No pussyfooting – it’s the drop otherwise for Rovers

So typically Rovers that in a season of agonies which began with 20 minutes of horror at home to Norwich and has improved only marginally and for brief periods since, we now could have to wait until the final minute of the final day before our fate is decided – and that’s the best-case scenario.
Of course that may well not be the case after Saturday but I have a feeling we will have another week of permutation-calculating. No wonder I’ve dropped below 14 stone for the first time in years.
Ironically we could quite easily have everything go our way tomorrow and still go down even if we emerge from what’s going to be a nerve-shredding last home game with any semblance of a chance.
I’ve seen every theory possible to man expounded this week from “Villa won’t be trying and their fans will be cheering us” to “Huddersfield will rest everyone at Birmingham having made the play-offs” and while you can see a smidgen of possibly-skewed logic to it all, the only people who can really save Blackburn Rovers are the 18 people selected to wear the shirt and the bloke who selects and instructs them.
They haven’t done much in the last 10 games to suggest that self-preservation is what’s really going on today but still our young hearts run free, imagining two perfect performances while everything else falls favourably to end an otherwise mostly thoroughly miserable campaign and at least avoid adding an ignominious new low to Venkys’ wretched seven-year tenure.
Third division football, any relegation even, doesn’t have to be the end of the world. I was at a  gig with a pal of similar vintage to me who’s a  lifelong Bolton fan earlier in the week and he said he’s really enjoyed what looks like being a  promotion campaign even if Bolton were hamstrung by restrictions on conducting incoming transfers, are still uncertain of their financial future and had to suffer indignities such as selling their training facilities to a rival.
“I admit I’ve enjoyed the feel of being a big fish in a little pool, out-singing home fans at away grounds, taking followings which are huge for that league,” said my pal, “…and just bloody winning a lot more.”
Like us Bolton can point to being a top-half Premier League side and playing in Europe what seems like a fortnight ago.
If you thought Rovers, ie anyone working on behalf of Rovers,  could appoint – or keep – and properly back a man capable of weaving a silk purse from such conditions as Phil Parkinson has then you’d almost accept a season or two of it but the more all-pervading dread at Ewood is that we are locked into an inexorable vortex of atrophy and descent to an even more Hades-like destination than simply one season’s worth of visits to Boundary Park and Spotland,  if such a thing is indeed imaginable.
This time last season the lugubrious Paul Lambert – doing a similarly inspirational job at Wolves if this week’s events are anything to go by – unexpectedly pulled out two pretty welcome but largely meaningless wins against a pair of sides with little to play for to end his own wearisome and underwhelming spell at the helm with a little bit of a flattering flourish.
Oh, for a repeat of that but Villa and Brentford are sides which have improved towards the back end of the season and I don’t care what anyone says, they and their managers will be gunning for a Rovers team which is surely known around the game as flaky on their own ground and virtual canon fodder away from home.
Tony Mowbray’s response to this has been to employ a caution-first approach in recent weeks but you can’t really do that time and time again and profess at the same time the pledge to start games on the front foot with attacking intent aforethought.
If you repeatedly hand the opposition the initiative it’s no point complaining if they seize it in open hands.
I didn’t see anything but the briefest of highlights from Molineux but the recurrent theme from away regulars whose verdict I usually seek out as a sensible view hammered home the point that we contributed little that was pro-active in terms of taking charge against a team customarily almost as nervy on their home patch as we are.
I realise that Villa are the kind of team that can probably hurt you on the counter with the likes of Hogan, Adomah and Kodija but the time for pussyfooting has surely passed and only a bold approach will win the day.
People are very fond of saying, when their team is largely outplayed but sneaks a goal and holds on, “the manager got his selection and tactics spot on today,” but I would be surprised if that was Mowbray’s Plan A against a side who despite underachieving hugely – and after appointing the kind of manager and spending the kind of money Rovers fans once dreamed of Venkys spending in a bid to go back up  – have dangermen all over the field.
The bottom line is that we have too many players who just aren’t good enough, have no inclination to lead by example and no capacity to demand that the rest raise their standards. And possibly, no deep objection to being benched or left out altogether.
It says it all that I saw some discussion of an innocuous performer like Eliott Bennett being nominated as Player of the Year earlier this week. I’ve got nothing against the lad and he’s provided a few goals and assists in recent weeks but he started two Championship games before mid-January, lasting 45 and 61 minutes respectively, and appeared further for a total of 109 minutes over five substitute appearances in the league to that point.
What does that say about those who were regulars in the first 20-odd games?
That’s of no consequence as regards Saturday of course and you could possibly argue that anyone responsible for two winners this next week or keeping clean sheets would be in the running for such an accolade.
As a crowd of supporters we all like to think we can play a part in proceedings and although Ewood has never really enjoyed any kind of reputation as a simmering cauldron of passion worn on the sleeve  or hostility towards visiting teams (well, except that other lot in claret and blue) it’s important that the three sides of the ground  we occupy on Saturday make their presence felt faced with what seems likely to be a  packed Darwen End in those colours.
Credit to Rovers for re-thinking their original decision to charge home fans Category A prices (I think that’s £29 in the Blackburn End, a lot of money to watch a failing outfit), I hope many will take advantage and I’ve tried to encourage a couple of non-regulars to come along even though I’m always ever-so-slightly miffed at season-ticket holders’ pro rata per game rate being undercut – I pay £279 for 23 games, working out at over £12 a game.
I always write to Rovers and point this slight anomaly out and got a semi-reasonable response this week* but there would be no-one more delighted than me if we had the best attendance of the season and it helped eke out a victory.
Whatever befalls us, and as we all know and fear it could be the worst, I hope all will remain civil and reasonable with fellow supporters. Of course there’ll be an outpouring of disdain, hatred even for the owners and the inept board which made the mistake everyone saw but them in making the doomed appointment of the hapless and incompetent Owen Coyle.
Some of the stuff I see on social media and forums disparaging supporters who choose to continue go to games and eschew the token protests periodically suggested (ie the vast majority of even those who continue to attend) is frankly risible.
It’s ugly enough to see on the phone or computer screen so let’s not delight our close rivals by presenting a squabbling, divided rabble gift-wrapped on TV to them.
Personally, I’ll just, as I always do skulk off to the pub disappointed and discuss our sorry plight with mates if the (unfortunately) eminently thinkable happens, I’m just not that demonstrative a person to want to hang about howling abuse at an object of scorn who isn’t there and probably couldn’t care less.
I asked our daughters this week if they wanted season tickets next year and the answer was a  resounding “yes” whatever occurs so it looks entirely certain that we’ll be continuing our family’s century of support for at least another year.
I must admit I was proud of them for that even if I think it will be some time before we re-ignite their mother’s once-legendary enthusiasm! Far from feeling compelled to instruct them that they should be boycotting games or sticking Venkys Out stickers up and down – and as strong, smart individuals they are perfectly at liberty to do those things if they wish – I’ll continue to enjoy my afternoons and evenings out with them and lifelong Rovers buddies.
With rather less road in front of me than I have travelled down the decades I can’t yet bring myself to chuck it in. Watching Chorley or Stanley has no pull for me, shopping certainly hasn’t and I’m living in hope that the girls decide they want to travel to away games – provided they’d put up with me tagging along!
I’m greatly looking forward to finally meeting Old Blackburnian who often sits in for me and dashes this column off these days in person at Saturday’s game (or hopefully in the pub before too)  as well. As someone who has found the long journey from his home in South Yorkshire an unpalatable one this season as his match-day pals have dwindled, he’ll get a warm welcome if he chooses to resume his patronage and sit with the Blue Eyed clan and his fellow contributor Riversider23 whatever standard of football we are taking part in come August.
I recently spotted that it was exactly 50 of those years ago that a midweek trip to Burnden Park with my dad finally did the trick a few dozen Saturday home games had failed to do and got me hooked, lined and sinkered as a Rovers fan.
After sitting in front of him on the handlebars of his bike down Livesey Branch Road many times and parking up at an old aunt’s next door to the White Bull, Saturday afternoons at Ewood pre-1967 had failed to captivate me and remarkably for one so anal-retentive about dates and facts I remember little of who we played or which games I saw.
There was something about the journey to Bolton though, parking up in the early April evening, walking to the ground among men wearing scarves in the home club’s colours with a slightly darker blue, the sounds, the smells of food and cigarettes, the sounds of the partisan home lot howling their slogans and the floodlights coming on as the night darkened…
After all the blue and white I’d had ingrained in me from age four or five onwards, I finally fell for a team wearing all red! We won 1-0 a Bryan Douglas winner I recall. I was a lifer from that night on.
And as Van the man says: “It’s Too Late To Stop Now.”

