto brilliantly and finished cleverly.

We do look to have fitness issues – Evans and Guthrie were on their knees towards the end for whatever reason, injury, lack of sharpness or maybe injuries-caused-by-lack-of-sharpness! You won’t get away with that level of exhaustion in the engine room every time.

But balancing that, what a joy to see, when legs were relatively fresh,  a goal fashioned via a crisp through ball from one midfielder to another ACTUALLY IN THE PENALTY AREA with causing mayhem aforethought! A collectors’ item which we all hope becomes less of a scarce commodity in weeks to come.

The finish was simpler, but I like centre-forwards who are in positions to round off moves with simple finishes; though they look like “gimmes,” remind yourself how many Chris Brown helped himself to in two seasons.

A second clean sheet would have been nice, and possibly more deserved than the previous one, but Lenihan has done well in his game and a half standing in for Greer until he failed to put his name on the long throw and if Steele has an odd mistake in him, getting it out of his system when it does us no ultimate harm points-wise is the time to do it.

But a win’s a win and nothing beats coming off Ewood deliriously happy, especially when it’s been an effort to get there and at least part of you questioned whether it was worth it!

It does make me question why anyone would conceive a protest involving missing two big and potentially crucial chunks of a potentially very important next home match when the visitors will be backed throughout by a large and vocal following.

I’ve never had a  conversation with “Birdy” but he seems the most loyal of supporters – goodness me, he and a handful of others turn up at places like Crawley on Monday night to watch the Under-21’s, one can only wonder and admire at that level of dedication to the cause.

Although I know I’ll get a tirade of invective chucked at me for suggesting so, do call it off, mate – would you really want to miss a last 15 minutes as gripping as we’ve had in our two home wins thus far? Fancy losing your 100 per cent record of seeing every game and goal for decades for a half-assed bit of posturing which is going to affect and change nothing/nobody.

I must have had about 20-30 people on my modest Twitter following last week suggesting that they might not attend the Wolves match on account of the potential shenanigans or won’t take their kids/grandkids.

The advice to those people – I’m not one of them, me and the youngest are away on holiday for the Wolves game but if I wasn’t, me and the girls would be in our seats 0-90 (have you seen the back of the Riverside?)  – is “Well, they should be educating their kids about our plight.”

These are kids aged 10,9,8,7,6 we’re on about. Do we really sit down and indoctrinate them, Ripping Yarns “Barnstoneworth United” style?

I found out a lot about Rovers history by reading up and asking my family questions but I was a bit geeky to be honest. Most kids in that age bracket – and I work daily with a bunch – are more interested in Match Attax cards than the traditions their dads or mums are proud to be a part of.

My 12 year old knows who owns us and knows that Venkys are a complete waste of time and space, but I would no more involve her in historical lectures and protests than I would tell her what music she ought to be listening to.

Venkys will go when they decide, not when anyone paints a wall or chucks a few toys on the field.

We all hope it’s soon provided something sustainable comes along as an alternative to replace them.

When it happens, nobody will be grading fans to be admitted or not admitted on the basis of whether they were vehement active boycotters/protestors or passive “what-will-be-will-be” spectators who continued to need their football fix.

Whoever wants to go will go and whoever doesn’t won’t.

One thing Tuesday night taught me was I’d far sooner fall out with Burnley following folk than fellow Roverites (see my @jimwilkz Twitter timeline for the full drunken horror).

In the words of Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross’s song written after the Scottish Independence Referendum: “We’ll All Get Along Just Fine.”

When did we ever refuse an accommodation?



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Belt up, Owen – Fortress talk foolish till wins and points stack up

There are a number of clichés which no self-respecting football writer should ever allow himself to be drawn into utilising.

Some are forgivable in odd cases but more often than not plain inaccurate (anyone who has played 25 games for your club being described as “a legend” – see Michel Salgado for a case in point) while others become such woolly, nebulous concepts – the “box-to-box midfielder” or the “90-minute player” that repeated use renders them largely meaningless. All midfielders are box-to-box, there is no-one playing football who can’t actually run 60 yards, the best ones just turn up in either box at precisely the right time on a consistent basis.

