Mowbray’s masterplan impressed Rovers’ tomorrow people

The Ewood faithful have been waiting for a consummate 90-minute performance to truly confirm that this is a promotion side-in-waiting for some months and there was no more timely juncture at which for Tony Mowbray to mastermind such a display than against a side who have stubbornly refused to relinquish their grip on a top two spot for many weeks.

Such was his team’s excellence on Saturday that we left the ground with no real idea how the visitors had shown such consistency over the late summer, autumn and deep midwinter but I would put that down as a tribute to Mowbray’s preparation and the players’ execution of his plans against a very good side made to look rather ordinary on the day.

Shrewsbury are better than what we saw on Saturday but they just weren’t allowed to be in the face of relentless, tigerish pressing and over-my-dead-body defending which liberated the individualists in our ranks to produce the match-winning moments.

Early in the second half Paul Downing made a rare error in open play and failed to cut out a long diagonal ball which a visiting forward advanced into the area with and picked out a colleague. I can’t tell you without seeing it again which defender blocked the attempt at a  shot, and it certainly won’t be recorded in next year’s Football Yearbook but it was one of those little moments in a game which could well have turned the match on its axis.

An unsung defender doing his job brilliantly and crucially. and we had heroes like that all over the field.

I’ve often been sceptical of people pointing to Elliott Bennett’s “tireless workrate and willingness to run all day” (usual translation: “no end product”) but deploying him alongside the similarly indefatigable and terrier-like Richie Smallwood was a masterstroke in, from the first whistle, assuming command of the battleground in which most matches are truly won and lost.

Shrewsbury, from the kick-off,  looked unsure of their touch, nervy in their passing and quite unable to build patiently, luxuries in which visiting sides have all too often been indulged by Rovers and it was their back four who wore a hassled, troubled look before inevitably committing the cardinal error of conceding a dangerous free-kick in prime Charlie Mulgrew territory.

A lack of concentration for a few seconds allowed them a penalty equaliser they perhaps didn’t come close to deserving (it looked a generous award to me with a naked eye view from a similar angle to the TV cameras, but after a few viewings it looks fair enough. Certainly more a pen than ours) and there were signs that encouraged by the leveller the Salopians may hit their straps.

But there was a renewed, almost demonic fervour about Rovers’ closing down and tackling after the interval which rendered the Shrews’ revival a distant memory and with currently the brightest spark in the division, Bradley Dack, fully switched on to get in an instinctive effort on goal where others might have settled for a canny lay-off, the born-again goal poacher that is Danny Graham punished the sequence of defensive dithering fully.

The spot-kick which rendered the game over as a contest was generous in the extreme but you’re not exactly sat there with your heart in your mouth when Mulgrew strolls forward, are you, and the unbridled celebrations from another healthy crowd told you that not only were three invaluable points secure but that the team had stepped it up a level when it mattered most, almost crossed a rubicon and rewarded the remarkable support of those fans who have played a  massive part in a 15-game bandwagon which is gathering momentum sufficiently to threaten hallowed club records.

I turn 59 this week and was having dinner with a Leicester fan of similar vintage in Liverpool on Monday night and we both agreed we had probably banked the best footballing memories we will ever experience. Champions of England, League Cup wins…we are a lucky generation, a lot of supporters of our clubs and others lived and died without ever getting a sniff at triumphs like that.

I certainly don’t expect Rovers to win the Premier League again in my time and if I’m honest we’ll probably be very lucky even to make the top flight again. If we did, it would more than likely be more of a struggle than on the occasion of our last two promotions when we were carrying sufficient financial clout to attract top managers and players to compete.

Yes, I’d prefer us still to be up there or even in the top half of the Championship looking like we might be one day soon but no way am I not going to enjoy what’s looking like a thrilling battle for a promotion spot at a lower level. Nobody ever knew which was his last great Saturday night while he was having it!

Glory days are rare in your footballing life unless you support one of the big boys. They are to be savoured at whatever level.

And the glorious past and the recent travails meant little as I turned and looked at our daughters, 23 and 13, exultantly celebrating as the penalty hit the net. Okay, one of them had a 66/1 bet on Mulgrew to score in each half up to augment her joy but the younger one had talked all the way to the game about how nervous she was we might lose.

The fact that she even cared so much and had agonised all week about the game I took as a little victory at an age where sleepover parties or trips into town sometimes win out over football!

I tweeted after the game about how it made my day to see them so happy and how in love with their team they obviously were and I got an overwhelming and heartwarming set of responses, many from people I’d never communicated with before. Here’s a selection:

“You might have 100 games where it’s rubbish but today is the reason I go.” (Andy from Hull).