* An excerpt from Rovers’ reply.

We did debate at length whether we should reduce prices to this level as we don’t like to undercut the price that our loyal season ticket holders have paid.   As a club we felt that season tickets are already great value – effectively providing 9 free games in the Riverside when set against the price of match tickets.

 In the end we went with the offer in the hope that  season ticket holders would understand the reasoning behind the decision.  It is imperative that we fill the ground on Saturday in order to stand any chance of playing in the Championship next season.  This game is massively important for the future of the club and its Championship status and we are trying to create a ‘Fortress Ewood’ feel, which requires large numbers of home fans in the ground – especially given that we are likely to be facing 6-7,000 Aston Villa fans in the Darwen End.      

 So think on – you get “nine free games a season” – as opposed to the many thousands of people who attend every one of the 23 games and pay the individual match price, presumably.
And surely if you’re trying to create a “fortress Ewood” feel, after 22 games winning seven, you possibly don’t give over the whole of the Darwen end to 7,000 visitors?
Obviously the points were relatively unimportant in games against the likes of PNE, Leeds and Newcastle when the club were happy to ensure the minimum number of home supporters turned out by charging Category A prices while giving away fans the same 7,000.
Smarten up, someone.
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All things must pass but mainly backwards and sideways for Rovers


I’ve just finshed the music writer/TV presenter David Hepworth’s wonderful book “1971 Never A Dull Moment” a fabulous month-by-month roller-coaster ride through the year he considers the best and most artistically fertile ever for rock music.

Hepworth makes the point that in the genre of popular music, the notion of nostalgia for the past and re-packaging it hadn’t then been invented.

Not that, aged 12, it would have mattered to me if it had. If I was in the formative stages of pop fandom and “Disco 45 Songwords” mag, printing out the lyrics to Chicory Tip songs, was dictating my mood and metier more than the NME or Melody Maker arguing the merits of Zep’s or The Who’s latest.

I was practically a fully-formed football fan by then however, five years or more into being as obsessed and consumed by the game as a whole and my hometown team specifically as I would soon be by Bowie, Roxy Music and The Velvet Undergound and in April of that year of 1971 my pre-pubescent incarnation felt the pain of relegation for the first time.

Oh I knew we had come down from the top flight just before the World Cup Willie summer of ’66. I’d even been at some of the games but without any real idea why I was there, what was going on or what the concept of falling from one division to another really entailed.

By ’71 I’d voluntarily had our history, recent and bygone, drummed into me, I was insatiable for knowledge about the past. When you are 12, tales of the likes of FA Cup finals, Ronnie’n’Bryan, Mike England, 7-2 wins over Spurs, a marvellous marauding forward line of Ferguson-McEvoy-Pickering-Douglas-and-Harrison are magical but they are half your life away and seem as distant as recollecting your grainy memories of the Beatles/Stones era today.

Hepworth inexplicably doesn’t weave our relegation into his narrative as he does with most major news events of the year but to me it was as seismic and painful as any world event.

It was my first year at secondary school. At games, I’d be allowed to stand on the Blackburn End with new pals from St Mary’s College, my dad and granddad close by but allowing me just enough room to roam that I felt that first flush of independence. I still meet up with three or four of the same lads for a  pint before games and sit next to one at every match. The ties that bind.

What a shocking season it was. Six wins (out of 42 games). One away win. Two wins before December. One win out of the last 15. Our joint top league scorers with six apiece were Eamonn Rogers, a gifted maverick but visibly and tragically falling out of love with the game by then, and Brian Conlon, a much-travelled forward who looked about 80 to us kids and sadly played as if he was at least two-thirds that age.

Three blokes scored four. Nobody else scored more than two. We went out of both cups at Burnden and Goodison at the earliest stage without a goal in either.

For the final game, against Bristol City at Ewood, just 3,971 turned up – at the time the record low attendance for a  league match. It was beaten, bizarrely, on a Bank Holiday Monday in 1984 at the end of a season we’d finished in what now would be the last play-off spot!

We were already down by that final Saturday against Bristol. We’d been to Burnden the previous Saturday tea-time (A 5.30pm kick-off  “to avoid clashing with Turton Fair” I’m reliably informed) and the bottom two clubs, each Football League founder members neither of whom had played in the Third Tier to that point, played out a drab 1-1 draw in a match Rovers needed to win against the already-relegated Wanderers.

Conlon, a kind of ageing Chris Brown who did actually score occasionally, scored our goal. A bloke called Freddie Goodwin, a full-back who wasn’t the best, scored their goal. Trouble was he was our full-back. It was that kind of occasion played out before a paltry derby crowd of just over 7,000.

In the week, we were away to QPR, Rodney Marsh et al. In those days, with no cell phones, sports news channels, no Five Live, no local radio, unbelievably you had to wait for the end of the nine o’clock news for the football results to be briefly read out, bereft of any further details until the morning paper arrived.

My dad came up and broke the unwanted tidings to me that we’d lost 2-0 and were confirmed as down. I cried myself to sleep. I don’t think football has ever felt quite so crushing since whatever’s happened.

Eight years later, age 20, now working for a clerk’s wage and a travelling fan who went all over the place, I was on the Riverside (4,684 the gate on a Wednesday night against Fulham) as virtually everyone present broke into a chant of “When we all go down, we all go down together.”

I still don’t know what we all really meant by it but that and The Jam’s “Thick As Thieves” sum up for me the post-punky spirit of youth and the camaraderie we enjoyed as a bunch of fans following a crap side at the decade end.