While hackneyed epithets for such mythical beasts as the False Nine and the Ball-Playing Libero are one thing, there is, however, no more rash or foolhardy, almost certain prelude-to-disaster expression than that which sees fans, managers or players describe their home ground as “Fortress this-or-that.”

It is understandable that football folk value the importance of being strong and hard-to-beat on their own midden but to describe your stadium thus is tempting fate even after an actual good run which partly justifies such hyperbole, as we at Ewood found last season when a run of four consecutive wins for Paul Lambert’s side was precisely so heralded – only for us to lose the subsequent three, draw the fourth and finish the season with the first win in five at home, a ratio which has continued into the current season.

To do so on the back of a such sequence of incompetence and meek vulnerability is bullshit.

Those of you adept in mathematics will have worked out that that’s two wins in the last 10 home games, hardly suggesting that even with a favourable portion of matches at our gaff to come that the place is about to assume the monolithic status of some kind of inpenetrable citadel.

But Owen Coyle is a man with almost a Keanesque capacity for blarney-stone bluster, quite fitting for a man whose given middle name is after (Saint) Columba, an Irish monk who spread Christianity to the masses through powerful oratory.

The Great Beyond lies unknown still but one hopes for the faithful that Columba’s dark ages preachings had a less tenuous link with reality than the worst of Coyle’s rambling rubbish in an increasingly ominous period in our club’s history.

There’s no such thing as Fortress Ewood until the wins and points stack up and both Coyle and those journalists who even allowed the sub-editors to consider headlines built around this staggeringly inappropriate use of the most vacuous of phrases need to give their heads a wobble.

True, on paper home games against Ipswich and Forest in the next few days represent an opportunity to gather some momentum against two more sides barely firing on half cylinders themselves at this stage, but my heart sank even when reading that Mick McCarthy’s side hadn’t scored for four games and that the decidedly contrasting no-nonsense Tractor Boys ‘ boss described the current run as one of the most difficult of his career.

If a little leprechaun was to appear on his shoulder and asked who he fancied playing to end such a sequence, I wonder who he’d choose…..(answers on a postcard please)?

With a strike force available to Big Mick of Leon Best, Luke Varney and Tom Lawrence one can only shudder and imagine just how the scoreless run might end and fear the worst.

Also in the Town side will be Jonathan Douglas, another of those players who couldn’t get beyond an odd League Cup appearance a decade or so ago.

Like so many now plying their trade elsewhere he would probably walk into our current side.

While firing blanks themselves Ipswich don’t concede many either and three clean sheets in their last five hint at some degree of resilience and organisation despite the disappointing points haul.

Forest too have struggled and are without a win in seven league and cup games since August. They do score in most games – only Arsenal have prevented them doing so during that sequence – but like ourselves they have conceded in every game in every competition this season, letting in 30 in 14 games.

If we really do have an impressive array of firepower now and a constant tangible attacking threat, and I’m far from convinced, it’s now or never as far as the proof of the pudding goes.

The time for consoling ourselves with how many points we could have-should have had or how many we deserved is gone now, anything less than four points from these two represents at least one more crushing failure and Coyle’s chirpy silly talk will be wearing thinner than the ice he should already be skating on if only anyone was empowered to make practical footballing decisions.

It was heartening to see young Samuelsen score for Norway, even against tiddlers San Marino (“With 65 minutes gone, Scotland are basically drawing nil nil against the top of a mountain,”  said a Caledonian commentator on one memorable occasion).

Quite predictably and understandably reports in the Nordic press have suggested that he’s already becoming disillusioned at Ewood, as well you might if you were below Liam Feeney in the manager’s estimation, and looking to cut short his stay here.