“Days like today are why I love football. Premier League, Championship, all well and good but I’m loving going to games looking up, not down.” (Tom)

“My nine-year old lad came off saying he wants to play for Rovers. Unprecedented.” (Ozz, Chorley)

“My son said best match he’s been to. Fantastic.” (Al, Helmshore)

“My seven-year-old is living the dream.” (Paul, Cherry Tree)

“Atmosphere today was superb, my 10-year-old was buzzing, he’s had little to celebrate since first getting a season-ticket five years ago.” (John, Penwortham)

“I’ve managed to hook my five-year old onto Rovers and my mates all call me nuts. But he knows all the chants, is finally seeing a few wins and best of all it’s while I’m with him supporting the same team/ No overpriced ticket can buy that feeling.

What’s even better is his appreciation of the Football League. He knows about Bury, Oldham, Plymouth and so on as much as he does City , United and Chelsea.” (Ryan)

“I’ve taken a friend’s 11-year-old from Leeds to a few games. He’s now a Junior Rover and plays us on the PlayStation as he knows the players. He’s asked to go to the Oldham match.” (Ed)

“My son started coming with me to Rovers just as the decline set in and he’s witnessed nothing but anger and misery since. Seeing him enjoy this season so much makes it all worthwhile, hopefully he’ll remember it as fondly as I remember 1975.

Winning games creates a good feeling. In this league we can look to win it rather than be one of 13 teams in the Premier League who try not to lose their place in it.” (Paul)

As you get older you can’t fail to appreciate the circle of life a little more and after a few seasons when it’s almost been an ordeal following Rovers, embarrassing at times, and with a common theme emerging that young ones are coming along to replace us old buffers it’s such good news.

For once the discussion and focus is on the team, the narrowing points gap and likely incoming transfers, not the owners or whether the manager is good enough. It’s great. The three draws around Christmas which brought the doom-mongerers out for a few days now seem like punctuation marks in a successful run (although I acknowledge the Jeremiahs will be in full flow when we lose a do).

All those tweets about the kids remind me of when I started going. At age eight and nine, 10 and 11 I couldn’t have cared less about who didn’t get a ticket for the 1960 Cup Final or whose fault on the board of directors it was, why Fred Pickering had been sold or how we’d gone from first to third in five years; I wanted Roger Jones’ autograph or Don Martin’s or Tony Field’s and I wanted a Rovers shirt from Johnny Forbes outfitters.

If every one of those kids of mine and everyone else’s is replacing a ‘NAPM till Venkys go’ merchant so be it. That’s how clubs and their support wax and wane and wax again.

More great work by Mowbray in the transfer market bringing Jack Payne, an exciting, goalscoring midfielder in can only add to the anticipation ahead of a  tough derby at Fleetwood.

And even us oldies can get excited. Riversider 23 who occasionally handles this blog for me, who I first met and identified as a fellow Rover when we were both in short pants on our first day at secondary school, text me excitedly: “Dack, Payne, Armstrong, Chapman…most exciting combination since Duff, Dunn, Jansen and Mahon?” while my other sometime deputy columnist Old Blackburnian had already picked out Payne’s goal against us for Oxford as more specifically comparable with one of Duffer’s gems.

Yes, maybe we shouldn’t be playing Fleetwood, sign of our decline blah, blah….

But you know what, if I wasn’t away for my birthday weekend I might be outside the players’ entrance at Fleetwood with the kids after selfies and a  few signatures. How exactly does this Play Station game with Rovers work again?







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Where we are now, the next day means more than the golden years