After another hideous campaign we were Division three-bound again. This time we had won 10, but most of them far too late to matter. Simon Garner with eight was top scorer. The 5-0 defeat at Oldham on Good Friday was the only time I’ve ever walked off a ground early watching Rovers for reasons other than illness and I saw all five goals – and Faz getting sent off in utter frustration – before departing with two minutes left.

If you thought things couldn’t get worse than that 24 hours later we were at Ewood to see us lose 2-1 to, of all people,  Burnley.

“Clarets twist the relegation knife,” ran the Saturday night Sports Pink headline.

Can you compare one relegation with another? Are circumstances now worse than then? Who knows, only history can tell you what the future once was.

Most of us hope that Venkys will have a tipping point but none of us know when or what will trigger it.

Perhaps we would find a buyer or at least a caring steward in the image of a Bill Fox or Bill Bancroft. A steady and locally-connected hand in the boardroom would find favour with everyone.

Ian Battersby, who’s spoken with nothing but sense and compassion about the club and its situation would be everyone’s favourite to find a backer and lead any attempted route map back to glory.

That’s the hope. A wealthy backer maybe.

There wasn’t a bloody prayer of one of them in 1971 or 1979! I recently scoured the Evening Telegraph pages from that era in the library archives and in the pre-Twitter/Facebook epoch people expressed their frustration by writing to the local paper.

Far from seeing the era as one where the club’s directors “had the best interests of the club at heart” (and, boy, they did) as I am often told now, the noisiest and most vociferous critics wrote in reams about how they lacked ambition, wouldn’t invest and lacked the imagination to speculate to accumulate.

There are dozens of such letters. I wrote some of them myself!

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose, eh?

What we will need, first and foremost is a decent manager. Mowbray resigned at Coventry saying you couldn’t do much with frees and loans which is sadly what we will be dealing in.

Phil Parkinson hasn’t done badly at Bolton though.

It wasn’t as disastrous as 1979 (which had a third game in four days and a shock 1-0 win at packed Roker Park as a welcome but ultimately meaningless little twist) but two steps forward, two steps back. That was this Easter, though it could be a (generous) description of our midfield, a unit so static and bereft of athleticism and sharpness that Opta stats on four of those wooden figures across a table football pole would surely suggest more positive movement and sprints in a 10-minute tap room encounter than most of Rovers’ midfield  clocked up in 180 minutes over the Holiday weekend.

I’ve watched football enough decades in enough far-flung points of the compass to know that any away win is to be savoured and I dropped lucky on Friday when my only road trip this season yielded three priceless points.

I didn’t think it was the greatest performance. Forest ran out of ideas, we had none to start with other than keep a clean sheet – nothing wrong with that – and we got the delivery spot on at one of the few set-piece danger moments our largely timorous approach afforded.

Mahoney looked the only viable outlet or source of a telling ball for much of the game and his perfect inswinger precipitated joyous “Duffy at Brentford” scenes.

Me and Mrs Blue Eyes witnessed them from the Brian Clough stand, immediately looking down on the away section. Our daughters were in with the Rovers lot though and it was wonderful to see them come singing and dancing across the car park, overjoyed and carried away with the significance of the occasion, when we met up with them after.

It was a classic Howard Kendall defend-properly-you-get-one-point –sneak-one-you-get-the-lot display and the back four and keeper deserved every credit. The fans who’ve travelled up and down and watched us play far better and get nowt on occasion deserve it far more than we occasional day-trippers too.

That ought to have been the springboard to set about Bristol City, who recently capsized to the tune of 5-0 at Deepdale, like a pack of rabid dogs.

But once again, by five minutes into an Ewood game, we have lapsed into that soporific, slow-slow, slow-slow-slow fug of a tempo, allowing the opposition – this a side which recently won one out of 20-odd, mark you – the opportunity to pass it around and feel comfortable and unharried, neat triangles, people skipping into space unaccompanied, full-backs constantly finding space.

As ever, we made the visitors look a good side. Okay they were coming off two wins but they’re not Rinus Michels’ Ajax side which is precisely what we made them look like.

One of my pals summed it up better than I could: “Quite simply we don’t work hard enough with or without the ball, that’s why we concede so many.”

Their goal was a perfect illustration. Somebody counted 31 passes, most in our half before a clever run by Abraham allowed him the kind of finish your bored mate who once had trials with Everton, played non-league for money and still runs half-marathons scores to make it 18-3 against your lot in the weekly over-45’s kick-about on the Astroturf he’s been asked to make up the numbers in.

You can guarantee that if we get to make 31 passes, Derby away excepted, 27 will be in our own half and the final one will evade our widest player’s attempt to catch it as it sails  over his head into row 14.

 The lack of any kind of response was so staggering that when Rovers actually did produce an equaliser they had scarcely threatened it seemed as difficult to comprehend as the 72 minutes of mind-numbing incompetence which preceded it.

Even then there was little need for Elliot Bennett’s unseemly posturing to the Riverside.

He’s been far from our worst performer of late and popped an odd goal in but after declaring to those daft enough to follow him on Twitter that the relegation battle was now so important that he would be depriving his acolytes of his social media wisdom in order to fully concentrate on his job (Gee, thanks, El, so glad you’re going to give this your best shot from March onwards, how will we manage without  “3 massive points 4 the boys today and a  great away following”) his reaction to actually slinging a cross in competently was way over the top and beyond the merely celebratory.

Tony Mowbray has to shoulder a bit of blame for the remarkable lack of urgency in the last two home games. With wins a must and decent attacking players among his armoury, setting up to approach the Bristol game in a similar mind-set to Forest away was handing the initiative to the foe from the off.

He’s been unlucky with injuries to Mulgrew, Lenihan and Graham but could have got more out of the three strikers available (the moronic Stokes presumably awarded another idiocy-related absence  after his brief and unremarkable cameo at the City Ground) with a more positive approach, possibly involving Guthrie on the field at some stage.

Guthrie, however, probably has to ask himself, after witnessing Lowe and Akpan flounder from the bench: “How on earth have I given the manager the option of leaving me out when that’s the competition?” Guthrie turned 30 this week and needs to take a good long look at himself if there is reasoning behind his omission.

I think we’ll now need a minimum of two wins from the last three and I can’t see it happening.

Forest’s fixtures look less imposing than Birmingham’s but the appointment of Harry Redknapp is an “It’s A Knock Out” style joker card to throw in after the misery Zola visited upon them.

How ironic if, as predicted by my fellow columnist Old Blackburnian, Paul Lambert  and his Wolves side, safely mid-table, hammer a decisive nail into our relegation coffin on Saturday.

For one of our girls, aged 12 as I was, it would be a first real taste of relegation since becoming a supporter around the start of the 2012-13 season when hopes were high of a swift return to the top flight.

Five seasons of failure and disappointment followed by Third tier football would exactly mirror my initial fan experience.

I desperately hope Mowbray sends the team out in a positive frame of mind for these last three and gets the wins which spare her that ordeal, the one that dad wept over, 46 years ago.

My favourite line in the David Hepworth book is one he quotes early on, describing a meeting between Paul McCartney and the gentlest of the Beatle souls, George Harrison.

