A view from Leppings Lane

It is to my eternal shame that until Saturday, I had never visited the Hillsborough Memorial located just outside the main stand of Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, at a stadium that seems to have remained locked in time since the 1966 World Cup. As I approached, a couple of visitors in Liverpool shirts were just leaving, having paid their respects.

Rovers fans, as usual, were housed in the Leppings Lane end, the only significant change since 1989 being the addition of seats to that fatal terrace. How on earth the whole edifice wasn’t torn down within weeks of that tragedy remains a mystery. Watching from that vantage point always feels a tad eerie, it serves to put into context anything taking place on the pitch. Against this backdrop and following the midweek victory over Wigan that all but ensured safety, any assessment of Rovers latest away-day humbling is rendered partially moot.

After January’s successes, travelling fans’ expectations have rapidly been re-structured. Rovers are now the proud possessors of the worst defence in the division (away from home) – 42 goals conceded in 19 games; statistically the equivalent of starting each away game 2-0 down at kick off effectively.

Of course on Saturday, the defence was constructed in the manner of a Blue Peter project; a bit of sticky back plastic here, an old washing up bottle there; but even so, some of the errors on display were fundamental. When a 6 feet 6 inches tall striker comes on as substitute, is it really too much to expect that at least one Rovers player might think, “I bet they try to pick him out a set piece…”? Well apparently, it is.

Raya these days seems to be responding to his recent mistakes by staying resolutely on his line and once more, a shot that he would have saved comfortably earlier in the season eluded him. The one bright spark going forward was Joe Rothwell. His decision-making remains suspect, the choice of when & to whom to pass needs development; but it was somewhat surprising to put it mildly that Tony Mowbray chose a post-match radio interview to call out Rothwell specifically for a verbal rebuke. There were a number of more suitable candidates.

Rovers played well in patches, moving the ball around tidily, Travis gliding around linking play, Dack showing some of his tricks and flicks, Danny Graham doing his best to find space. But just as soon as Wednesday realised Rovers didn’t have a clue as to how to stop and/or defend crosses, the result was a foregone conclusion.

That January window already feels like a lifetime away, the performances since then reminiscent of a relegation threatened team. This squad needs surgery over the summer to maintain the trajectory of the last 18 months. Some of the fans’ sacred cows may well need to depart. It’s never easy to bring in and integrate four or five players, but the evidence of February & March suggests that such a task is the bare minimum requirement and that presumes all the players we want to keep are still at Ewood in August.

A game at Hillsborough always puts sport into perspective, so let’s enjoy the international break and see if a few days away refreshes the squad sufficiently to prevent the run in becoming nothing but a chore.

Old Blackburnian

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Oh blimey! It’s Preston as Rovers frankly must improve

I often hear it argued that pre-Venkys, Rovers were “an established Premier League club” the inference being that we never had or would have ever been troubled by relegation worries had the Walker Trust or some mythical rival buyers continued to handle club affairs ad infinitum with Sam Allardyce given an eight-year rolling contract to make even Alan Pardew envious.
Examining the PL table for our 2011-12 relegation season you’ll see that theory stretched a little by the fact that of 17 clubs which survived, ten have since been relegated. The only seven who haven’t are Manchester United, Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal – none relegated since 1992 – and Man City, who were once but presumably won’t be again while bankrolled as they currently are. Apart from City and Chelsea, the other five have spent only two seasons between them in the Second tier since the 1960’s, a season apiece for Spurs and Man United in the seventies.
Those are “established Premier League clubs.”
The rest – Newcastle (fifth that season), West Brom, Swansea, Norwich, Sunderland, Stoke, Wigan, Aston Villa and QPR have all come down at least once. Some have been down to League One/tier three like us and Bolton, our companions making the drop in 2012 and a club whose fans were once hailing the arrival of owners who now can’t pay fuel bills.
Bolton and most of those clubs had good reason to think at some point that they were “established Premier League clubs.”
The big seven apart, there’s really no such thing.
“Ah, but none of those clubs have ever been Premier League champions,” is the rider I’m often offered as if that legacy ought to sustain us as a top-flight outfit in perpetuity but if that was sufficient to prevent you from going down, we wouldn’t have managed to be relegated in 1999, four years after winning the league.
The Championship, or League One or Division Two whatever it’s been historically known as, isand always has been in even more of a state of flux.
Looking at our first season down, 2012-13, just five clubs by my reckoning have been a constant – Forest, Derby, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday. Everyone else has either gone up or down. Ipswich spent 20 years at that level but that ended badly when they binned their Mr Reliable.
There is little that is fixed and constant in football. One day in the not too distant future Rovers won’t be a Championship side anymore.
I’ve seen it espoused that if we don’t go up next season, Tony Mowbray would have to be jettisoned on account of having “failed,” although from where I’m sat presently finishing 11th or 12th next season would represent some measure of progress.