Oh Well, I’ll just have to wait till I’m sixty to see Rovers in an FA Cup Final then.
It’s not quite accurate to say they’ve never made one in my lifetime as the ill-starred 1960 debacle occurred when I was 16 months old and most of the conversation in our house at Princess Gardens, Feniscowles would have revolved around the fact that nobody in our family managed to get hold of a ticket and what a weary injury and controversy-ridden performance it turned out to be.
But I still feel a little pain inside annually when we go out of the tournament I dreamed of seeing us winning at Wembley as a boy (and still do), even in a  year when the odds against us doing so are overwhelming and common assent says we are best off “concentrating on the league.”
In truth there was nothing particularly dramatic, cruel or heroic about a humdrum defeat to Championship relegation candidates Hull City. For an hour Rovers wore the disorientated and unco-ordinated air of a bunch of exhausted dads being forced to play some dumb blindfolded game at a kids’ party full of over-tired infants and adults watching the clock wishing it was over with so they could get home and have a drink.
There was nothing much about Hull on that evidence but only after they had profited from yet more Rovers’ set-piece generosity – we can’t blame Ward or Downing his time – and Danny Graham and Bradley Dack were introduced did we make much of an effort to convince the crowd that they were having a good time.
Graham is such an enigma, often looking the consummate craftsman of a centre-forward we saw during his initial loan spell in his cameo slots while lapsing into that lazy, shirt-tugging, grappling, referee-imploring nonentity which often sees him substituted to no-one’s great indignation when he starts.
It’s to be hoped his recent rather better contributions will become the norm while Dack is in a rich seam of form which we all hope will continue.
He sees gaps and passes and opportunities where others haven’t even switched on to the possibility.
There are no distractions from the promotion effort now in any case but I’ve never held with this “wrap him in cotton wool” clamour to rest key players or use them sparingly. Players like playing games and damn good players even more so as they quite rightly enjoy each and every opportunity to demonstrate their excellence.
It also doesn’t give me any sense of satisfaction that Wigan, Shrewsbury or whoever is still in this or that competition or piling fixtures and replays up.
Not many will recall that on that night at Gigg Lane in late April 1980 when Andy Crawford shot Howard Kendall’s team to promotion, we were playing a  re-arranged game which should have taken place much earlier in the season but was postponed in late December.
Well-remembered home games against Exeter and Sheffield Wednesday were played on midweek nights as the original dates were FA Cup days. A 3-1 win at Rotherham was actually a fixture brought forward in early February to accomodate our cup progress, Coventry, Southend, Rotherham, home, away, who cared, bring ’em on.
The two most taxing games were surely the Villa cup tie and replay which took place within four days in February. I’d seldom been as proud or as certain we’d blow our next Third Division opponents away as I was walking off Villa Park that night. We went to Plymouth the following Saturday and won – in fact we won nine of the next 10 after our long FA Cup run.
Doing well against bigger and better teams made us all walk taller.
So I don’t really believe anybody’s cup exploits will influence matches at this stage, certainly not Saturday’s crackerjack at home to second-placed Shrewsbury.
I’ve seen a  few moans here and there that playing Shrewsbury in a Tier Three six-pointer is evidence of our demise under Venkys and while I take the point, I think with regard to both our next opponent’s superb performance this season and history itself, there is little need for Rovers fans to look down their noses.
Paul Hurst’s transfer or wages budget don’t interest me. They are having the kind of season which every club not fortunate enough to have a wealthy backer or open chequebook is entitled to dream of. If they finish above us or pip us for promotion I’ll congratulate them and say well done.
On that 1980 promotion occasion described above, we actually lay a division below the Salopians who had been promoted a year before us.
They gave us plenty of problems throughout that decade, occasionally finishing above us as both teams punched above any financial weight they carried. In 1988, they effectively denied us a spot in the old Division One under Don Mackay after they came back from two down to draw at Ewood on Easter Monday.
I’m pretty sure Bernard McNally scored one of those goals for Shrewsbury. If games had been televised live then and it had been on the Sunday he wouldn’t have played as a devout Christian who steadfastly refused to work the Sabbath.
No wonder I grew up thinking more than earthly fates and the annual “They can’t afford to go up and are under orders not to” rumours of a  board  unwilling to shell out top-flight fees and wages often conspired against us at the tail-end of promising seasons.
None of those factors will apply this time, hopefully, with signs that there are at least some funds to consolidate our effort. The permanent signing of Paul Downing will be welcomed by all and the loan addition of wee Newcastle forward Adam Armstrong will hopefully pay dividends.
Armstrong hit the headlines with a searing start at Coventry under Tony Mowbray where he hit 19 goals in his first  28 games but his, manager’s and club’s fortunes rather fellaway later that season and he scored just once in his final dozen appearances for the Sky Blues.
An indifferent season at Barnsley (six goals in 34 appearances) followed by an anonymous spell at Bolton (one in 20) were hopefully indicative that goals were harder to come by at Championship level and we dearly hope he can recapture his initial Ricoh Arena form rather than continue the latter eight-goals-in-66 games struggles.
Hopefully one or two more might follow although taking Jason Lowe back would surely raise rancour levels among a fanbase prone to bouts of hysterical opprobrium to uncharted levels.
So to my as mind, disappointed, angry or bitter about the owners and the last seven years or not as you might be, this Saturday’s game, as one forum poster very presciently set it up, looks every inch as titanic a fixture as the Plymouth Argyle match(es) of February 1975, the other Third Division promotion season.
We actually played them twice in 11 days and lost down there so with no play-offs in those days, another defeat would have given them the advantage in the run-in and allowed competitors to close the gap.
It looked to be going that way at 2-0 down as well with a missed Don Martin penalty but a crowd of 17,818 witnessed one of the great Ewood comebacks, one of the great Ewood days full stop actually.
So don’t miss this one…. can we get a gate and a result to match that  I wonder? Although we’d all take one-nil.
When was the last time we were involved in a single match carrying so much upon it at the top of a table at any level? Fulham in the promotion season maybe?
I think it’s a wonderful game to blow the last of the holiday celebrations away and get back to business with.
Win and a thrilling run-in beckons. Draw and it still does, I think. Lose, it makes things difficult but not impossible…and I’m still only talking about a top two spot here. I haven’t really thought about the play-offs yet other than to think, if we have to go up that way, there aren’t many better days out than Wembley in late May.
Whatever the outcome let’s stay dignified and level-headed and resist knee-jerk calls for wholesale sackings and droppings and general insurrection. nothing will be decided on Saturday.
Enjoy it for what it is.
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We just haven’t earned it yet, babies. Promotion takes more than £££