McCartney desperately wanted to get away from the Apple contract which meant that despite the band breaking up, they were inextricably bound together in perpetuity in a seemingly unbreakable business arrangement and asked George to agree to his release from the commitment.

“You’ll stay on the fucking label. Hare Krishna,” snapped George with a strange cold-eyed mixture of corporate stubbornness and mystic religious gobbledook peace-and-love sentiment.

That’s what being a Rovers fans sometimes feels like. However much we’d like to get out of the contract we have to stay on the effing label forever!

Hare Krishna indeed!





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Back-foot Ewood timidity leaves Rovers needing big hits with five left


At the exact time I write this, 37 years ago to the day, I was stood at Knuzden traffic lights with a  bag of butties and six cans of Stein lager awaiting the Accrington Branch of Rovers Supporters Club coach to St James Park.

Exeter, not Newcastle. We were going full tilt for promotion from Division Three.

I’d run out of Persil vouchers for cheap train travel and knew Paul Astley, now sadly no longer with us, who ran the coach operation so decided to “slum it” on the Aspdens yellow and black bus which didn’t even afford the luxury of an on-board toilet.

A “comfort break” meant pulling into the services, or even less edifying, onto the hard shoulder and dozens of blokes disappearing as best they could into whatever foliage was available for cover. Or, for those less bashful, simply not bothering.

With the stink of stale sandwiches, cheap beer, sweaty male flesh and the cumulative odour over a period of hours of all conceivable unpleasant bodily functions it wasn’t for the feint-hearted, so imagine my surprise on seeing a couple of perky teenage girls among the be-denimed, cheap training shoe-wearing throng.

The shyer of the two lasses, a pretty red-head, caught my eye. By the end of the game, which we lost 2-0 to end a run of 15 games dropping  just a single point (and a record run of eight consecutive victories) I was fairly smitten.

I was particularly impressed by how she’d steadfastly ignored boos and jeers from three sides of the ground as, wearing a Rovers scarf, she was accompanied by stewards out of our paddock around the running track to the only female toilet in the stadium behind Exeter’s home end.

Lesley was possibly the only girl in Blackburn whose mum was so concerned about her obsession with football and concerned she didn’t have much interest in finding a boyfriend that she was clearly delighted to wave us off when I picked her up outside the door on Peel Mount about a year later in my battered old mini to go to a Jam gig, our first real date.

The young girl in question is now my wife and mother to our kids, although it was a winding and complicated path true love took and at one point we didn’t see each other for 20 years.

In the interim, as they say, I was in the same relationship for a lot of the time …just with a lot of different women!

We made promotion that season, just 12 months after being relegated to the Third Division for the second time in eight years.

Now, we are on the very cusp of a return to that tier. I honestly can’t see us getting out of this one.

Just as in 1971, we face a second relegation five years after dropping out of the top flight.

If a relationship was failing so repeatedly and spectacularly, one of you would walk away for everyone’s good.

Supporting a football team is the opposite though.

Whatever the ups and downs, highs and lows, however intolerable it seems at times, divorce or a fresh love interest isn’t an option.  At least not for my generation.

If it was, days like Saturday would surely precipitate it.

Another absolute horror show, in full view of the kids too, it would be a tipping point if it was any other kind of human endeavour gone sour.

In actual fact, we are booked to go to our only away game this season at Forest on Friday and even my Mrs, an infrequent attendee at games these days, will be present as we meet up with friends from our spells living in Nottingham and re-visit some favourite old haunts.

But if any hope remained before that Barnsley abomination, I very much feel we blew our last shot at survival by losing so comprehensively to the Tykes.

It’s the hope that kills you, as they say, and for the briefest of periods it seemed the long-overdue change in management might just have come in the nick of time however long Venkys and their latest hatchet man Paul Senior had delayed it.

A decent half at Burton here, a couple of narrow home wins there….it was all so simple. A bit of organisation. Passing, movement, goal threat. All those things you see because all of a sudden you want to see them, you want to identify a quantum leap in performance standards.

But the signs were there and the stats backed them up… the revival was brief, short-lived and built on the flimsiest of evidence. Possibly illusory.

Going a goal behind in seven consecutive games, six of them in the first half, is a trait inherited from Coyle, not an upgrade.

By my reckoning, the last time Rovers scored the first goal in the first half of a home game was against Wolves in October, a truly astonishing and shocking stat for a side with woeful away form (no wins in 11) for whom home wins are paramount.

Every successive Rovers manager talks of the importance of seizing the initiative at Ewood, coming out of the starting blocks at a high tempo, getting on the front foot from the whistle. Nobody can deliver it.

Never has it been more evident than on Saturday when a Barnsley side put together on a modest budget by a manager no more decorated or experienced than Gary Bowyer was at Ewood, played us off the park with smart, thoughtful incisive football.

If Tony Mowbray was, as so many were keen to credit him, responsible for an instant improvement in performances following Owen Coyle’s departure, he surely cannot be fully absolved for the subsequent  dip in standards which culminated in Saturday’s most shockingly abject of capitulations.

I don’t know if he was simply trying to justify being so comprehensively out-thought and out-fought but if he gave Barnsley as big a build-up before the game as the shower of praise he lavished upon them after, no wonder our lot came out looking as afeared and tentative as if they were up against Bayern Munich.

This lot had gone eight without a win, remember, to say Mowbray felt moved to so rhapsodise about the quality of their play and the inevitable threat they carried.

The injuries to Lenihan (unfortunate) and Mulgrew (not exactly impossible to predict) left him with little option in the centre-back positions but though the opening goal was yet another simply-defended set-piece aberration (“at least this bloke knows how to set a defence up,” they were telling me a few weeks ago) and the second a wasteful piece of profligacy in possession by Hoban there were men all around the field with as little to be proud about as the execrable Wes Brown and his partner.

One reader of the column recently suggested (in an excellent and constructive series of comments) that our squad is better than Preston’s given the right management.

I’d argue that Saturday shows it isn’t and illustrates the inevitable outcome of shoddy recruitment while dispensing with your best players – a strategy which heralded both the 1971 and 1979 relegations.

To be dropping (delete where applicable and pick combination of your choice) Conway/Akpan/Feeney/Bennett/ Guthrie/Evans/Gallagher/Graham/Joao and replacing with whoever was last benched out of the same list is like shuffling a 2, 3 and 5 all in different suits at three-card brag.

Discussing who should play and who shouldn’t is all a bit like arguing which was the better drummer in Showaddywaddy or who was the best musician in the Bay City Rollers. One or two might not have been the worst and might conceivably have got a gig in a better outfit but without a miracle worker in the manager’s seat – and Mowbray suddenly looks very unlike one – the whole of Rovers team is currently amounting to rather less than even the sum of the very mediocre parts.

There are ways to lose if you’re going to be defeated. This was reminiscent of previous inexcusable low watermark relegation season defeats offering no hope whatsoever  – Kidd’s “rubber dinghy men” against Forest and Kean’s laughably inept attempts at Spurs and Swansea in which a side desperate to save itself barely mustered a “penalty box incursion.”