Lose in the play-off final and you sack the boss? Unlikely as it even seems right now it sounds daft to me.
Like this season, there will be good sides and clubs with lots to spend again next season, Four out of Leeds, Norwich, Sheff United, West Brom, Middlesbrough, Bristol City and Derby will still be with us. Forest probably will. Fulham and Huddersfield almost certainly will be. Sunderland might.
The faith and trust most fans have in Tony Mowbray to plot the course the right way out of the Championship has been stretched and tested in recent weeks culminating in a humiliating defeat at Rotherham on Saturday which Charlie Mulgrew’s late penalty applied a flattering and deceptive veneer of respectability to.
Managers aren’t constant either – when you win four or five on the bounce, other clubs look enviously at your gaffer. When you take one point from 18, the nay-sayers clamour for change.
Mowbray himself is a man who not too long ago walked out of one club, saying “It’s embarrassing to go ten games without a win. I’m an honourable guy.”
Whatever happens these next four games – and no game looks easy when you’re on a run like we are – I hope supporters remain calm and Mowbray remains in charge.
I’ve seen it said that words and concepts like progress, stability, consolidation and loyalty are over-rated, and in some ways I agree. Football is chaos and random and unpredictable and largely unplannable and nobody was more bored with stability than I was under Gary Bowyer (though gent that he is, I dearly hope he does as well at Bradford in his new job as he did at Blackpool).
Clubs such as Watford, Leeds, Forest, Wednesday, Birmingham have revolved the managerial/head coach door on a non-stop basis and occasionally (in Watford’s case frequently) hit on a good fit.
But what guarantee do we have that a replacement for Mowbray would be any more suitable?
What he must do is learn from his errors and not repeat them. He surely knows now that if funds were available in January he ought to have freshened things up. We all know it now. Not so many were as adamant as they are now walking off Ewood after we’d demolished Hull though.
Allowing us to take the field without a centre-half adept at heading has been a huge mistake. Rotherham’s opening goal was like something you’d see in a Dads v Lads match with the tallest guy on the field nodding one in unchallenged as a bunch of ten-year-olds craned their necks skywards.
Probably the dumbest goal I’ve ever seen us concede, the only slightly positive aspect that it came so early there was plenty of time to recover, not that there was much sign of any likely comeback in a timid first-half display.
Back level and with the home side exactly where we wanted them, pinned back, we succumbed to their first counter and errors by Raya and Bell – alert enough to pounce on a similar situation at one end but dozy enough not to recognise an identically dangerous situation doing his main job – handed the initiative back to a side with little other than industry to offer and they took advantage with another towering header from a peach of a cross. (I make that the 29th league goal scored against us later than 72 minutes). Maybe we can reregister Keith Hill as a player after his exit from Rochdale
I said as long ago as the Wigan defeat in November that I didn’t think the Rodwell Experiment would work and I stick by that. One pure footballing centre-half is enough and Mulgrew keeps his shop for me on the basis that his dead-ball prowess currently, with Dack shackled by increasingly wised-up opposition, represents about 85% of our goal threat.
Darragh Lenihan can’t be fit soon enough. You’re never a better player than when you’re out of the side or unavailable. Scott Wharton with two headed goals for Bury this week suddenly looks an option foolishly discarded and there were even calls for a recall for Corry Evans after Saturday, less than a week after his performance against Middlesbrough rightly saw him hooked at half-time.
But Mowbray surely now knows that January was a mistake, despite ending it with four wins and three consecutive clean sheets not to mention the Manager of the Month award .
Even his one big-money signing from two windows ago, Brereton, buoyed by midweek success for the “reserves”, was considered less likely to produce an equaliser than Nuttall or Reed.
Those calling for wholesale droppings have to consider what we have as replacements. Fine, leave out Raya but don’t complain when a guy who’s played about five hours of football in two years lets a soft one in.
Tyler Magloire is a fine prospect at centre-back but he dropped a clanger at Southport a fortnight ago which could set his career back horribly if he did it again in front of 21,000 on Saturday.
The two derbies this week at home to Preston and Wigan week will tell us a great deal. The concept that our season is over and subsequent fixtures meaningless is nonsense, Just a glance at the points table tells you that. If we’d beaten Reading a few weeks ago we’d have been 20 points clear of the bottom three that night. Nine points better placed than we are now – so don’t for a minute think we’re on our holidays at this juncture .
Preston’s remarkable sell-out following will get our fans ramped up a couple of notches on the volume control and I can’t wait to sample better atmosphere than is often the norm at Ewood.
The “your message board is more obsessed with us than your own team” battle has been raging among village idiot types for a couple of weeks. I do enjoy these exchanges. One fellow this week argued that Preston’s Invincibles era is a complete irrelevance as it happened so long ago before football was proper. The very same chap was earlier bragging that “we’re the most successful town team ever” presumably counting in our five FA Cup wins prior to that.

I’m sure there are similar silly buggers on North End boards but even I’m not hard up enough to want to go on them.

I love this derby. Always have. Even though my first one at Ewood in 1968 saw Willie Irvine net the only goal of the game for North End. We’ve had some great wins but the defeats really hurt. I still got a pang of pain interviewing Alex Bruce many years after “that” goal which we had to watch for 18 more months as the Kick-Off credits rolled.
There’d be no better occasion to regain that January winning mentality and form. And if not we get another chance against Wigan, a lower key game and opponents in most measurable regards but another revenge mission after that mauling at the DW late last year.
I’m delighted and proud that my stepdaughter Millie is on BRFCS’s International Womens Day Podcast to be released this week and that I played a small part in persuading Radio Lancs to feature another of the female “podsquad” Jen Bellamy on the Friday football preview show. Me and Millie thoroughly enjoyed the coach trip to Rotherham if not the football. She’s very knowledgeable about the game but said she was nervous so judge her kindly. At least you won’t have me snoring on the soundtrack, I fell asleep minutes after it was a wrap – although I haven’t heard any of it yet. I can’t wait to hear it, if it’s half as good as the last one in which Ian Herbert interviews Don Mackay it will be wonderful.
I was unavailable for duty this Friday as I’m off to Manchester to watch a documentary film on Frank Sidebottom.
I might acually settle for a couple of “nil-nil, nil-nil, nil-nil, nil-nils” this week.
You know I would. I really would. Thank you!


BLUE-EYED BOY

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Babble on by bus as Rovers stop rot

On Saturday, I break a promise I made to myself almost 30 years ago. Travelling home from Selhurst Park in early June 1989 I vowed never again to journey on a coach to watch Rovers away.
There was nothing wrong with the coach or the company. Most of my closest Rovers supporting pals of the era were on that bus. I just, in that moment decided I never wanted to endure a journey of communal misery like that again with a bunch of, mainly, similarly naffed-off blokes, after a second such crushing disappointment in eight years.
Over the decades I’ve said that I’d only board another if our daughters ever got keen enough to want to do it and, happily, that day has arrived. Our eldest, my stepdaughter Millie, who is set to fly the nest soon into her own first house, asked me if I was up for a trip to Rotherham.
I met her mum on a coach to Exeter in 1980. Circle of life, I guess.