Hopefully we’ll get a look at him over the next seven days, possibly along with another butcher’s at Stokes, another whose Ewood career hasn’t got going yet, particularly if attackers Graham and Emnes are carrying knocks over.

After these games comes a run of matches against sides currently in the top half or likely to be shortly, as I still fancy Villa will climb the table with their expensive collection of summer signings under the tutelage of serial championship success Steve Bruce.

If we don’t collect the better part of these six points I truly believe the relegation game will be almost up by the time we go to Deepdale on the second Saturday in December.

Coyle clinging to the completely unlikely notion that Venkys will release funds they have thus far shown no inclination to part with if we we were somehow to climb the table by January seems as romantic a concept as his patron saint pitching up on Iona to convert the masses, only with about a one per cent chance of proving as successful.

If this shapeless, undefended apology of a  season is to assume any kind of recognisable structured form the foundations need laying this week.

Let’s hope the turrets aren’t unmanned and the drawbridge and main gates of the largely fabled Fortress Ewood aren’t left invitingly open and unattended as so often in the recent past.


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Wallflowers to pick from now as serial saviour Warnock goes west

While another inevitable and dispiriting defeat cast Ewood into gloom for another fallow fortnight of interminable and tedious international tripe, I have at least one amusing anecdote with which to regale the disheartened Blue and hopefully lift your sagging spirits.

My intrepid and dear pal Woody from Preston, who I first met long ago on foreign Rovers pre-season travels, alighted from his early train at Birmingham New St at 9am on Saturday morning, fully six hours before kick-off at St Andrews.

It’s not uncommon for Woody to set off early in pursuit of a very full day’s Bacchanalian pleasures – one day in July I was about to board a London train and there he was at Preston station bound for our friendly at Bloomfield Rd. It was half past eight in the morning.

On this occasion however he met his erstwhile pal Jock for breakfast in the ‘Spoons as is de rigeur for your unreconstructed millennial new-men, none of your metrosexual manbag chic for these lads, and Spalding Jock, another exotic character many of you will have encountered on your sojourns,  explained to his eager partner-in-crime for the day that his knowledge of a labyrinthine network of real ale havens en route to second-city football venues was second-to-none.

So it proved, as Jock’s encyclopedic recall of craft ale meccas led to our increasingly tipsy heroes negotiating their way for hours along a beery route only a veteran of many football days out in Brum could have plotted.

Emerging from what they planned to be the final hostelry of their relay at around ten to three, they narrowed their eyes in the sun as you do when emerging refreshed from licenced premises and, congratulating themselves on the thus-far perfect ale trail, headed for the unmistakeable husk of a stadium in the near-distance.

Alas, on approach they identified only too clearly the giveaway claret and blue paintwork and, on closer inspection, the unquestionable soubriquet “Aston Villa Football Club.” Jock had clearly memorised the hoppy passageway of pleasure from previous experience but unfortunately had gotten his actual grounds mixed up.

Not really full-on men of the internet age, and with Birmingham traffic at a grid-locked standstill  they opted against fumbling with maps on their phones or a taxi and walked back to New Street to re-gather their bearings and begin their walk to St Andrews anew, finally arriving at 3.35pm.

It’s almost a perfect metaphor for Rovers season in some ways. Having been behind at some stage in practically every game, usually conceding in the first half, it could be said that the jolly pair of errant beer hunters still got in before the point when their team habitually gets going.

From most accounts however, Saturday was a little different in that we competed for the first 45 minutes then fell away after Gleeson’s goal around the hour mark.

As if to illustrate Coyle’s ineptitude, four days after Sheffield Wednesday gave us the perfect demonstration of marking the opposition danger man out of the game,Birmingham’s winner was set up by the lively Cotterill, whose performance had simply cried out to that point for an extra man to be deployed on him.

The manager’s lack of ability to fine-tune tactics during the course of a game has become such a constant theme among Ewood coaches that you wonder if it’s actually specified in the contract that you make no attempt to alter even a failing system during a game.