There is almost no such thing as a sanguine, level-headed reaction to a result, or series of results these days and it was inevitable that when Rovers’ run of league wins – itself possibly somewhat over-lauded and hyped – came to an end that a storm of hysteria would ensue.
We’ve got away with murder in one or two games we’ve won so anyone expecting a procession to the title or second-placed was highly optimistic.
The fact that the draw at Northampton was followed by a nervier-than-it-needed-to-be win over Rochdale then successive draws with Scunthorpe and Rotherham has unleashed a fury of illogical doom-mongering to follow a month or two of semi-delusional euphoria which would have made the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult of the San Diego nineties look like a pretty level-headed, shrug-of-the-shoulders bunch.
One pal summed it up perfectly: “There’s no happy medium for many Rovers fans. Win and we’re on the verge of walking the league with the best squad ever assembled at this level, draw and it’s scandalous and unacceptable that a team built on our budget hasn’t been top of the league from match one to match forty-six.
“Heaven forbid we actually lose a game between now and the end of the season.”
The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between and while the sons of the silent age search through their one-inch thoughts and decide it can’t be done, the silent majority of course realise there’s plenty of road to run yet with a transfer window available at the onset of which Tony Mowbray has already made a statement of intent by referring specifically to cash bids for players.
It’s been obvious to the more temperate fans that the team is far from a finished work even despite the long unbeaten run and that certain areas of the park have carried deficiencies which outstanding individual contributions from the star turn likes of Raya, Mulgrew, Smallwood, Dack and, perhaps less consistently, Graham have at times covered and compensated for.
At least three of the six-in-a-row wins owed as much to decent luck and profligacy on the part of the opposition than any sudden blossoming of Mowbray’s side into a fully-formed lean, mean winning machine.
We could have come off at Bloomfield Road three down at half time, Bristol Rovers played us off the Ewood park for long periods (a disallowed goal baffling everyone present despite being later revealed to be rightly ruled out) and had Charlton had a half-decent finisher Danny Graham’s late goal might have been a phew-what-a-relief desperate equaliser rather than a euphoric and extravagantly celebrated win-clincher.
Throughout the run and the subsequent “faltering” (i.e, remaining unbeaten while genuinely chucking two points away at Northampton but sharing the spoils with two other sides with at least genuine play-off aspirations) not to mention the FA Cup fiasco at home to Crewe, Rovers have shown one unforgivably consistent failing.
Goals against assisted, or scored by headers from set-pieces have occurred far too frequently.
Though everyone’s favourite scapegoat for any goal scored while he is present on the pitch is the hapless Elliott Ward, again at the centre of discussion as if he hadn’t had enough attention over being barracked by a pitiful coward at Northampton who fell silent when asked to explain himself, he probably wasn’t personally culpable for either of the away goals conceded either side of Christmas.
“It’s a coincidence that he’s a common factor on the field when damaging goals go in against us,” argued one hard-of-thinking analyst. Heaven help the keeper who’s been ever-present in the league or Mulgrew who virtually has on that basis then.
While I hate to single out an individual as responsible for what is a collective team duty in defending corners and free-kicks, the otherwise excellent Paul Downing has often been the man found wanting.
His anticipation, unfussiness and sharp-brained work in general play have marked him out as a terrific deadline-day acquisition and stand him in a distinguished line of unsung, undemonstrative get-the-job-done Rovers centre-backs like Mail, Fazackerley and Gale but once again at Rotherham whatever the causes and circumstances of us surrendering the initiative late on, Downing’s attempt at challenging home left-back Mattock was risible.
I wasn’t at the game so can only take the word of good judges that the introduction of Ward and the switch to five at back awarded Rotherham the upper hand.
But watching the equaliser back on a reasonably decent telly in high def, I first thought Mattock had won his header having peeled completely off his marker.
Closer examination revealed that Downing was almost obscured in the shot, not simply by the camera angle but by virtue of the fact that he was crouched behind Maddock attempting some of the grotesque impediment which goes on at set-pieces these days. A six foot four bloke had made himself four foot eight to grapple with a chap he should be matching in aerial combat.
I can never recall Jack Charlton or Mike England, the best two defensive headers of a ball I ever saw, resort to nonsense like that. John McNamee, Glen Keeley or Colin Hendry would have been ashamed to attempt it. Mattock may well have finished face down in the New Year grass with the ball arcing towards halfway.
I’ve seen the fact that Rotherham were pressing and getting corners attributed to the confusion caused by slotting Ward into a five at the back but the home side had had two corners in the ten minutes before Graham’s withdrawal (85 minutes by far the longest he’d played in any of the four Christmas games).
And the twenty-one minutes before his departure were the only 21 over the holidays we’d had two out-and-out strikers on the park if you regard Antonnson as a wide forward. As Dack scored two minutes into that, we had another 19 with both Graham and Samuel – hardly suggestive that Mowbray hadn’t at least for a time sought to kill the game off.
I genuinely always expect by tradition of football a home team to stage a rally at some point by sheer dint of players’ inexhaustible ability to summon a last effort, usually encouraged by defiant last rally from the home fans, however comfortable the visitors look on a single-goal lead (how else do you explain the point we got at home to Bristol City who comprehensively toyed with us last season?) and while I accept the explanations of the more tactically astute, that single aberration was rank poor gift-horse defending few teams, even outclassed ones, will look in the mouth.
Poor defending also played a part in the Scunthorpe draw, notably a crass lunge at a cross by Elliott Bennett, a player whose qualities continue to elude  me. Not long before Bennett had made an utter hash of the simplest of passes to free Graham for a  decisive third.
It was disappointing after making a bold start to both halves with Graham finishing sumptuous moves involving variously Dack, Nyambe and Antonnson.
However I will say that Scunthorpe looked a very decent side indeed, unlike many not cowed by the experience of playing Rovers at Ewood and certainly not privy to letting heads drop after conceding.
Their recent form alone told you we were in for a battle and I prefer to compliment their manager Graham Alexander rather than bemoan our inability to beat them and attribute it solely to cash outlay,
Of all the lame-brained outbursts at the hiccups, the most addled I saw read: “Third and five points adrift, with the money we’ve spent – not good enough. Comparing our budget with Wigan and Shrewsbury, no arguing with the fact we have under-achieved so far.”
Notwithstanding the fact that I have no clue as to what Wigan’s budget is/was, nor how a team unbeaten in 14 is underachieving, exactly what have we spent? From what I can gather £750,000 on Dack who looks worth every penny after yet another exquisite goal which saw him a glide effortlessly across territory other players appear to be traversing in wellies. Again, he summons the spirit of Duncan McKenzie for me.
Half a million on Samuel? I’m not yet convinced by him to be honest. And in all honesty I never actually thought that signing a young lad Reading deemed surplus to requirements would transform us into a 100-point, 100-goal behemoth.
Mulgrew and Graham were of course partly persuaded to remain by virtue of the handsome wages they receive but that doesn’t mean that at the age of 30-plus they are entitled to expect to illuminate games just via the simple act of turning up and walking on.
Other clubs are entitled to have fine managers and good players snapping at the heels of our fellas and to structure their clubs according to their cloth,
Spending a couple of fees and shelling a good bit out in wages doesn’t entitle you to instant success or preclude it for clubs who have worked hard and cleverly over a period to build something good.
That’s how we punched above our weight pre-Jack Walker.
Your potential outlay was virtually your pound take at the gate before mega-owners ate football and if it had been the perennial deciding factor we’d never have bothered to turn up against the like of Leeds, Newcastle, Chelsea, Sunderland, Man City and Wednesday.
But we occasionally outsmarted them, in individual games and over a season here and there. It’s why all football fans are entitled to dream and if Shrewsbury or Scunthorpe or anybody else pips us for promotion I’d roundly congratulate them on a job well done before analysing why it wasn’t us.
You can repeat the mantra “we simply have to go up this season, failure is unthinkable,” till you’re blue in the face, neither keep saying it or totting up the expenditure will make it happen.
One or two would do well to take a look at Manchester City’s promotion season from this tier, 1998-99. Possibly still the costliest side ever assembled at this level, they lay 12th in mid-December, didn’t move into the play-off spots convincingly until late February, never troubled the top two and only claimed third-place on the final day.
They went up via the play-offs thanks to two late Wembley goals when even the final against Gillingham looked lost. I wonder how many of their supporters spent all season teapot-arms-on-hips in high dudgeon about what a poor do it was after all that brass forked out?
I never expected this season to be a cakewalk and still don’t. I’m looking forward to seeing the final months of it unfold hopefully with some astute recruitment and a team and manager both capable of improvement.
Relax everyone and enjoy the Hull FA cup game before the huge league fixture a week later.
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Mid Year Appraisal – Rovers Revived But Still Many Miles From Home