I’m not a big fan of the new stadia but The New York is close enough to Rotherham’s old ground to evoke a few memories – I may even go and havea  butcher’s at Millmoor which is pretty intact from what I hear.
A few weeks before that 1980 Exeter game I made my first ever visit to Millmoor for a midweek Third Division game. I’d just gone 21.
My dad, working managing a paper mill in Barnsley at the time, staying in South Yorkshire during the week, hated the fact that we were in the lower leagues but it was an opportunity to meet up midweek. We had a pint in the Supporters Club there and paid, as was our wont, to go among home fans for a “side” view which I still prefer to this day.

It’s under sufferance that I have purchased a ticket behind the goal with our fans for Saturday but my first ever “Over-60s” half price rate ticket is a welcome compensation.
Although it wasn’t the height of the later Miners’ Strike which partly defined the decade, there was action taking place over pay at local pits. I’ll never forget the fellas we were stood with discussing Rotherham’s attempt to sign ex-PNE forward Mike Elwiss from Crystal Palace.
“If ‘ee signs fo’ us, ah tel thee ah’ll g’back fo’ six and ‘alf per cent,” said one burly guy. He went back to Preston instead did Elwiss and I often thought about those lads in future years as Thatcher mercilessly crushed their livelihoods.
It was the night Simon Garner came of age as a matchwinner. His first two goals for us in the relegation season before had won us a game at Fulham on a Friday night (the coach I was booked on was cancelled on the morning due to insufficient bookings) but each subsequent goal was scored in a draw or defeat as misery enveloped Ewood.
He was restored to the team with initial reluctance by a doubting Howard Kendall on Boxing Day 1979 after Kendall had grown weary of the efforts of the likes of Stuart Parker and Joe Craig.
Initially he was no more successful than that jettisoned pair, failing to net in his first five games after his recall, but after an even greater rarity, a Jim Branagan goal from distance, put us ahead that night a Garner brace put the result (3-1) beyond doubt. He scored only another four that season, Garns, but three of them were absolutely precious 1-0 winners in away games at Chesterfield. Plymouth and Oxford.
There were just 4,600 on Millmoor that night and even less ten years later when Lennie Johnrose scored a cracker in a League Cup tie which ended 1-1 (we won the second leg 1-0). I was honoured to be at Radio Lancs with Lennie for the Friday night preview last week. He upset a few Blackpool fans but I think I managed not to offend anyone even though the show opened previewing Burnley versus Spurs.
Of course my prediction for that was well awry and in fact I think the only result for the seven local clubs I got right was our draw at Birmingham. I went for one apiece rather than 2-2, reckoning without our ability to pull out flukey goals but also discouting our now seemingly season-long tendency to conede late. Thirty odd in the last 17 minutes of games now??
Saturday’s was particularly dispiriting having done the hard work getting a lead but one would hope that if we can reproduce the level of most of the final 60 minutes of the St Andrews display at Rotherham, we’ll be in enough credit. Two draws and one win apiece in our last four trips there suggest these games are seldom formalities. Rotherham last won on New Year’s Day and drew all five of their league games in February but I watched them all but defeat Sheffield Wednesday but for an added-time equaliser.
It could be some competition to see who can concede the latest and costliest goal!
It was heartening to see Ben Brereton on target twice for the Under-23’s, for whom he would have been playing much earlier in the season for me, in midweek but I’d urge caution in over-celebrating especially as Doncaster, who don’t run an U23’s fielded a virtual Under-18’s line up. I think there is a big job there rehabilitating the player but it’s a start.
I wonder if that fee might have been better spent on Luke Freeman, a matchwinner for QPR in midweek and a player who always looks impressive. I’d have the likes of Davenport, Rothwell, Chapman and Brereton not to mention our more static midfielders watch a video compilation of him and the Norwich attacking midfieldr Marco Stipermann, the best Championship player I’ve seen all season, to learn how you can impact games by running forward with the ball, almost a lost Ewood art.
Hopefully our Millie, who’s far better on tactics and the technical side of football than me, will come back from Rotherham with plenty to say on her BRFCS podcast debut set to be recorded on Sunday! I will struggle to listen to it however as I’m predictably banned from the messageboard in the wake of criticising that Mowbray poll and the individuals who thought fit to post it last week. Somebody did go to the trouble of linking to the blog however which brought a bonus flurry of hits so feel free to do so again!
Say hi if we’re on your coach, who knows we may get a taste for it?
BLUE-EYED BOY

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Rovers’ February fall brings poll piranhas to fore

From January’s Man to February flop. It hasn’t been the best month for Tony Mowbray, Rovers or the supporters.

If sitting on the cusp of the play-off places after four wins had a slightly heady, surreal feel like that moment on the Big One when you look around the panoramic vista before your head-wrangling descent, four defeats on the bounce has left everyone a bit winded and woozy and very much back on terra firma.

Sunday’s defeat to Middlesbrough was as much of a one-nil hammering as it’s possible to be handed. You can if you are looking for positives summon up an improved second half and certainly claim that Boro’s profligacy came close to costing them dear but even after Graham and Dack, the two who you’d want our only couple of genuine opportunities in 90 minutes to fall to, fluffed their lines the visitors were still carving us open at will creating four or five goal chances to every one of ours both after half-time and over the entire piece.

Those who described Tony Pulis’s team (any Tony Pulis team!) as dour and limited in advance, hence one of the poorest Teesiders following for years, had to admit that they did a pretty stylish number on us and with a better finisher than Ashley Fletcher – ie just about anyone – they could have racked up a tennis set score and not been flattered.

It capped an awful week in which Rovers, and I told you they were finding new ways to lose, managed to present Reading with the points at the Madejski at the end of an infuriating game they at least ought never have lost.