No-one can legislate for injuries which occur during a game but they are occurring with worrying regularity for Graham and Evans and Coyle’s lack of imagination or innovation when a goal is desperately needed was again highlighted by his reluctance to bring on Samuelsen, opting instead for the workmanlike Bennett.

Coyle went into the game having achieved the seemingly impossible task of coming off a fans’ consultation  meeting (whatever one of them is) with the supporters complimenting him for speaking well and answering what he was asked (and sometimes what others who seemed strangely reluctant to answer were asked) straightforwardly and with honest enthusiasm.

Given that his fellow panellists included the previously-invisible but perennially abrasive and defensive Robert Coar, the flustered and floundering, largely irrelevant (certainly on the night) Mike Cheston with his unnecessary,  risible middle-management power point projection and a  couple of mute club flunkeys, Coyle’s fellow contenders weren’t designed to give him much of a run for his money, or indeed to actually say anything at all if the motormouth manager was prepared to leap in with his stream-of-consciousness manager-speak psychobabble and save them the bother.

When former chairman Coar did speak, it eventually made for an excruciating listen as BRAG members, not exactly covering themselves in glory on the night or with amateurish statements since, angry-mob pressured him about his role and whether he could be proud of his dealings since Jack Walker died.

I’ll state here and now that I’ve never found Bob particularly likeable as a public figure or warm or cordial towards rank and file fans even in the era we were top of the Premiership – there was certainly no more communication from him then than there is from anyone now either – but I have no idea whatsoever what he does or what his role is at the club and would dearly like to know. He could certainly have explained it better and let himself down by churlishly and boorishly playing the legal threat card but a braying bunch of accusers actually ruined a developing moment and missed a rare chance to question and press him on it by childishly flouncing out as the exchanges became distinctly unpleasant.

Almost sounding as daft was the bloke who congratulated Coyle on “performing miracles to get this squad together.” The only miracle Coyle, who laughably claimed to have always turned home grounds into a fortress at all his clubs, needs to perform is the one that gets us out of the bottom three where his team of all the talents currently lies having amassed eight points from 33. His home record in his last full season at Bolton, P19, W4, D 4, L11 suggests his idea of a fortress is different to mine. P9 W4 D3 L2 at Wigan, since you asked. Houston? I can’t even be bothered looking.

However with two home games immediately after the break he has a  chance to start living up to his own hyperbole. That’s the start of a period which sees us play seven out of 11 at home and his current record of one home win in five clearly suggests that while the turrets may be manned, someone keeps leaving the drawbridge down and the front gate open.

As many have pointed out, Rovers’ immediate target is to find three clubs to finish above.

One candidate, Cardiff, might just have played their get out of jail card.

So much for those who claimed that no way would Neil Warnock join a seemingly doomed, dysfunctional club where a barmy owner had pulled the plug on spending.

They made the decision and made the phone call. As most of us know from painful experience, if you don’t ask the girl or guy to dance, someone else more than likely will.


*I don’t want to get further drawn into the “to protest or not to protest” debates on a weekly basis as some fairly unsavoury responses to this blog have probably by now bored many of you to tears. Nobody who puts forward an opinion will have everyone agree with it but one doesn’t want to provide a regular platform for vile, angry sociopaths.

I will, however, say that the idea, mooted this week, of hiring a painter to depict Jack Walker “strangling Venkys with one hand with a  boxing glove in his other hand” on a wall close to Ewood is among the very worst suggestions I’ve heard.

I get on perfectly well with Glen, who threw the concept out (and added that it was only for discussion, not a definitive planned design). While we disagree on a hell of a lot, he’s sat in my house for a chat on non-protest related matters, we got on fine and we have exchanged pleasantries at the Reserves a few weeks ago.

I know everything he does is with the good of the club at heart even if his approach and methods sometimes make me raise an eyebrow – which he knows and knows I’d tell him next time he’s sat here without any need for recrimination, falling out or name-calling. He spoke very, very well at that meeting last week and brought up some great points.