You will recognise the sensation I’m sure; you have been driving for, say ten or fifteen minutes, when that voice inside your head suddenly perks up;

“You did lock the front door didn’t you ?”.

Similarly, I will accept “switched off the hair straighteners/ set the alarm/ unplugged the iron/ turned off the grill*”

*delete as appropriate.

When as a Rovers fan you arrive at a game only to discover that Charlie Mulgrew has had a “problem” in the pre-match warm-up and Elliott Ward is in the starting line up; there starts a nervous shudder, beginning at the shoulders, reverberating down the spine and leaving your heart pulsing in the manner of someone who has received a £100 Starbucks voucher for Christmas and has blown the lot on Double Espressos in one sitting. That was the scenario at 1:55pm last Saturday ahead of the Northampton game.

That said, Elliott Ward was far from Rovers’ biggest problem against Northampton. The whole team looked somewhat sluggish, out fought, outmuscled and struggling to cope with the direct tactics of a Northampton Town side doing simple things, simply but effectively.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has somehow found himself in charge of the League 1 strugglers, charged with providing the club with some of the lustre of his playing career rather than his embryonic management career. A promising start at Burton saw him rewarded if that is the right word & I seriously question it to be fair, with the manager’s job at QPR. His win percentage halved and so far his stint at Northampton has seen it diminish still further.