I wrote earlier in the season that there would be times we’d lose two, three or four on the bounce and not to panic. I’m not sure I extended that projection to five or six but we have two away games now and need to summon up the kind of spirit which saw us go to places like Stoke and West Brom and claim points.

The four consecutive defeats have inevitably brought a few ghouls out of the shadows. One forum ran a “back or sack” (their words, not mine ) Mowbray poll which led with the imbecilic question “Does the manager deserve his job?” (I’m not making this up – Does.The.Manager.Deserve.His.Job? – it actually says that)  and just to further hammer home the utter idiocy of the question in the first place, didn’t allow respondents to answer simply “yes” or “no, ” surely definitive enough for most intellects, but further sub-divided the choices of response to the auto-suggestive and in my view, insulting, following:

A) No, he hasn’t for a long time
B) Just. Only Just.
C) Reassess in the summer
D) Of course he’s doing a great job

The mind boggles.

I’m not getting heavily into the minutiae of the results other than to say an unbelievable 59 per cent answered A, B or C, my only point is that in my opinion creating the poll in the first place was a fundamentally fetid, provocative and grudgeful act.

If you think there is a magical guaranteed-success replacement to step in at a moment’s notice to replace a guy whose understanding of the fabric of this club, rapport with the fans and whose thoughtful and constructive commitment and willingness to set out a rational plan to improve it in sensible, acheivable stages has infused the club and fans with renewed pride and credibility, then fair enough.

I heavily suspect though that there are some agents provocateurs who would relish further turmoil as an opportunity to revive and re-kindle anti-Venkys sentiments.

I don’t believe this club stands yet in a position at this stage to chuck large sums of money at it and gamble on promotion.I accept last summer’s transfer business sent out slightly mixed messages but I’d be surprised by a splurge. And either way, I’m happy for Mowbray, however the rest of this season pans out, to be the man to oversee the club’s rehabilitation and development.

That’s far from to say I have total faith in Tony’s every single action and utterance.

I was puzzled by the reluctance to augment the squad in January – it was arguably weakened – and his team selection in the two latest games baffled me in extremis.

At Reading, I thought that was the game to target and pick the very best XI available. Had we won there and still lost on Sunday, we’d be 20 points above the bottom three instead of 14 which sounds plenty but can be quickly whittled away at yet if the slump continues.

When have we last scored a goal as simple as their winner? Marvin Emnes against Wigan maybe and he had to show far more skill than Nelson Oliveira was required to. Ben Brereton, of whom inevitably more later, must dream of a ball dropping out of the sky with a route to goal as devoid of defenders.

Whatever the outcome however, I’m convinced that Dack and Graham starting would have given us a better chance of converting possession superiority into goals.

Injuries and suspensions hitting hard make the decision to let Downing go out an ill judged one. But on Sunday you’d have thought we had too many attacking options.

What looked a gung-ho all-guns-blaze-away formation was never going to work. Pulis utilised his limited defensive options superbly and far from swarming all over them with raiders from all and sundry points of the compass, we were often hopelessly outnumbered in midfield during a spectacularly hapless first half.

The subs all made a difference but I wouldn’t personally have waited longer than 30 minutes before making them. Fifteen minutes of the first half with that line-up and we may not have lost a man.

Mowbray, like any manager, is not infallible and he was outwitted by Pulis on the day. It happens. I know people will say “he criticises the poll then lists Mowbray’s foibles. ” Well, yes, I do.

But would I prefer Slavisa Jovanovic, David Wagner, Mark Hughes, Simon Grayson or any of the other suggestions in charge? I categorically wouldn’t.

But to home in on another folly, Ben Brereton simply cannot start again any time soon.

He looks shot, possibly psychologically damaged by his experience and simply isn’t anything like ready to impact games – Mowbray’s exact words a month or two ago.

Five first-half league goals at Ewood all season in 17 games – two of them were in one game – suggest we are having a second-half mountain to climb most weeks to take much from home games and experiments aimed at restoring Brereton’s self-belief have to take place elsewhere than in the white-hot spotlight of beginning Championship fixtures.

Whether, as I hear Mowbray is unhappy with a faction of players recently left out in the cold (“out of firing line”?) over their attitude and the company they are keeping, or not, he has a duty to pick the eleven most likely to win the next game. Even my admiration might be slightly diminished if I ever think he’s not doing that.

If nothing else the Boro game illustrated that the gap between ourselves and the true promotion/play-off aspirants is rather more cavernous than the four-point margin which flashed before our eyes only too briefly suggested.

Birmingham have also dropped a little off the pace of the pack and Rovers need to re-habilitate themselves at St Andrews or at Rotherham before those PNE and Wigan derbies the fans so want a taste of revenge in for those November hidings.

A pet subject, I know, but again I’m majorly disappointed that Rovers paid no respects at an Ewood game to the late Mike Harrison who passed away a couple of weeks ago.

While younger representatives of the club may think; “oh, nobody remembers these old players, what’s the point?” it’s a fact that anyone 60-plus, and look around where you sit at Ewood and see how many fit that category, saw these guys and was entertained by them richly enough to want to show their respects and admiration.

Mike actually played more times for Rovers than Fred Pickering whose own richly-deserved tribute on Sunday was marred by the Rovers tannoy announcer incorrectly locating his England debut hat-trick against USA to Wembley instead of New York.

Far too many yeoman performers and their families have been let down by the club in this regard in recent years.

For goodness sake, Rovers, the likes of myself, renowned authors Harry Berry and Mike Jackman and others steeped in Rovers’ history are available through the picking up of a phone anytime to get this stuff right for the sake of the bereaved families if no-one else.