It reminded me more though of a 1979 home defeat to Cardiff, 4-1 on a Wednesday night after which the Evening Telegraph’s pull-no-punches Rovers reporter David Allin compared the side’s survival instinct with that of an extinct animal with the (in)glorious headline: “Oh no! At least the dodo fought for its life”

It was significant that Barnsley were able to bring on two out and out goalgetters in Tom Bradshaw and Adam Armstrong as substitutes late on. At the very juncture when a side away from home ought to be under the cosh and defending a spirited comeback by the home side for dear life, clearing a couple off the line and looking to shore up with an extra defender or defensive midfielder, they were rightly sensing snatching a couple more.

I’ve come off dozens of games a tad disappointed not to have won more comprehensively and I bet a few Barnsley fans felt similar.

Only Mahoney offered any hope and wanted the ball. Yes, his end product was negligible and his decision-making questionable at times but there were others on that field happy to hide and shuffle up and down unnoticed.

If anybody wanted firm evidence of why his career might progress more at Oakwell than Ewood however, this game and Barnsley’s enterprise and excellence presented it starkly.

It’s a sorry state of affairs which the strange inertia of our owners has visited upon us. Nobody can defy the likes of Burnley, PNE and Barnsley the right to self-improve and progress although it hurts that clubs who were not long ago light years behind us are now looking back at us almost sympathetically.

And we are yet to see a single sign that those charged with the stewardship of Rovers can offer any glimpse of a strategy to eventually set us on a course to recovery.

So now me, the girl from the bus stop and our two kids are off to Forest hoping for a turn-up and a twist in the relegation saga but based only on history’s capacity for throwing up unforeseen quirks, not on any empirical evidence.

We lived in Nottingham for a time (Mrs Blue Eyes much longer than me, partly explaining that 20 years  between dates), our youngest was born there, and it will be nice to see some good friends and revisit favourite old haunts. 

The match looked important when we booked it. Not this important though. Lose and the game’s virtually up. 

By the time Bristol City come to Ewood on Monday for what could have been a crucial six-pointer it could be largely academic.

It seems as if young Rovers fans will be boarding buses to Oxford, Peterborough, Walsall and Northampton next year, maybe renewing local rivalries with Rochdale, Oldham and Bury.

If Venkys have a tipping point, maybe the only good to come from relegation could be that this is it, though I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Oh for a boardroom full of Bancrofts, Browns and Fox’s and an inspirational figure such as Howard Kendall, for whom, bleary-eyed and hungover from Friday excesses we packed our butties and beer on Saturday mornings for frills-free travel the length and breadth of England!

Whenever I discuss those days with contemporaries who were there the memories of the camaraderie, togetherness and sheer love and pride for the club cause middle-aged men and women’s eyes to glaze over with happy nostalgia.

I didn’t care who thought we were small time and it’s one of the reasons punks on messageboards and social media won’t convince me to turn my back on my club now.

When Burnley and Preston were down to 2,000 turning up, 1,700 even, I took the mickey uproariously and derided their lack of loyalty.

“See if you turn up if it ever happens to you,” they’d say.

If there’s one thing keeps me going, it’s not having that lot say: “I told you so.”

*Finally we all join in sending our good thoughts and heartfelt best wishes for a full recovery to those injured in and affected by the awful accident outside Ewood on Saturday.

A peaceful and enjoyable Easter to everyone else, however taxing our predicament on the football field.





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Tony’s diminishing returns down south make Roses revival a must

Two wins from nine, 12 goals conceded.

That’s the record for Tony Mowbray so far.

Coincidentally, it was also the record of Owen Coyle over his last nine Championship games in charge.

True, Mowbray has eked out five draws where Coyle managed only three but the stats tell you that despite all the optimism and perceived improvement since the managerial switch, we lie just a place higher and still in the relegation places.

We are all very fond of seeing things as we want to see them. Coyle of course “didn’t know how to set a team up to defend”

Mowbray does, and he “speaks very well,” says everyone. He’s a proper football man, you know.

But he has the identical resources at his disposal thus far as Coyle had and while we all saw a seven-game unbeaten run as heralding an upturn in our fortunes, all of a sudden the realisation is dawning that we have won two out of the last 11, none out of siximg_11081 whoever was in charge of which particular game.

That’s relegation form in anyone’s parlance or however you dress a few draws up. Teams in trouble need wins.

When Coyle was sacked we lay two points from safety but with a superior goal difference to the side who stood 21st.

We are now a single point behind Bristol City – another of those lucky clubs with a  wealthy local backer who cares deeply about the club – the likeliest candidates to drop below us, but despite their hammering at Preston on Tuesday while we were losing at Reading, their goal difference remains four better than ours.

They also have four home games from their final six, all of them against teams in the bottom half (albeit starting by entertaining in-form Wolves on Saturday).

As bad as they’ve been, you can do the maths required if, say, they were able to win two or three of those and pick an odd point up besides although getting cuffed five ‘baht in a game you need to scrap for your lives in hardly portends a run of victories.

It’s WD40 to the rear sub-navel aperture time alright.

The only positive from a pair of undistinguished displays against admittedly high-flying Southern promotion contenders has been that there wasn’t too much collateral damage in the way of other teams around the bottom three picking points up, Burton with their creditable win at Huddersfield excepted.

One nervily awaits news of Charlie Mulgrew’s injury (and hopes that Tom Hoban’s ring-rustiness being thrown into the fray and being comprehensively beaten to two goal-bound headers was just that) although the Scottish international was himself partly culpable for Brighton’s winner, wrongly deciding to let the onside Glen Murray dart in front of him.

Mulgrew has been otherwise largely admirable when fit and the side without him lacks the degree of composure he exudes and brings to others via his calmness on the ball.

 Mowbray went for some decidedly odd changes at Madejski Stadium in midweek – what he felt Feeney and Akpan might bring to the party is unclear – with Emnes., Joao amd Guthrie joining Mahoney on the bench.

That’s quite a lot of weaponry and creativity to have the option of bringing on but sometimes I look at fellas and think what is it that the manager sees when he looks you in the eye that makes him think you can’t be trusted to start game after game?

I like blokes whose performances say: “You can pick who you want but you’ll get some stick if you think about leaving me out of the starting XI!” Too many of ours are content with an odd decent game here, a sub cameo there.

Much criticism has been hurled at Jason Steele, never entirely convincing in goal since arriving from Middlesbrough a  couple of years ago.

Many of those who feel Steele has been too often weak and easily-beaten will for the first time begin to seriously question the manager’s judgement if Raya is left on the bench much longer.

I must admit I have no firm conviction on this. I don’t know enough about Raya (how can you? He never plays a game) to be adamant that he would be an improvement. Do you chuck him in at this cataclysmic stage?

And I am certain that goalkeeping standards have dropped so alarmingly over decades that I don’t really know that you can expect much of anyone employed in that capacity in the lower half of the current second tier.

Gone, for sure, are the days when you could find a (Sir) Roger Jones in Division Three or pluck a Jim Arnold from non-league.