His side were set up to play directly and physically, cast in their manager’s physical image but without his deft touch or finesse. Rovers struggled to cope initially, falling behind when Danny Graham lost his man allowing a free header from close range.

I expect Craig Conway will still be waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats wondering quite how he tied up his own feet to such an extent that when presented with an open goal after rounding the keeper quite nimbly, he chose to hit the side netting. As for *THAT* penalty from Marcus Antonsson; the stuttering run up was more suited to a Strictly Come Dancing routine and the outcome delivered a wholly predictable hash worthy of a Boxing Day frying pan, laden with stale turkey, yesterday’s roasties and a smattering of brussels sprouts.

The point gained saw the run of 6 consecutive wins ended and in the shadow of Franklin Gardens, an overwhelming sense that hard as they might try, Rovers were determined to ruck it up, failing to convert easily when within sight of the posts.

These slip-ups were clearly not the fault of Elliott Ward and the “fan” who shared his opinion at full time was not watching the same game as your correspondent. I do despair sometimes at the behaviour of some of our alleged “supporters”; this on the back of six wins and a draw. Heaven forbid we ever lose six on the bounce…as we once did under that notoriously hopeless leader, one Kenneth M Dalglish.

Rochdale at home on Boxing Day was a sharp reminder that festive fixtures in the third tier are more prosaic than those of days of yore. Ensconced in the relegation spots, they threatened a banana skin to rival those experienced already this season when Rovers struggled against the likes of both AFC Wimbledon and Plymouth Argyle.

However, a throwback to the halcyon days of the Premier League was the pre-match sight of huge queues stretching out from both the ticket office and the collection window. It seemed that everyone had persuaded a family member or friend to join them at Ewood. I saw Tim Farron in the lengthy collection queue; naturally somewhere towards the centre but seemingly resigned to his fate as a latecomer to this particular contest.

The game was scrappy, bitty, fragmented and rarely threatened to linger in the memory longer than yesterday’s weather forecast. Bright spots for me were the displays of Ryan Nyambe, (another in the tradition of Rovers’ home-grown products that seem to get a hard time before, perhaps, being considered worthy of acclaim) and of course Bradley Dack.

Earlier in the season I steadfastly refused to climb aboard the Dack bandwagon. I saw a footballing dilettante lacking the commitment to defensive duties that would render him a liability in the third tier. Lately, I’m seeing a delightful mix of Tony Field and Duncan McKenzie that marks him out as one of the division’s most influential players, never mind Blackburn Rovers. His run of nutmegs today was simply a delight, that it wasn’t capped off with a goal was nothing but a travesty.

The fact the game was settled by an own goal and a penalty was entirely in keeping with its status. Marcus Antonsson I trust watched the dispatch of the spot kick with keen interest. One thought, hit it hard, true, into the corner with height – Shearer-esque, no higher praise. That Rovers deserved three points was not really up for debate, but the final whistle was nonetheless as warmly received as the half time selection box chocolate proffered around the ground.

2017 will end on Saturday with a home fixture against promotion rivals Scunthorpe Utd; not a sentence I expected to type pre-season if I am being truly honest and offers the potential to climb into the automatic promotion spots should Shrewsbury Town slip up away from home against Rovers’ opening day nemesis Southend Utd…and there’s another!

2018 will open up with a New Year’s Day visit to Rotherham, a fixture that will surely resonate with Richie Smallwood in particular. I still recall clearly the Rotherham fan, who after last season’s dreary encounter, raised a chuckle with his wholly accurate summation to nearby Rovers fans; “…at least tha’ll know where to come next season…”

Rovers have already beaten each of these teams earlier this season and six points more from these two fixtures would set up the mid-January clash with Shrewsbury Town quite beautifully. The difference between automatic promotion and play-off aspirations could well rest on it.

What have we learned so far ?

The third tier is a battleground. The first contest is a physical one for the right to play. When Rovers win that one, they seem capable of matching anyone in the division. When they don’t, every game is a potential pratfall.

We have talented players in Dack, Mulgrew & Chapman that are amongst the division’s very best. But whilst players can occasionally win games, promotion and league titles are definitely won by teams.

Richie Smallwood does sometimes give the ball away (shock, horror, probe) – but in fairness not that often and he has brought resilience, tenacity & workrate to a modest midfield.

There’s a long way to go, but had someone asked me at the beginning of August, whether at the half-way point of the season I would shake hands on being 3rd place, just one point behind second – the answer would have been a categorical, unqualified “yes”.

I am pleasantly surprised that we are very much in the mix for automatic promotion, I am delighted that Bradley Dack already looks like a shoe-in for player of the season, but at heart I am a Rovers fan – unlike our absentee owners’ day job, you NEVER count your chickens.

Have a Very Happy New Year.

Old Blackburnian

Blue Eyed Boy is on holiday but wishes all readers a Happy New Year too.