But just two points on this.

Surely if Jack Walker is to be depicted publicly it would be minimum courtesy to approach his family for permission and approval – something I feel would be most unlikely to be forthcoming in the forms proposed!

And secondly do we really want children daily walking or being driven past an image depicting violence, however caricatured or cartoon? Some of the further suggestions were even more outlandish – a firing squad of chickens and Rovers fans lined up? I hope they are joking but suspect not.

I’m also at a loss to understand why Gandhi’s visit to Darwen was invoked. Completely irrelevant and disrespectful, no? “Uh, these are Indians, so let’s put a picture of a  famous Indian up?”I just don’t get that.

It’s important that as a set of fans we retain dignity. As well as respecting each other’s opinions and rights, we need to avoid looking more foolish than the people being targetted.











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What’s Going  On? Marvin proves human & fluffs sole chance

It takes two, sometimes more, to win a game when you concede with regularity as Rovers do but for once Ewood’s new talisman Marvin Emnes failed to find the high notes or  indeed a partner to dovetail with in harmony on a classic Ewood set-‘em-up-to-let-’em down night.

If I had a pound for every crushing home defeat immediately after a glorious away triumph, I could afford to turn down lucrative keynote speaker work in the Far East.

The reserve of goodwill engendered by Saturday’s second successive league win at Derby didn’t evaporate completely – there were a few jeers at the end but again the Ewood faithful deserve a pat on the back for staying largely supportive throughout proceedings – but with mid-table tantalisingly visible, a dull-witted  Rovers slumped back into the bottom three having barely mustered a worthwhile effort on goal against manifestly superior visitors.

To stand any chance of escaping the relegation zone Rovers will have to improve on an Ewood record which has seen them win just 15 of the last 42 home league games – a wretched and unforgivable sequence.

An odd win here and there is always to be celebrated – and the Derby one was, I can assure you dear readers, celebrated to some tune in this house – but teams don’t go down without a few in the wins column either and a ratio of two out of 10 will see only one ultimate outcome.

From the opening minutes on Tuesday night it was obvious Rovers didn’t have the wit or wherewithal to fashion anything of significance despite coming off the back of a winner three days previously which had a touch of the tiki-taka about it.

You can go on about Wednesday’s not having won an away game previously – neither had we before we went to Pride Park – but they contained us, or rather were almost laughably comfortable in shackling us, with such supreme ease that the likes of Lee, Buckley, Hooper, Fletcher and Bannan seldom had to go through the gears to turn their dominance into points.

They’ll win plenty of away games with that kind of talent, don’t you worry about that. But they didn’t have to get into overdrive to claim these three points.

David Jones, a player who would have eagerly signed for us three years ago, could well end up with a third Championship promotion medal as he commands and controls, prompts and cajoles expertly from the middle of the park in a manner we haven’t seen on a regular basis at Ewood this decade.

The fact that as the game naturally opens out late on it sees them bring on the extravagantly talented Fernando Forrestieri while Coyle, tactically outwitted quite comprehensively throughout, sends on the wholly and quite embarrassingly ineffectual Liam Feeney, says it all.

It’s a pretty limited field but if Rovers have ever signed a poorer player twice, his name doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

On an evening when Guthrie, Gallagher, Lowe, Marshall and Greer all performed poorly, it cried out for a bit of invention, a spark of the unknown. Rovers could not have looked more pedestrian had they been lined up and posed for a souvenir photo on the famed Abbey Road zebra crossing.

If Samuelsen really is a Norwegian wonder kid why on earth wasn’t he chucked on with no one else looking capable of unlocking the door? If we fans aren’t sure how good he is or what he can do that’s different, there’s a fair chance that neither are the other lot. It cried out for a maverick, uninhibited talent to be given his opportunity.

Ironically, Wednesday probably got into our area as little as anyone has for a while which would suggest you’ve done half the job right but overall it was no more than a 3 out of 10 performance in truth.