If Saturday’s game against Barnsley isn’t a must-win I don’t know what is. The Tykes are themselves without  a win in eight and must be despatched if we are to give ourselves a chance of surviving. A draw or defeat is unthinkable at the time of writing.

Rovers have baulked recent trends in announcing season ticket prices early and they are initially available at frozen prices, possibly to be regarded as a bargain or at least a  decent offer if we stay up.

We’ll doubtless renew ours but I fully sympathise with anyone not bothering. The Riverside staying open is a mild, pleasant surprise to me.

With our divisional whereabouts as yet uncertain I note there is no “promotion pledge” included!

Charging the same for League One football (without any incentive based on performance) will not have quite the same appeal however and with two cut-off dates during the summer after each of which the prices do actually go up, one wonders who on earth will be prepared to commit to paying more to watch a recently relegated team?

A great deal of hot air has been expended on Mike Cheston’s revelation at one of those tedious, staged supporter consultation PR abominations that the amount anticipated for season ticket sales has already been mortgaged.

It’s a mildly embarrassing admission but no more, it happens at many clubs. Likewise short-term loans.

As many will know from painful experience it’s a problem if you need short-term loans. It’s a bigger one if you can’t pay them back.

Certainly not to my reckoning worth getting the knickers in a twist about at this stage, although a select few will insist on doing so as they speculate feverishly about whether Suhail Pasha’ exists, who or what he is/does and his eligibility to work in the UK (who in the firmament cares?), the absence of verbatim Hansard-type stenographed minutes of the above-mentioned gathering of grunts and greens and sundry other periphery barely worthy of momentary attention, let alone forensic scrutiny.

I prefer to focus for the moment on what Tony Mowbray will be focusing on, the next game and the urgent need to win it.

Anything else can wait.

Hopefully there’ll be a good crowd on backing the home team to the hilt, although despite the recent multi-game packages I feel Rovers have shot themselves in the foot charging Category A for the potentially crucial Villa home game.

Then again, it should be no surprise from a club whose marketing is so clumsy I was forced this week to listen to an on-hold Rovers Ticketline recorded message about what grand Christmas presents half-season tickets would make – during the school Easter holidays!

Enjoy your weekend!


*Many thanks for your many messages of support following my revelations of harassment and unpleasant behaviour both on the phone and social media last week.

They really lift the spirits.

Some of the nonsense continued into the weekend with one bloke advising me to take down a tweet on which it was possible to ascertain my (now previous) address as it may be used for nefarious purposes!

He added: “Even worse if you’ve moved, the next occupiers could be targetted.”

A little detective quiz for you all.

If someone subsequently made mischief at your current or previous address, who would the authorities look to make inquiries with first other than someone who had effectively foretold it?

Another individual then effectively confirmed it was him who’d been misusing and circulating a family phone number by circulating one that I’d given in a tweet to an old reporter colleague to provide him with a tribute to the death of an old cricketing pal last year – no, there’s no depth these people won’t plumb.

If you hadn’t been misusing that particular number, why would you subsequently highlight it?

As my old mate Ronnie used to say: “too daft to blow balloons up.”


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Rovers romantics look to another rebirth of the blues

You have to find something to do to fill the international breaks and on Tuesday evening, though I’d probably sooner have been watching Rovers battle to a dour win over Birmingham or someone, I found myself in the splendour of Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall as the only surviving Spider From Mars, Woody Woodmansey and his Holy Holy band, took us on a nostalgic trip back to the early 1970’s with a full run-through of the fabled Ziggy Stardust Lp and many other Bowie classics from the glam rock years.

Glamour was actually in quite short supply at Ewood Park in the early years of that particularly- revered decade.

Rovers fans had to get used to the prosaic and harsh double-denim meat and potatoes reality of playing in the Third Division of English football almost as soon as the decade began and when Bowie released the single, largely ignored until an epiphanic  summer Top Of The Pops showcase, which was to blow our minds and begin to open up new worlds, our only real “Starman” was a bearded, swarthy, dark-eyed handsome ball of energy lower-league journeyman forward named Tony Field, who would, the following year, mark Elton John’s first ever visit to Ewood with a goal so stunning in a 5-0 victory over Reg’s beloved Watford that manager Ken Furphy, who left for Sheffield United a week later,  whipped him away to Bramall Lane to play in the top division after a couple of months in the job.

It was possible to weave dreams from modest beginnings back then and just as a trio of Hull blues-rock men found themselves peroxided and clad in satin and bacofoil tat  to back Bowie, Field was followed to Blades by a couple of our better players.

It took four years to regain our full membership of the Football League in the 1975 of Young Americans and much druggy Bowie madness, a footballing status we only once more briefly surrendered for a single season, 1979-80, by which time Howard Kendall had turned us into Blue Romantics.

After seven games unbeaten under the extremely likeable, sense-talking Tony Mowbray we have only really trod water in terms of our current league position yet despite the fact that the first two of our remaining eight games are away to sides with a genuine eye on promotion, there is undoubted heart and hope that a third spell in lower-league ignominy can be avoided.

Effectively, what we probably have to do is move up one place to fourth in a  six-team mini-league.

We’re currently a point away from such a status but will probably need the hard currency of at least three wins from the eight fixtures to survive.

While the run under the new manager has undoubtedly raised flagging spirits in the dressing room and the stands, it’s one of the foibles of football that we would have been better off winning two and losing two of the last four.

Eight draws would make it a remarkable 15-game run but it could also see us relegated by a couple of points.

Even sides which have struggled all season habitually produce a couple of “if only they’d done it earlier” results towards the end of a campaign.

Rotherham of course are an irrelevance and Wigan would have to win three in pretty immediate order to avoid becoming similarly marooned (Interestingly both clubs have wealthy local backers and pretty much have genuine fans running the show, a situation many current Rovers refuseniks say would immediately lure them back to full commitment at Ewood. I wonder. However well-intentioned and popular you start off in running a football club so much is dependent on the managers you choose and the players he signs. Much of the rest is periphery).

One hopes that the “freak result” syndrome also applies, as often it does, at the other end of the table. Brighton have already suffered in this regard over the weeks and are hugely relieved that Huddersfield, Reading themselves and Sheffield Wednesday have been similarly afflicted as well as grateful for the fact that their general excellence under Chris Hughton had given them a cushion.

Rovers have the personnel to exploit any nervous trepidation on the part of home teams and fans who stumble with their eye on the prize – how many times in bygone years did a larger-than-average crowd turn up at Ewood when the breakthrough seemed within 90 minutes only for it to slip through our fingers?

I sometimes forget that you probably have to be, what, at least in your mid-to-late forties (maybe born, in the Ziggy/Aladdin sane years)to have ever seen Rovers play in the third tier.

I don’t particularly want to see it again (although like most who stuck it out last time I will if I have to) and I hope the younger fans never get to sample it.

There was a nice little anniversary to toast this week as we looked back, incredibly it seems to those of my vintage, on a 30-year period since the raising of the Full Members (see, you only got to call yourself that in the top two divisions) Cup at Wembley in 1987.