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Seven at Sixfields? Come on without, come on within and do it for Don

I follow most Football League clubs on Twitter and was amused a couple of Saturdays ago when Northampton Town’s feed issued  the following distinctly unpoetic public service message.

“The North gravel car park will be out of use today but the South gravel car park is open as usual.”

I’ve actually been to the Sixfields Stadium to report on a Stanley game a few years ago and it was every bit as prosaic and uninspiring an experience as that tweet hints.

The folks were friendly and welcoming but Sixfield, shared by Coventry City too at that point, is pretty much your identikit, flat-pack small lower-league ground plonked down in a large soulless expanse which has not quite become the hub of commerce and industry some starry-eyed councillor probably once envisaged, at least this weekend it will resound to the noisy throb of another remarkable sell-out Rovers following looking to cheer their side to the very brink of a notable historical landmark.

Grounds at this level aren’t currently big enough to accommodate all the travelling Roverites desperate to watch their side. Tickets for Fleetwood went on sale on Monday and sold out in about the time it takes the Stones or Ed Sheeran to flog theirs.

One hopes our coastal neighbours might be able to find a way to allocate some extra space for the sixth away derby of a season which sees Rovers already comfortably atop one table, the away following league.

A seventh consecutive league win at Sixfields would put us within one home game, against lowly Rochdale. of equalling the eight achieved by Howard Kendall’s 1979-80 Third Division promotion heroes.

It seems like yesterday but incipient senior citizen that I am I turned 21 during that run and the team enjoyed the winning experience so much that after seeing the sequence ended by a shock home draw with Exeter they promptly won another six on the bounce. Stats anything like that in the next month or two would see us possibly top League One with a healthy gap between us and third, I’d warrant.

One of the other main similarities with that side of 37 years ago is how assured Rovers are looking away from home. Whereas Kendall’s virtually-impenetrable unit favoured the 1-0 scoreline, Tony Mowbray’s team seem to have the firepower to blow teams away on their own midden without the odd leaking of a goal here and there – almost unheard of with the Arnold-Branagan-Keeley-Fazackerley-Rathbone backline –  causing much inconvenience.

So much so, in fact, that Rovers seem hell-bent on recreating some of the circumstances and conditions of an away match at Ewood.

After another indifferent first half  last Saturday illuminated only by the moment of glorious serendipity which saw Leon Best hilariously achieve what he had singularly failed to do during the woebegone period of his employment here and score at Ewood – what on earth was our “you-have-one-job”  tannoy announcer doing missing the chance to share that, a lot didn’t realise it was him? – Rovers effectively conceded possession to Charlton for the entireity of the second half.

Again, a pitiful dearth of finishing ability or final-pass decision making meant the Londoners became yet another side to leave Blackburn without at least the point their overall display possibly merited.

But winning games you don’t necessarily dominate at home is a highly welcome and overdue habit to acquire and Rovers are a  dangerous animal playing on the counter.

After Craig Conway had fluffed one set of lines, the clinching goal set up by Nuttall’s perseverance and put home by a man who certainly does know how to accept a chance on a plate precipitated celebrations which hint that this club has at least re-found its soul as far as team spirit and unconditional love from its loyal fans are concerned.

David Raya – terrific again and unless there’s an outstanding candidate (whoops, sorry, dodgy expression) I haven’t seen surely destined for the League One team of the season – dashing the length of the field to the Blackburn End to celebrate securing the precious points may not quite erase the memory of Scott Arfield and colleagues making a similar sprint the opposite way but even for an old cynic who tires of elaborate celebrations and shirt-kissing gestures it was a joyous and touching moment.

If we do perform with our usual elan at Northampton it will be a little bit of history in itself. Obviously we’ve never played at Sixfields before but nor had we ever won at the quaint old County (cricket) Ground in two league visits more than half a century ago.

Our only victory in the town was an FA Cup win thanks to a Tommy Briggs double in 1956.

The first league meeting was in The Cobblers’ only season ever in the top-flight, which was also our last season in it for a good while. They came all the way up from the fourth and back down again in seven seasons and in the ill-fated 1965-66 campaign they managed to knock us out of the League Cup at Ewood before losing 6-1 here just before Christmas. George Jones scored a hat-trick and after a dire start to the season accentuated by a polio outbreak locally which prevented any home games being played until September it briefly looked as if we may escape the bottom two.

The return game at Wantage Road less than a month later saw us back in a slump began by our last-ever Christmas Day game, a 4-2 defeat at Blackpool,  and get beat 2-1, George Sharples of all people netting. Both sides went down in May, Rovers with just 20 points to Town’s 33. To illustrate the disaffection of the Blackburn public with what was a desperate season, there were just 10,000 on that top-flight meeting at Ewood, 15,000 at Northampton. By the spring 7,000 were turning up for Ewood games against West Brom, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday and Spurs. Boycotting and “Not A Penny More” didn’t start in 2010!