BLUE-EYED BOY

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Sad Saturday sees a Rovers colossus pass away

In the days before Valentine’s Day, one expects a few of Cupid’s arrows to land here and there but at Ewood on Saturday a man named Eros virtually ended any Rovers’ hopes of a romantic end to the season and sent only the visiting Robins home feeling frisky.
Most fans would have shook on a mid-table finish at the start of the season but Rovers have occasionally spiced the last few weeks up by adopting various positions (from 14th to eighth and back to 13th) but even with a few cheap offers on, Steve Waggott will struggle to extract much more more ardour from a set of fans virtually lying back and lighting a fag happy in the certainty that we’ll be back same place same time next season with passions re-kindled. 
This column goes out before the game at Reading on Wednesday so we may have perked up again suddenly but, to mix the metaphors, a couple of weeks after calling an outstanding tune against Hull, the 2018-19 campaign seems destined for an extended fade-out. 
Flirting with the play-offs surely appears to be over for this season. 
That’s not altogether surprising. Of the 11 which started on Saturday, ony Rodwell (who despite his good form may not have played had Lenihan been fit) and Reed couldn’t have begun a game a year ago. Only Rothwell of the three subs used is an addition this year. The only other incoming player on the bench was Brereton, understandably at present considered less likely to produce an equaliser than the willing but limited Nuttall. (We have even invented a new term,”project signing” to cover any suggestion that the £7m signing was folly).
So we’ve basically persevered with last year’s lot barring a couple of tweaks. Only Reed has claimed a regular start and materially enhanced the squad week in week out and he isn’t yet our player. 
Things could be a lot worse – many clubs have stayed far too loyal to a bunch of promoted players who’ve faltered sooner and ended up in eventual trouble on account of giving the fellas who did well a division lower a fair crack of the whip – but the “we’re just having a middling season” stats of W11 D10 L10 cheer-led out disguise a couple of worrying and inalienable facts.
In the first 17 games of the season we lost just three. In the next 14 games we’ve lost seven.
From losing less than a third of our matches in the opening months we’ve started to lose half of them. And with an overall seven wins from 16 home games we still can’t get that home win perecentage up above the bare acceptable minimum of 50 per cent.
Those defeats at Preston and Wigan seem to have brought to the surface a disconcerting vulnerability, particularly away from home. In the last seven away games we’ve conceded three or more five times. You don’t get points from too many games in which you do that. If we haven’t become easier to beat we’ve certainly found more ways to lose regularly.
Good luck to the marketing people at Ewood selling the last seven home games. Many of them look attractive games to me – three local derbies, two with a revenge mission aforethought, Stoke which is almost a derby and two promotion chasing sides (all three of those likely to bring a decent following) and. er, Swansea.
Out of that lot, only one is a 3pm Saturday kick-off. Two are Sundays, one a Bank Holiday Monday, two Wednesdays and PNE, handed 7,500 tickets for a Saturday dinner start.
This Sunday against Middlesbrough, season ticket holders can buy a ticket for a friend for a tenner. Why bother with the faff of that – the tickets were only put on sale ten days before the game. Just make it a tenner for anyone willing to turn up. 
And the “six games for £99 mini-ticket”? Look, if anyone’s managed to this juncture without a full or half-season ticket, are they really likely to commit to six matches with wildly varying kick-offs, most of which will be available on red button? Miss one and you’re talking £20 a game anyway. Why not make it any three games for £40 or £45 or make individual games £15 for the remainder. As a season ticket holder and a tight-fist I do resent offers which undercut us but at this stage I’m happy with anything which will boost numbers – these deals won’t much.
Saddest tidings of the week was the announcement on Saturday of the death of Fred Pickering, a colossus of a Rovers centre-forward, aged 78. Most of Fred’s feats for England, Rovers and Everton were achieved before I really got hooked on going to Ewood but I was warned on his returns to the ground of the threat he would pose leading the attacks of, mainly, Birmingham City and Blackpool when he often looked, as predicted, fearsome. I also, of course watched him during a short second spell with us in the 1970-71 relegation season.
Suffice to say that having made his debut in the 1959-60 Cup Final season as an occasional left-back (Dave Whelan’s use as an emergency striker gave him one opportunity!), his conversion to leading the line late the following season led to a decade of barnstorming goalscoring which to this day sees him revered at the four clubs he represented (we’ll discount a sad attempt at a comeback with Brighton).
If you are discussing Rovers, there are certain players whose first name just requires no elaboration, Ronnie, Bryan, Fred. People don’t need the surname.
His first goalscoring burst in the last ten games of 60-61 saw him score seven in 10, while he managed double figures but just six in the league the following season. He reallly hit his straps the next season with 23 in 36 league games plus five in the cups, including hat-tricks against West Brom and Wolves.
There was genuine talk Rovers could win the First Division title in 1963-64 but hopes were dwindling a little when Fred was sold to persistent suitors Everton (they had taken Roy Vernon and courted Douglas too) in March. He’d scored 23 more in the league including a hat-trick against his soon-to-be employers and three goals in the cups. Arsenal and West Ham had also been on the receiving end of Fred trebles as Rovers, in the season they beat Spurs 7-2, had briefly led the table.
A hat-trick on his Everton debut against Nottingham Forest (Vernon also netted twice that day) was followed by six more before the end of the season – 32 top flight goals in all.
The following season he netted 31 for The Toffees, 27 in the league and four in the FA Cup.
His league tally included goals in both games against Rovers, a habit he continued for the Toffees and for Birmingham.
As an Everton player he scored a hat-trick on England debut in a 10-0 win over USA on a run-down ground on Randall’s Island, New York. Just 5,026 saw it but Fred also netted against Northern Ireland and Belgium (it’s on YouTube) in his next two internationals. He was never picked again! 
The following season he had 22 goals (one of them inevitably in a win at Ewood) under his belt – the last of them in the sixth round of the FA Cup win against Manchester City, he’d also scored in rounds Three, Four and Five – but injury in that quarter final game ruled him out for the remainder of the league season. Though declared fit, he was left out of the Wembley side for the Cup Final against Sheffield Wednesday (subs still weren’t allowed then) and a man called Mike Trebilcock seized his opportunity by scoring twice in a 3-2 win, one of THE most memorable of finals for all sorts of reasons.
Trebilcock’s Everton career consisted of only 14 games in total but Fred is a genuine hall of famer at Goodison and ought to be at Ewood soon
Another injury-plagued Everton season was followed by a prolific couple of years at Birmingham (four more goals in the four games against Rovers, 32 in two seasons and an agonising FA Cup Semi defeat to neighbours Albion. They played Everton in a Final Fred deserved) and then Blackpool, where he became a folk hero by scoring a hat-trick in the penultimate game at a packed (34,000) Deepdale to send the Seasiders up and effectively relegate rivals North End.
Although his appearances in Blackpool’s top-flight season were limited he was sharp enough when available to score seven times in 14 games. After netting twice against Chelsea he was substituted to hoots of derision and Pool lost a 3-1 lead to go down 3-4. Manager Les Shannon was sacked on the Monday. There was a goal at Anfield in one of his final matches in the First Division, surely a sweet one for a former Toffee.
Back at Ewood at the arse-end of a woebegone relegation season he led the line in the final 11 games and scored twice as we fell out of the top two divisions for the first time ever. I’m glad I saw his last Ewood goal against Middlesbrough in a 1-1 draw. 
By then of course his pace, power and thrust was diminished by age and injury and in his final league game for us, a 2-2 draw at home to Bristol City, I was one of a then-record low Ewood crowd of 3,971, Fred one of few reminders that just a few years ago we had been a footballing force in the land.
There was one more appearance under Ken Furphy, a 0-0 draw at home to Lincoln in the League Cup where he was substituted before being mercifully released by Ken Furphy.
I’d known the history well though. Captain of the team which won the FA Youth Cup in 1959 a few weeks after my birth.
My dad rarely made comparisons but wasn’t ever convinced Shearer was better. Bryan Douglas this week said he wasn’t. End of discussion.
I interviewed Fred at his house a few years ago and it’s true to say his prowess and popularity hadn’t brought him much in the way of material wealth.
He was driving a fork-lift and doing a bit of bowling, a familiar sight in the pubs at Pleasington enjoying simple Blackburn pleasures. They tell me up to a few weeks ago you could find him in a cafe on the market having a brew most Saturday mornings.
A few years after that interview my dad said a couple of old Everton lads had wandered into Mill Hill Workingmans’ Club before they played us at Ewood on the off-chance Fred was in as they’d heard he was a regular…sadly he wasn’t that night but he was held in such high regard they wanted to pay their respects. .
Now we all can, in the very saddest of circumstances. Of that great 1963-64 side only Mike England, Mick McGrath, Mike Ferguson and “Duggie” who paid moving tribute Fred, remain. John Byrom, too, a squad member that season (no subs remember!), survives from those days – two Mill Hill lads often lined up together with another Blackburner laying them on.
A working class hero is something to be, eh?
So soon after the loss of Mike Harrison it’s a reminder of our mortality, that all things must pass.
BLUE-EYED BOY
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Another form side for Rovers to figure out after Bees Aberration