I can recall Lee and Buckley going close with second-half efforts but the goal – Fletcher is some technician at this level – and any other efforts in the first 45 minutes whistled in from distance.

Too often for us, after ponderous, crab-like sideways and backward movement the too-long delayed “out ball” was overhit or asking far too much of the recipient. Conway was treble-up shackled and marginalised by a plan clearly the result of intelligent homework and Marshall’s touch and swagger is  frustratingly and sadly eluding him for hours on end.

Even the Wednesday goal was an indirect consequence of Marshall fluffing a simple pass back to Conway after his initial corner was cleared. From being on the offensive, it eventually went right back to Steele whose clearance was gobbled up in a swift and decisive Wednesday counter.

Poor Gallagher looked what he occasionally will look at his age and stage of development – a little boy lost. Graham was a slight improvement but hasn’t hit last season’s standard by a long way. (Stokes, the other candidate for a striker berth, was foolishly sent off for the Under-23’s on Monday, raising yet more questions about his temperamental suitability).

As it transpired, the switching of Marshall to full back – hopefully a Coyle lightbulb moment (he’s no more a full-back than Lowe but at least he offers something going forward on occasion) and the introduction of Lenihan’s youthful thrusts improved things significantly but not to the extent that we could muster a single worthwhile second-half attempt on goal, save Emnes’ ruled-out effort.

If only Emnes had made such a good contact in the first half when a fluffed snap-shot on a rare occasion a cross found its target approximately was easily tipped over. He ought really to have broken the net but even after a night when his endeavour seldom produced any end product, he remains well in credit

His display at Derby looked electrifying. The Bergkampesque touch and sleight of foot to win the penalty would have graced any international tournament  and while his goal owed much to a slice of luck, it was a major feat to get back into the game as quickly as Rovers did after missing a penalty opportunity and, seemingly inevitably,  going behind as the clock ran down.

It was an even greater one to win it with a goal as memorable in its embroidery as Danny Graham’s. If there’s been a Rovers goal in 50 years I’ve been going involving as many successive passes I can’t recall it offhand. It fully deserved its numerous replays and hits with every “Ole” and “Bravo” which accompanied it.

It was a wonderful afternoon for the travelling fans who so deserve it but unfortunately there will likely be far more days like Tuesday against the Owls with the mediocre manager and set of players we have at our disposal.

Already, a home record of one win in five is reflecting the paucity of performances at “Fortress Ewood” in recent seasons.

The man who so understood the value of winning home games against other ordinary sides, Sam Allardyce, became a revered and totemic figure at Ewood through his devotion to putting that simple theory into systematic, functional practice.

But his Shakesperean fall from the position of power he most desired  surprised very few inside the game (other than the brevity of the final act), particularly those of us past and present press sorts who weren’t ever over-enamoured of his arrogant bluster and jowelly hubris even at a time he was keeping our club afloat.

Those who crave FA inquiries into misdeeds, corruption and wrongdoings at Ewood, real, alleged or imaginary, would do well to be wary of just how far back in time any investigating body goes back. Google Gael Givet, tax, Manchester tailor for a fascinating read.

Then explain to me please how Herold Goulon was selected in a starting midfield role at Old Trafford!

There’s been dodgy doings in football back to Fergie Suter’s days and I can name one Rovers player several decades ago who collected £20,000 in used notes in a carrier bag on Our Lady of Compassion car park after a successful medical!

Of more immediate importance to present-day Rovers is a pre-international break game away at St Andrews. Get nothing against a Birmingham side who do well on a modest budget under a well-selected rising star of management and the anxieties will multiply over a fallow fortnight.



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BJ pictured with his “50 bewildering abusive posts” prize rosette 

If anyone can shed any explanation on these or why I’m supposed to take offence do enlighten me

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Only one swallow but loan Swan looks a high-flying bird

In a week when Rovers announced the capture of a battle-worn veteran with his best years behind him (and possibly sign Wes Brown as well, perhaps when Mike Cheston has time to devote to football) a musical anecdote from a couple  of Sir Elton’s contemporaries sprang to mind.

