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.