That was very much a day of rebirth and reconciliation for Rovers. I personally trace the genesis of the modern era, which of course blossomed into the Jack Walker years, just slightly back a further 18 days to the semi-final against Ipswich and the most remarkable debut I’ve ever seen for a Rovers player (yes, even beating Shearer’s) when the raw, fearless young Colin Hendry won every ball , tackle and header at centre-half in the semi-final against Ipswich.

Just 2,200 had watched the Second round game at home to Sheffield United but by the time we got to Wembley we were almost 30,000 strong and while I have forgot most of the games in the first half of this season, my recall of that day is strong and cinematic in detail.

Oh my Windy and my Garner long ago! Heroes all on not much more than a workingman’s wage, available for a pint and chat in the 100 Club or down the town a few hours later.

We had no concept of what was to begin just four short years later after a series of admirable but doomed play-off campaigns under dear old Don Mackay.

The fact that fortunes can change in a period as short as that gives many of us, and, yes, I will say it, particularly some of us with greater historical perspective and appreciation, continued hope and reason to wish to continue to be associated with the club, not jettison our patronage because this or that doesn’t suit or augur success around the very next corner.

Lets hope on Tuesday night we look at the watch, it says nine twenty-five and we think, “Oh God, we’re still alive.”

If you think we’re gonna make it, better hang on to yourself!


*It’s been my misfortune in recent weeks to be the target of some of the most, vile, disgusting abuse imaginable, much of it from individuals who purport to be in the vanguard of protest and boycott movements.

Someone, it seems, objecting to my crime of not sharing exactly the same opinion of how to best get Rovers out of their predicament under Venkys ownership, has unearthed a minor traffic offence and subsequent fine I received in 2012.

Briefly, I got caught on camera doing 43mph in a 30 zone on London Road coming down the hill out of Preston.

I failed to send my licence in for the points putting on as I couldn’t find it (It turned out to have been in a lock-up in Nottingham since we moved north in 2005).

For this heinous crime I was fined a further £35 – yes, the very severity of it – and promptly re-applied for a replacement licence.

The various human detritus of twitter have however managed to conjure up a driving ban (mysteriously still extant to this day five years on in the imagination of one or two particularly malevolent dimbulbs) , an “alleged arrest” (alleged by whom is unspecified, but it certainly never happened) and envision me recklessly driving about putting people’s “lives in danger,” again, unspecified as to exactly how with an unblemished driving history since 1979 (save for an entirely deserved drink-drive ban June 1984-85.

All this I could put up with and laugh off as the pathetic overgrown schoolboy behaviour it undoubtedly is but a couple of weeks ago phone calls began to bombard in on a family phone we passed onto our daughter some time ago, my old number which I had to relinquish when I changed contracts.

One guy even put my wife’s electoral roll details up on Twitter. This is the type of individual we’re dealing with.

Now while people may find it amusing to create false “Jim Wilkz” email addresses – imagine having the time and lack of anything else productive to do to embark on it – and supply that number to car dealers and insurance companies with some warped prank in mind, to hand out a pre-teen girl’s number out is a pretty serious offence.

One individual rang it and purported to be calling on behalf of “rovers trust” which I consider most unlikely and attempted to launch into a conversation almost as witless and unfunny as that farcical fake Balaji call before panicking and hanging up when I informed him that the number wasn’t now mine (not before saying: “the number’s being widely circulated among fans.”)

Incredibly, another hate-mongerer accused me of “being complicit in Rovers downfall on account of writing for Rovers officially while employed by PAPR.”

I was employed by PAPR precisely one year from 1995-96. I didn’t write anything for any official Rovers outlet other than a club-approved monthly magazine. I left PAPR to edit the mag for a Leeds-based company in 1996. Most who know me will tell you that relations with the PAPR proprietor weren’t exactly cordial upon my sudden departure and in 21 years since we’ve not exchanged more than a couple of polite “hellos” when passing on the street.

I’ll tell you what though – there was no-one I’ve worked with then, before or since lacks integrity and common human decency as some of these morons do.

So I’ll leave you with some of the bile and twisted accusations from some of the cognoscenti. Yes, I’ve been quite profanely retaliatory in response.

But ask yourself. If these goons can take umbrage and make up shit about an insignificant retired guy pushing 60 who writes a quite opinionated blog now and then, how accurate is the stuff they’re trying to foist on you daily about Venkys, Kean, agents, Mike Cheston, Paul Senior or the fabled Suhail Pasha?

As George Bernard Shaw wrote: “As soon as an Englishman opens his mouth, there is another Englishman who takes it upon himself to hate him”

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. No knowledge and a big gob with social media to go at is another matter altogether.

Remember these names and faces when they’re after your support, your votes or your money!


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Honours even either side of Ribble, buzz is back at Ewood though

Blue Eyed Boy indisposed again this week so the man on the next seat, Riversider23, shares his thoughts 

What a season this is turning out to be!

After a desperate start in August, followed by a long period of mediocrity and resignation, for about half an hour on Saturday the side was transformed, and the crowd was buzzing like it hasn’t been for years.

You wouldn’t know it from looking at the table – McGeady’s late equaliser saw to that – but there’s a sense now that the Rovers are moving up strongly while others slide down towards us.

It’s important to remember that things are never quite as good or as bad as they seem but, if we could have held out for the 2-1 win, I think that many of us – perhaps foolishly – would have been putting thoughts of relegation behind us.

That’s how good that 30-minute spell was.

And so, in spite of the added-time disappointment, Mowbray’s tenure remains an unbeaten one, including what looked like a tough little run away at Norwich and Fulham and at home to Preston. Looking at the fixtures ahead, they all seem just a little less daunting now.

Preston had started strongly – competent and well-organised – and took the lead through Barkhuizen, who was put through after Nyambe missed an edge-of the-box header that he should have done better with. Steele, Nyambe and Mulgrew closed on Barkhuizen and looked like they had things covered but the ball flew high into the net off Steele. That familiar sinking feeling, going behind early on.

Slowly but surely, the Rovers clawed their way back into the game, and by the end of the first half looked the more likely to score.

When the goal came just before half-time it was from an unlikely source, with Elliott Bennett hitting his sweetest strike yet.

Just as surprising was that it had been Bennett who had started the fightback with some determined chasing and harrying, and a crunching tackle that created the kind of crowd response that Phil Jones memorably triggered in his marauding Premier League debut.

It was another collector’s item – this time, a goal from an otherwise desperate Conway in open play – that put us ahead after 53 minutes, but you have to wind back to the first half for the most memorable moment in a game of pleasant surprises.

And that was the sublime skill and confidence that Lucas Joao displayed for a few joyful seconds on the edge of the Preston box just before half-time – turning, shimmying, rolling the ball this way and that with the sole of his boot, all to the general bamboozlement of four or five defenders, some of whom ended up on their backsides more than once.

Joao had already started to impress with his overall play. My only previous sight of him had been his short substitute appearance against Cardiff, in which he looked distinctly dodgy. Hard to imagine how he then managed to get his three goals at Norwich and Fulham, coming on in both games just for the last half-hour. But on Saturday he looked a very good centre-forward – strong, mobile, intelligent, finding space, holding the ball up, good in the air, powerful shot. A man transformed. More the Portuguese international than the Sheffield Wednesday hand-me-on.