When the country singer Emmylou Harris was young and up-and-coming, she sought the advice of grizzled, bandana-wearing, pony-tailed veteran Willie Nelson, who even at 40 looked like he had been carved out of Mount Rushmore granite and sounded as if he possessed the very wisdom of Solomon.

“I can sing the words, but not like you, Willie,”  the future queen of the genre said, “You convey such emotion, pain and suffering in your voice.”

“Just concentrate on staying in pitch, getting the notes sung right and plucking the right chords,” replied the Nashville stalwart.

“The pain and suffering will come along in due course.”

Surfing the message boards and reading some of the comments on this blog, I do get the feeling that many Rovers fans younger than I (ie most of them) can make all the right noises about how hurt and wounded they are by the club’s situation but in reality have little fresh insight to bestow on me into what’s to come and how bad it could get.

It’s a bit like hearing a teenager go on about getting dumped when you’ve endured the agony, heartbreak and financial ruination of a messy divorce. You think this is bad? Ask PNE fans about playing on Tuesday afternoon to save floodlighting with Mel Tottoh coming from Bae on his bike to go on the bench.

Ask Clarets supporters about getting licked 6-0 at home by Hereford with 1,961 on. 

“You’re not boycotting,” “You’re continuing to fund Venkys,” “You’re refusing to stand with other fans in protests, “ they howl in anguish, claiming that anyone who continues to attend Ewood is morally inferior and can’t possibly want Venkys reign to end.

Of course we all do, but I firmly believe that me not spending £279 on a season ticket, not standing outside with banners or leaflets or, almost as ludicrous as that “Back The Badge” BRAG stinker which was mercifully stillborn a few years ago, staying on the Riverside concourse for 18 minutes of a match then walking off a quarter of an hour before the end, would have about as much impact on the time and circumstances of Venkys departure as me walking into my local church, lighting a candle and praying on my knees for it.

A discussion in the pub pre-match on Saturday revealed that of those present, two out of 24 thought the 18-75 thing was a goer and one of them admitted, when it was pointed out that the concourse bars would be shut by that point, he might actually not bother with the second bit after all then.

If ever there was a game to illustrate that actually continuing, despite all the recent history, to go ahead with all your matchday rituals can occasionally still be rewarding, Saturday was it.

I make no apology or concession to any semi-literate shouty shed-head on any forum for continuing to do so. Our 22-year-old has, after years of Uni and Saturday jobs, her first-ever Ewood season ticket, her “32 Conway” shirt and, joyously, her own car which she kindly volunteers to drive to games in! Her enthusiasm is infectious to me and a million bullet points about how much evil-doing has gone on at Ewood will never counter-balance that for me.

I therefore get to have a few pints with friends and family I love dearly and see lifelong pals at the ground whom I’ve shared Championship triumphs and trips to The Shay with.

My granddad regularly helped David Rollo gather his stuff after training on Little Wembley in the late 1910’s . My dad got to know his father after years away fighting in the Second World War by going to Ewood with him post-1945.

The three of us stood together in the 1960’s and 1970’s and while the doom merchants (perhaps we should have booked the Apocalyptic poet Leonard Cohen instead of Elton) tell me “there might not be a club to support by the time this lot go,” while there is I will carry on going as long as we look forward to it as a family.

If it makes you any happier, our youngest “boycotted” the Rotherham game with a party to go to!

As the match got underway on Saturday the lad I sat next to on day one of Secondary School in 1970 and I were discussing ways to arrive in Venice for the first time and ways we’ll avoid getting ripped off for drink if we ever return.

No foul-hearted dark soul of a lout off BRFCS or WordPress is ever going to dictate to me why, when and how I ought to give up those remaining pleasures.

