Even in the act of throwing us the mildly comforting trinket of a League Cup win at home to a Fourth Division outfit, Owen Coyle’s Rovers insisted on causing maximum discomfort and embarrassment to the pitiful handful of fans who could be bothered to pay to see the dismal spectacle as they comprehensively displayed most of the faults and weaknesses that have made them cannon fodder for all and sundry thus far this woebegone campaign.
“Nowhere near as completely awful as I feared but nowhere near the standard we’d need to be to survive,” said one mate who, like me, had managed to miss the horrors of the defeats to Norwich, Wigan and Cardiff as we emerged from our first look at Coyle’s work-in-not-much-progress, the 2-2 draw at home to Burton on Saturday which left Rovers rooted to the foot of the Championship table.
That was a desperately disappointing outcome featuring the concession of a late goal while leading, a failing which would return to blemish Tuesday’s cup tie.
After the league match which both managers claimed their sides should have won, both with a sliver of justification if little conviction, there were more causes for concern than shafts of light from the end of the tunnel.
The repeated habit of conceding, failure to see out a matter of minutes with a precious lead, disjointed square-peg-round-hole selection, the usual lack of dynamism or mobility in central midfield were only partly compensated for by a fine debut from a local lad who looks calm and measured beyond his years in an important position, a belter of a goal from the oft messed-around but rightly restored Conway and a decent full debut and first goal for Gallagher, raw and unpolished but the one loan signing showing signs of making a significant impact.
It’s difficult to credit the fact that both Lambert and Coyle opened their respective tenures by signing what they surely considered replacements for Conway. What on earth they perceived Bennett or Feeney have to offer that the Scotsman hasn’t remains a mystery. Yes he has dips in form but it would be an insult if he wasn’t one of the first names on the teamsheet at the moment.
Otherwise Burton, forcing the best save of the day from Steele, hitting the bar with a spectacular effort and going close on another couple of occasions were well worth their point, not an encouraging state of affairs when they began the season as most people’s tip for the drop and most Rovers fans’ hopes to occupy one of the bottom three spots which avoiding is starting to look more and more unlikely.
Any remaining half-full glasses were of course tipped unceremoniously netherwards and emptied within 40 minutes against Crewe as our modest EFL Cup opposition galloped into a two-goal lead, even by this stage of the season an apparent first-half inevitability against Rovers, which you could hardly argue they didn’t fully merit.
Their scouting report proved their undoing however. Surely they had bargained that, as for the last four years, Jason Lowe wouldn’t move forward and pick out a pass or that no Rovers player would have the wherewithal to saunter into the penalty area to try and get on the end of such a move and when Hope Akpan defied club policy to do just that, the confusion and disbelief in the visitors’ ranks was plain for all to see.
Must be worth trying again an odd time, no?
Even then, only a flurry of fine saves from Raya, making up for a sorry but all-too-predictable earlier howler (“He’d have expected to save it on another day,” said the manager rather unhelpfully) and the woodwork saved Coyle’s men from falling even more humiliatingly behind as Crewe threatened to run riot.
Having then established some kind of territorial superiority, mainly after withdrawing jury-out pair Byrne and Stokes, subs Guthrie and Graham bringing some coherence, the Championship side finally set about their business to take the initiative, including a joyous first goal for the eye-catching Wharton and another fine Conway effort; that ought to have been that until a blunder by another who has done little to impress, Hendrie, gave the excellent Alex Kiwomya (nephew of a doughty adversary from years past) the opportunity to set up Dagnall, a prolific and clinical veteran marksman.
While Rovers always looked the likelier extra time winners, particularly with set-pieces, Kiwomya looked exactly the kind of player we should have been looking to loan in – busy, quick-witted, bright and inventive right up to minute 120. Credit to Crewe who launched their first long ball of the game with two hours up on the clock.
It was inevitable that the winner would come from a corner and almost as certain that it would come from Duffy, a big bloke who is pretty good at heading. Lazy “from zero to hero” headlines of course ensued but in truth, a senior defender who has been part of a unit which shipped three in 90 minutes to a League Two side ought to be looking at more than replays of a scrambled goal as he analyses his performance.
Not that he will spend too much time over it, I imagine as a move to Brighton now looks inevitable.