I did warn last week that a celebrated performance could often be followed by an absolute clunker (true of anyone, not just us) and the peppering Rovers suffered at Griffin Park on Saturday, while it somehow didn’t feel quite as hopelessly humiliating as the scoreline suggests, was in sharp contrast to the accomplished and assured display at home to Hull a week earlier which I felt was the finest under Tony Mowbray’s managership at Ewood

Statistically, it was certainly a very rare occurrence even through the trying times of the past seven years, to concede a nap hand. We let five in at home to West Ham in a
Lambert-era FA Cup tie but you have to go back to early 2012 and a 7-1 hammering at The Emirates for the last time we shipped more than four in a league fixture.

That was in the dark days of Steve Kean but only around 15 months after Sam Allardyce is bizarrely credited with “not prioritising games against the big boys” in
piloting Rovers to an identical 7-1 defeat at Old Trafford. (I’ve never had any time for that theory. To my knowledge no reduction on 40-odd quid tickets was offered to Rovers fans against United on the basis that Herold Goulon would be selected and Sam was chucking a game a week after Venkys took over).

Neither Kean, Coyle nor anybody else has seen a Rovers side they were in charge of let five in at Tier 2 level for 19 years. Who was in charge that day at Oakwell when we lost 5-1 to Barnsley? Answer at foot of column.

But Mowbray has sufficient credit in the bank to excuse an odd aberration, although defensive collapses away from home are becoming regular enough to represent an increasing concern. He had even  more credit as Rovers swept into a two-goal lead with their first two attacks.

The Old Firm of Dack and Graham tucked away their first opportunities with consummate skill and it was perhaps the confidence borne of scoring five unanswered goals in the previous 100 minutes of football which tempted the visiting
side into continuing to play football and seek to hammer home the advantage rather than to try and sit it out on the lead, something which I’m not sure we’re adept at in
any case.

Supporters always know with 20:20 hindsight when a side should have “shut the shop up” or “gone for the jugular,” but I’m sure the circumstances unfolding on the field have a greater influence on how the play develops than your gaffer shouting on the halfway line.

The game turned on one of those seemingly innocent moments after a series of tackles and skirmishes in Brentford’s half.

Travis lost possession as his side were driving forward and snapping at the heels of the Brentford midfield and in that instant Brentford were up the field and back in
the game. Halving a two-goal lead with plenty of time left always immediately gives a team and its fans fresh heart and encouragement as we’ve seen from either side of such a situation many times watching Rovers.

But the second half was largely relentless one-way traffic, certainly in terms of anything meaningful at the business end. Without their talisman attacking figures from the 52nd minute, Rovers looked increasingly as blunt as The Bees began to look penetrative.