Saturday’s possible single-swallow of a win against Rotherham was immensely enjoyable as an isolated experience, like your first bacon buttie at the end of lent, but the truth of the matter, plain to dreamer or realist alike, is that five points out of every available 24 between now and the end of the season will see us relegated by some distance.

Looking at the immediate fixtures, it’s not easy to see where a sufficient number of points will be accumulated unless some of the promising aspects of the first Coyle victory are maintained while the worrying and lingering bad habits are eliminated.

Anyone who reads this column regularly will know I abhor weak sides being put out in cup competitions (I was incandescent when Paul Lambert picked a sub-strength team at home to West Ham earlier this year) but for once I could sympathise with Rovers’ manager in doing so at Elland Road for the EFL Cup game.

Yes we lostand I’m very disappointed – I’d have loved to see how many “boycotted” a home draw against PNE or Liverpool if nowt else – but priorities are wholly to do with league form at present.

With players injured and  cup-tied, a 36-year-old centre-half who’s played every minute of every league game since coming on in the first half of the opener, Corry Evans only just recovering from a set of injuries and Emnes with only three league starts in two seasons for Swansea before his loan move here, it is understandable that a couple were wrapped in cotton wool.

Emnes was certainly outstanding against Rotherham from first minute to last and along with Conway and Gallagher contested a close three-way call for the Man of The Match plaudits.

The fact that all three of those forwards capped their splendid displays with a goal along with a more surprising but no less welcome contribution from Marshall, who improved after the break but has some work to do to win back the hearts of the crowd, illustrated that if the team is improved in other areas, which it rapidly needs to be, we do carry a genuine goal threat to most sides in Championship football.

True Rotherham’s away record was abject but they had scored twice and led in both of their previous home games and I would say that both their goals were a result of good play capitalising on individual mistakes rather than “inability to defend as a team” a phrase you will often see used, but seldom clarified or explained, by people following games on their lap-tops rather than actually sat watching them.

Certainly the midfielder Brown picked a gem of a pass out for the opener. Everyone, it seems these days, gets a cracking player from Chelsea on loan – how come we ended up with Todd Kane?

At that point, the crowd could easily have turned on Coyle and the team but, clearly seeing that it was an avoidable (Evans gormlessly lost the ball with us pressing forward) aberration after a bright beginning  rather than the culmination of a slow or poor start, the supporters stayed positive and, yes indeed “got behind the lads.”

That’s an exhortation I often find laughably simplistic, even though I was described by one correspondent as “the supreme happy clapper” this week (another called me a “totally negative curmudgeon so I claim I must offer some degree of balance!).

But it was justified and quite the right thing on Saturday as Conway, by sheer force of his currently exuberant and irrepressible personality, bludgeoned us back into the game and transformed the collective confidence of the side.

Emnes’ goal was a delight in its construction and execution and the former Boro man sealed the day by shrugging off his man to give Gallagher his reward with the thing in the balance after Rotherham’s refusal to capsize.

Again, their second goal looked cleverly fashioned after a  sloppy pass to me, not the result of any defective tactical set-up. I’d have been chuffed if we’d put together as slick a passage of play to score after nicking possession.

When the fourth went in, it was great to share a hug with my step-daughter, genuinely thrilled (not least as she knows I have a weekly bet on 4-2, the winning of which usually means a takeaway treat tea) and see my mate’s grandson Louis, six, in transports of delight at seeing his first win in his debut season!

Imagine walking off a game as compellingly in-the-balance as that.

As I say, one swallow though, and it will of course be a lot tougher at Derby, despite their abysmal start under much-vaunted Nigel Pearson, and at home to inconsistent but formidable-on-their-day Wednesday next midweek. If results go badly, you’ll have Mr Negative Curmudgeon service resumed as soon as you can say: “Not happy-clapping this week, are you?”

But as overdue starts go, it was welcome and hugely enjoyable to put the pain and suffering on hold if only for one day.

Or at least till you log back on to your lap-top and get the voices of the damned from Ghoul Central…


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