A reliable source told me that 7,400 was the number through the turnstiles on Saturday rather than the 10,000 officially given out so it stands to reason that a glamour-free cup tie would be similarly woefully attended. If season ticket sales and league attendances are at their lowest for 20-odd years, ditto for the most prosaic of all-pay games.
Talk of a “boycott” seems a little romanticised in my view. I might well not have bothered myself but for a last-minute decision but I don’t really class opting not to bother as some form of righteous insurrection against Venkys.
One or two cerebrally-challenged Twitterati were rueing an “opportunity missed” on the basis that a complete no-show by any home fans at all would have generated humiliating publicity for Venkys. I’ve got news for you – it will NEVER, NEVER happen that no-one goes through the gate no matter how much post-Uncle Jack Citizen Smith “I’m Rovers Till There’s No Prospect Of Spending Loads of Money and Being Successful” types sloganeer and hashtag themselves into a frenzy of high dudgeon over those who continue to need their fix, however painful.
And secondly, Mrs Desai and the Raos plainly do not give the smallest portion of a monkey’s what new indignity is visited on the club. A few semi-literate half-informed “man of the people” social media soundbites from the likes of Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore may sustain the type of dissidents who think an empty Ewood would provide a historic turning of the tide but in the overall scheme of this continuing psychodrama, it’s futile tokenism.
Whatever the misdeeds or perceived crimes of the owners are, I’m personally happy that I and a few more were there to cheer young Wharton’s first goal and encourage him and other young players caught in this maelstrom of rancour through no fault of theirs.
Reports of fans harassing Coyle’s family in the stand are extremely disturbing. If Rovers fans are keen that the media portray their war on Venkys in a positive light, be aware that any news editor worth his salt will also jump on and highlight that kind of behaviour without a second thought.
I’ve even had some mild aggression directed at me on Twitter. After describing fans hoping for a blanket boycott at Ewood as ”feeble-minded fantasists” (on the inarguable basis that it is no more than a fantasy) one testosterone –fuelled numpty asked: “Would you come and say that in a pub full of fans?”
Presumably there are pubs where resolute non-attenders gather? Most of the people in pubs packed with fans near Ewood are actually still going to the game so quite why they’d take umbrage is somewhat of a mystery.
As I said last week, please don’t try to impose on any fan anything he or she is uncomfortable with. Gates will drop naturally enough to an even more alarming level if fortunes and standards don’t improve.
One wonders if Coyle can harness what miniscule positivism he found in Tuesday’s win and convert it to tangible motivation into a home game against Fulham who have made a fine start.
A small chink in the London side’s armour emerged at weekend when their manager complained subtly that a stats guru had veto’d a couple of likely signings, Ben Marshall among those Jokanovic coveted but has been refused the go-ahead to sign.
On this season’s displays, you have to say the stats guy might be spot on, and the Cottagers have instead recruited James Wilson and Ragnar Sigurdsson this week with talk of a couple more to come. My main hope is that they continue their spree and field 11 guys who haven’t been introduced to each other before Saturday lunchtime.
One wonders in what obscure bargain-basement markets Coyle will look to bolster a squad which is plainly and painfully inadequate with days of the window to go. Callum MacManaman and Jack Cork would be worthwhile considering but I can’t be the only one having sleepless nights over the prospect of a pretty raw 6ft 7ins French centre half being chucked into our predicament.
One hopes we don’t get a painful reminder on Saturday of the prowess of Tom Cairney, whose sale out of the blue last summer effectively signalled the point at which we threw the towel in on trying to build a play-off side.
The descent since has been more vertiginous than many imagined but little surprise to those who lived through five years of a top-flight side being dismantled, good players sold off one by one, from 1966 to 1971 – with the inevitable consequences which now look set to condemn those who fail to learn from Rovers history to repeat them.
Footnote: I thoroughly enjoyed a first visit as a home season-ticket holder to the new Rovers Under-23 team base at Leyland’s LFA ground. Whether it will appeal as much in drizzly November or freezing February is debatable but David Dunn and Damien Johnson’s young, well organised and industrious side grew into a tough game against a useful Middlesbrough side and possibly finished the 0-0 draw the stronger on a shirt-sleeve night before just over 300 souls.
The one veteran Wes Brown looked eminently comfortable in the 62 minutes or so he played and as Coyle obviously regards him highly, it seems inevitable he’ll be offered a contract – provided Coyle is here this time next week!