Interestingly, both Saturday’s game and the earlier fixture between the two sides at Ewood in August show identical possession stats, Brentford dominating on both occasions with 61% to Rovers’ 39%. The number of shots/shots on target were exponentially higher in a far more open game in London but significantly in the first game both Benrahma and Sawyers, increasingly influential as Saturday afternoon unfolded, were withdrawn as the Londoners failed to convert their dominance into goals.

Benrahma was eventually taken off on Saturday too but not before the damage was done in a game far removed from that tense “one goal wins this either way” affair.

And this time Maupay, suspended for the Ewood game but in the top three of leading Championship scorers despite playing in a  struggling side for much of the campaign, was around to help gobble up the opportunities. From 4-2 there was no coming back even in a  see-saw game like that.

I’m yet to be convinced by the Rodwell at centre-back experiment. Millwall, Ipswich and Bristol City were feeble up front and I thought both he and Lenihan were ordinary on Saturday. But sheer availability of numbers dictates that Rodwell will be back there on Saturday.

Raya was unquestionably at fault for the crucial third with a dash from goal as ill-advised as the one against Birmingham but he would have had to climb over a decisive pairing like Hendry and Moran to get near that part of the area for a ball looping 25 foot in the air. Even Hanley and Duffy, pre-downing tools, would have been more decisive.

It will be interesting to see if Mowbray uses the pure footballing duo of Mulgrew (if fit) and Rodwell against Bristol City. At least they are a right foot/left foot combination which he favours.

The only Robins fan I know of, and possibly not a great barometer of the fortunes as he makes me look a happy-clapper, once stating he’d prefer Owen Coyle to Lee Johnson,  says they don’t actually have a functioning centre-forward either but they seem to be doing alright having ghosted unnoticed and unheralded into the top six on the back of a run of 11 unbeaten in the league (we keep running into in-form bloody sides – after their cup win on Tuesday Brentford are ten unbeaten) with seven straight wins if you count two in the cup.

Maybe Williams or Nyambe will be preferred for a bit more muscle in the centre of defence. Although Nyambe’s claims to the right-back spot will be further enhanced if Bennett continues to as look out of place and uncomfortable as he did coping with Brenford’s left-hand side.

The decision not to invest in reinforcements during the window is looking less prudent than it did a week ago. Lenihan out and Dack/Graham/Evans carrying knocks reinforces the suspicion that we really ought to have tried a bit harder to strengthen down the spine of the side.

The club, and associated willing media pals, were keen, for no other reason I can imagine,  to issue regular on-message bulletins on deadline day extolling the virtues of Nuttall and Brereton which was a clear early sign that the Sam Gallagher (or anyone else) possibilities were dwindling as the day wore on.

Charlton defender Patrick Bauer, or at least the position he plays in, was a priority in Summer but isn’t now, even though fringe-of-squad  pair Wharton and Grayson were loaned out? Hmmm.

I can’t have been the only one to smile wryly as Tony, as is now traditional, assured us that money was available, he just didn’t want to spend it. Signing another player (Harry Chapman) he doesn’t feel is yet ready to impact the squad would have been low on my priorities.

Best news of the week was the Under-23s thumping Leicester 7-1. It’s the first “reserves” game I’ve been to at Leyland for a while, and mainly ventured out in the cold as our Olivia was keen to go, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing six different lads take their goals superbly among some venerable Roverite company.

Joe Rankin-Costello, back from injury worries, hearteningly got the first and he’s a player who caught my eye a year or two ago and I wish him every success but the departure of Willem Tomlinson this week shows that the leader of the pack at a tender age can soon be passed in the queue. They are such a likeable, exuberant bunch of kids under a caring coach in Damien Johnson that you hope every one of them makes it while knowing from experience that many won’t.

Dan Butterworth, who covers ground like a pedigree so sumptuously, wasn’t on the scoresheet but he continues to looks a class act. The fellows I sat with wryly but entirely seriously pointed out that the suggestion to give Ben Brererton game time with the kids falls down on the basis that he’d struggle to fit in and keep a place.

These are guys who watch and encourage Rovers teams ardently home and away at every level too, not 19-year-olds pulling their faces because a player doesn’t look as good as he does on FIFA 2019.

Second best news was Middlesbrough losing their cup game so that their fixture at Ewood a week on Sunday goes ahead. A Boro cup win would have given us 10 days
off. There are enough blank weekends with international breaks without another.

It’s now a busy week with yet another team who are showing little signs of improving, Reading, away on Wednesday.

BLUE-EYED BOY

*It was during a Tony Parkes caretaker spell that Rovers lost 5-1 to Barnsley in January 2000.

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Another form side for Rovers to figure out after Bees aberration


I did warn last week that a celebrated performance could often be followed by an absolute clunker (true of anyone, not just us) and the peppering Rovers suffered at Griffin Park on Saturday, while it somehow didn’t feel quite as hopelessly humiliating as the scoreline suggests, was in sharp contrast to the accomplished and assured display at home to Hull a week earlier which I felt was the finest under Tony Mowbray’s managership at Ewood

Statistically, it was certainly a very rare occurrence even through the trying times of the past seven years, to concede a nap hand. We let five in at home to West Ham in a
Lambert-era FA Cup tie but you have to go back to early 2012 and a 7-1 hammering at The Emirates for the last time we shipped more than four in a league fixture.

That was in the dark days of Steve Kean but only around 15 months after Sam Allardyce is bizarrely credited with “not prioritising games against the big boys” in
piloting Rovers to an identical 7-1 defeat at Old Trafford. (I’ve never had any time for that theory. To my knowledge no reduction on 40-odd quid tickets was offered to Rovers fans against United on the basis that Herold Goulon would be selected and Sam was chucking a game a week after Venkys took over).

Neither Kean, Coyle nor anybody else has seen a Rovers side they were in charge of let five in at Tier 2 level for 19 years. Who was in charge that day at Oakwell when we lost 5-1 to Barnsley? Answer at foot of column.