I’m sure this comes with match-sharpness, and I hope he’ll get even better with more time on the pitch. Sometimes it takes a few games for players to get properly up to pace, and to settle in to the side around them.

So, from around 43 minutes to around 75 minutes it was a joy to watch the Rovers play Preston off the park. And remember, they’re not a bad side at this level.

Then the substitutions changed the game completely.

We had been expecting Mahoney to appear and to bring an added touch of guile – this time to an already flying team – but, for the first time, he was ineffectual at best.

It was the introduction of Gallagher that made all the difference. Unfortunately, that Gallagher was our Paul, not “our” Sam. The local lad came on to warm and generous applause, that he returned with respect after the final whistle, and for the intervening 20 minutes he probed and prodded and picked holes in a tiring defence, and created the equaliser that robbed us of two crucial points.

On to the last 8 matches then, of which only 3 are at home, and it’s high time to start comparing the “run-in”s of our nearest competitors for safety. Rotherham are gone, and Wigan’s poor run and form has left them adrift too. I reckon there are then 6 others from whom we need to catch just one. The Tammy Abrahams effect at Bristol City produced a shock score for them against Huddersfield and will probably be enough to keep them up. Forest, Birmingham and Ipswich all seem to be limping to the season’s end – as were Wolves up until the last couple of games, when they’ve picked up surprisingly well. I suspect it will be Burton that we pass, though the most satisfying outcome might be to get one over on Wolves again…

Anyway, the atmosphere at Ewood has changed, and gone up another notch. In the end, Paul Gallagher’s impact was a harsh reminder that we’re still too vulnerable at the back when attacked by players with quality and nous, but – to offset that – there was a sustained period of such confidence and creativity and dominance that parts of the Enclosure were bouncing. Much more of it and there could even be congas on the Riverside.

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Suddenly Tony’s revived Rovers Lucas good as gold

Some internet connection problems for Blue Eyed Boy this week in the middle of a house move so once again our friend Old Blackburnian takes the reins..

Rovers Rediscover Resilience on the Road

After a sound start to the Mowbray era, yielding a creditable 8 points from a possible 12; the next three games looming large for the reinvigorated squad consisted of two tricky away challenges at Norwich and Fulham, rounded off with a “Lancashire Hot-Pot” of a derby at home to Preston North End.

Norwich City at Carrow Road will always hold a special place in my heart, as the fixture played in February 1993 was the last occasion (to date) that I was able to persuade my wife to attend a football match. It was close to my birthday & my wife of less than 6 months was at that stage still prepared to indulge my suggestion of a joint trip to watch Rovers away to celebrate.
The weather was awful, snow, ice and wind & we spent the whole journey listening to the radio expecting an announcement that the fixture had been postponed. After a ridiculously treacherous, cross-country trek through very heavy snow from our then abode in Sutton Coldfield; we eventually arrived in Norwich so late, that we had no time for the promised hearty pub lunch; only to find I’d also forgotten my coat and so it was a chilly day for me in more ways than one. A goalless draw did little to keep your sweater-only clad correspondent particularly warm, neither did it capture the rapt attention of my dear wife. 
Roy Wegerle, as usual, showed a few flashes of his skills but Mrs OB was instead captivated by the state of the young man on the row behind us; who, refreshed by a few libations (he looked about 15 to be fair) fell asleep 5 minutes before kick off and was resuscitated by his friends shortly after the final whistle, just in time for the long coach journey home. She made me vow never to take her to another game and so far, I have kept my side of the bargain ! 
There can be few events leading up to a game that chill the optimism more than the upcoming opposition sacking their manager. When the installed caretaker is also a former Rovers stalwart, well that just adds to the sense of impending, inevitable doom.

Norwich you may recall, carved Rovers apart like a Thanksgiving turkey on opening day, adding a well-seasoned stuffing for good measure. Many expected the Canaries to finish up there with Newcastle & Brighton; that they probably won’t even make the play-offs perhaps demonstrates why Delia felt this particular winter collection needs a different chef.
A goal behind after just 19 minutes seemed to indicate that Rovers’ new manager bounce had finally dissipated and the natural order was about to be restored. But Norwich almost immediately deviated from the recipe, introducing the fresh ingredient of a foolish sending off and now Rovers’ task was to score two, against 10 men, in 70 minutes. It’s fair to say that any Rovers’ fans who immediately rushed to bet on a double within 5 minutes from one of our strikers would have chosen Graham, Emnes or perhaps even Mahoney…Lucas Joao ? More chance of Lucas Neill !
I doubt anyone would disagree with Mowbray’s post-match verdict that letting a valuable lead slip in the last 10 minutes against 10 men was disappointing, but I would have taken the draw at 3pm. Those 2 lost points may ultimately prove decisive but there are numerous examples across the season of “what ifs” – they’re gone, the next game is all that matters in truth.
On to another rendezvous with a former player in the shape of Tom Cairney at the Cottage. Cairney has been in such sprightly form recently, that a local politician on Twitter expressed hope that Gareth Southgate might pay him some attention. Well he might to be fair; if England are playing Scotland any time soon.Cairney has thrived this season and has popped in a number of goal of the month contenders. When will we see such class again in our central midfield ?

It’s hard not to like Fulham, tidy, attractive team, old-fashioned ground (definitely not a stadium), and our paths have crossed memorably in recent years. Most notably dear old Jon Stead’s intervention at Loftus Road in 2004 to secure a stunning 4-3 away win and Tugay and MGP of course, had their own Goal of the Season competition against them at Ewood in August 2005, well worth a search in the online archives for those beauties.
It’s fair to say that this is not the season to leave early to avoid the rush given the number of late goals – be they scored or conceded. This time we were extremely grateful for another Joao intervention. His 94th minute equaliser securing a vital point & retaining the precious commodity of momentum. Whilst one win & one defeat would have garnered an additional point, there is something deeply satisfying about building an unbeaten run. 
For those readers old enough to remember the Howard Kendall years, there was a feeling of invincibility about that side. As a supporter, you fully expected to keep a clean sheet, so the only issue was whether we were going to win 1-0 or take home only a point. That side was assembled on a shoestring, so it can be done, but it needs great scouting, effective coaching and a slice of good fortune. This side currently concedes far too many goals placing a heavy burden on the forwards to keep us in the hunt. Mowbray’s pedigree as a rugged central defender you hope will result in a back four shielded effectively by the midfield that is capable of clean sheets. For now, we can be grateful that 3-2 defeats are now coming in as 2-2 draws !
Saturday gives us a chance of a local derby victory and at this stage is probably no bad thing to stir up some authentic passion about on the field matters. Preston fans seem to be up for it and why wouldn’t they in the circumstances? Rovers innovative ticket pricing will hopefully boost the home attendance and create the best possible conditions for a Rovers win. We are due one against PNE and a win now would be a potentially significant milestone if this campaign is to end in retention of Championship status. If it came with a clean sheet to boot, that really would be something.
Our survival prospects are in our own hands and for that we can be grateful, a few weeks ago I had no expectations of Championship football next season, at least now, there is Hope & not just Akpan.

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