But Mowbray has sufficient credit in the bank to excuse an odd aberration, although defensive collapses away from home are becoming regular enough to represent an increasing concern. He had even  more credit as Rovers swept into a two-goal lead with their first two attacks.

The Old Firm of Dack and Graham tucked away their first opportunities with consummate skill and it was perhaps the confidence borne of scoring five unanswered goals in the previous 100 minutes of football which tempted the visiting
side into continuing to play football and seek to hammer home the advantage rather than to try and sit it out on the lead, something which I’m not sure we’re adept at in
any case.

Supporters always know with 20:20 hindsight when a side should have “shut the shop up” or “gone for the jugular,” but I’m sure the circumstances unfolding on the field have a greater influence on how the play develops than your gaffer shouting on the halfway line.

The game turned on one of those seemingly innocent moments after a series of tackles and skirmishes in Brentford’s half.

Travis lost possession as his side were driving forward and snapping at the heels of the Brentford midfield and in that instant Brentford were up the field and back in
the game. Halving a two-goal lead with plenty of time left always immediately gives a team and its fans fresh heart and encouragement as we’ve seen from either side of such a situation many times watching Rovers.

But the second half was largely relentless one-way traffic, certainly in terms of anything meaningful at the business end. Without their talisman attacking figures from the 52nd minute, Rovers looked increasingly as blunt as The Bees began to look penetrative.

Interestingly, both Saturday’s game and the earlier fixture between the two sides at Ewood in August show identical possession stats, Brentford dominating on both occasions with 61% to Rovers’ 39%. The number of shots/shots on target were exponentially higher in a far more open game in London but significantly in the first game both Benrahma and Sawyers, increasingly influential as Saturday afternoon unfolded, were withdrawn as the Londoners failed to convert their dominance into goals.

Benrahma was eventually taken off on Saturday too but not before the damage was done in a game far removed from that tense “one goal wins this either way” affair.

And this time Maupay, suspended for the Ewood game but in the top three of leading Championship scorers despite playing in a  struggling side for much of the campaign, was around to help gobble up the opportunities. From 4-2 there was no coming back even in a  see-saw game like that.

I’m yet to be convinced by the Rodwell at centre-back experiment. Millwall, Ipswich and Bristol City were feeble up front and I thought both he and Lenihan were ordinary on Saturday. But sheer availability of numbers dictates that Rodwell will be back there on Saturday.

Raya was unquestionably at fault for the crucial third with a dash from goal as ill-advised as the one against Birmingham but he would have had to climb over a decisive pairing like Hendry and Moran to get near that part of the area for a ball looping 25 foot in the air. Even Hanley and Duffy, pre-downing tools, would have been more decisive.

It will be interesting to see if Mowbray uses the pure footballing duo of Mulgrew (if fit) and Rodwell against Bristol City. At least they are a right foot/left foot combination which he favours.

The only Robins fan I know of, and possibly not a great barometer of the fortunes as he makes me look a happy-clapper, once stating he’d prefer Owen Coyle to Gary Johnson,  says they don’t actually have a functioning centre-forward either but they seem to be doing alright having ghosted unnoticed and unheralded into the top six on the back of a run of 11 unbeaten in the league (we keep running into in-form bloody sides – after their cup win on Tuesday Brentford are ten unbeaten) with seven straight wins if you count two in the cup.

Maybe Williams or Nyambe will be preferred for a bit more muscle in the centre of defence. Although Nyambe’s claims to the right-back spot will be further enhanced if Bennett continues to as look out of place and uncomfortable as he did coping with Brenford’s left-hand side.

The decision not to invest in reinforcements during the window is looking less prudent than it did a week ago. Lenihan out and Dack/Graham/Evans carrying knocks reinforces the suspicion that we really ought to have tried a bit harder to strengthen down the spine of the side.

The club, and associated willing media pals, were keen, for no other reason I can imagine,  to issue regular on-message bulletins on deadline day extolling the virtues of Nuttall and Brereton which was a clear early sign that the Sam Gallagher (or anyone else) possibilities were dwindling as the day wore on.

Charlton defender Patrick Bauer, or at least the position he plays in, was a priority in Summer but isn’t now, even though fringe-of-squad  pair Wharton and Grayson were loaned out? Hmmm.

I can’t have been the only one to smile wryly as Tony, as is now traditional, assured us that money was available, he just didn’t want to spend it. Signing another player (Harry Chapman) he doesn’t feel is yet ready to impact the squad would have been low on my priorities.

Best news of the week was the Under-23s thumping Leicester 7-1. It’s the first “reserves” game I’ve been to at Leyland for a while, and mainly ventured out in the cold as our Olivia was keen to go, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing six different lads take their goals superbly among some venerable Roverite company.

Joe Rankin-Costello, back from injury worries, hearteningly got the first and he’s a player who caught my eye a year or two ago and I wish him every success but the departure of Willem Tomlinson this week shows that the leader of the pack at a tender age can soon be passed in the queue. They are such a likeable, exuberant bunch of kids under a caring coach in Damien Johnson that you hope every one of them makes it while knowing from experience that many won’t.

Dan Butterworth, who covers ground like a pedigree so sumptuously, wasn’t on the scoresheet but he continues to looks a class act. The fellows I sat with wryly but entirely seriously pointed out that the suggestion to give Ben Brererton game time with the kids falls down on the basis that he’d struggle to fit in and keep a place.

These are guys who watch and encourage Rovers teams ardently home and away at every level too, not 19-year-olds pulling their faces because a player doesn’t look as good as he does on FIFA 2019.

Second best news was Middlesbrough losing their cup game so that their fixture at Ewood a week on Sunday goes ahead. A Boro cup win would have given us 10 days
off. There are enough blank weekends with international breaks without another.

It’s now a busy week with yet another team who are showing little signs of improving, Reading, away on Wednesday.

BLUE-EYED BOY

*It was during a Tony Parkes caretaker spell that Rovers lost 5-1 to Barnsley in January 2000.

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