Less than a year later in Division Two we lost at the County Ground again by 2-1, Barrie Hole our scorer before winning the return 3-0 at Ewood condemning Northampton to the lower divisions for the next 50 years while our attempt at an instant return to the First Division had by then fizzled out. It was to remain thus for another 25 years.

Someone had taken note of a decent centre-forward Northampton had there though as in February 1968 we paid them a few quid (£38,000) for one Donnon Martin, a centre-forward so skinny and pigeon-chested he deceptively looked as if a strong wind might blow him over.

Nothing could have been further from the truth however. With the remnants of a Teddy Boy style slicked-back quiff and sometime luxuriant sideburns he elicited from fashion guru Wayne Hemingway one of the most succint and evocative of descriptions: “He was a proper footballer – he looked like a werewolf.”

Don had the heart and fight of a lion however and punched his weight against centre-halves whose trade was brutal and merciless.

He showed as little compassion to Sheffield United veteran keeper Alan Hodgkinson on one rainy afternoon at Ewood. Hodgkinson adeptly caught a free-kick floated in under the Blackburn End bar only to be bundled into the back of the net by Martin who had hurtled in at him off a fast bowler’s run up at full tilt and unceremoniously shoulder-charged him over the line.

The goal was given and remains possibly the only one I’ve seen where Rovers’ scorer didn’t actually touch the ball. I think Jack Roscamp did likewise in our last FA Cup final win almost 90 years ago.

Martin liked a pint or two, and a fag, and played darts and dominoes for the Wellington on Livesey Branch Road close to where he lived.

Tony Parkes once told me that on the eve of his debut he was half asleep in his digs upstairs at – I kid you not here – The Fox and Hounds pub facing Ewood. At about tenf past ten he heard a kefuffle as some last-orders stragglers arrived in the tap room below his bedroom. Thinking he might as well nip in and have a calming half before time was called and the noise subsided he was astonished to see Martin, Eamonn Rogers, Malcolm Darling and a couple more of his likely colleagues the day after in a raucous round!

Injuries to the Corby lad meant he was damagingly absent for much of the ignominious 1970-71 relegation season and Ken Furphy didn’t fancy him too much on his return, often utilising his sharp footballing brain in a centre-half role to which he wasn’t necessarily ideally suited.

But a Damascene conversion into a midfield or deep-lying striker role by Gordon Lee restored his goalscoring powers and he contributed 15 to the 1974-75 promotion effort, earning a title medal.

He scored his last Rovers goal in the first home game of the following season, a televised 4-1 win against Oldham Granada have lost the tapes of, and remains one of my very favourite Rovers of all time.

I was devastated to learn he’d died a few years ago, his passing scandalously unacknowledged by our club. He didn’t get a minute’s silence, applause or even a mention in the programme after 63 goals in 252 appearances over seven years.

In other news this week we’ve appointed, as I revealed we would be doing a few weeks ago,  a new Chief Executive Officer Steve Waggott. I know nothing about him and judging by the unbelievably sweeping range of speculation and conjecture, not to mention unadulterated fantasy, about his abilities, motives and background, neither does anyone else either.

I’ve seen a whole gamut of reaction, from: “He’s probably here to oversee Venkys getting their money back by selling a few players in January,” to “It seems a positive move, I’m thinking of breaking my boycott and going to the Rochdale game,” with every possible interpretation under the sun in between in the absence of any significant fact-based evidence as to what he is or isn’t likely to do.

He includes on his CV, along with spells at Charlton and Coventry, club associations  which have caused many of the more Pavlovian to recoil in mock-horror, a stint on the Sunday Sport newspaper so he should at least be prepared for fantastical imaginings and unsubstantiated detritus which the more unfettered denizens of the message boards are wont to conjure up.

I hope he’s great at his job, good for us and wish him every success.

A merry and peaceful Christmas too to all Rovers fans, readers and football supporters of any stripe. Let’s hope Saturday brings win number seven and Boxing Day persuades many more to forget their gripes if only for the day to back a team and manager making us proud to support Blackburn Rovers again.


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The Roddy who resisted football’s favours

A few years ago, I was at a gig by Roddy Frame, the erstwhile leader and consummate songsmith from masterful 80’s/90’s Scottish indie pop princes Aztec Camera.

Clearly loving every minute of the event, playing long-established favourites with a hot young band to a small, but adoring audience, the ridiculously-youthful looking mere slip of a lad took a minute to soak up an adulatory chant from a largely middle-aged audience glowing from this sprinkling of gold-dust from younger days falling upon them.

“Oh, Roddy, Roddy….Roddy, Roddy, Roddy, Roddy, Roddy Frame….” chorused a well-refreshed room full of ecstatic acolytes.

Momentarily looking ever-so-slightly bashful, Frame replied: “This must be what it’s like to be a footballer…” before introducing an acoustic run through of gorgeous, plaintive leaving-of-Glasgow ballad “Killermont Street” by admitting: “I actually know nothing at all about football…as a Glaswegian, I realise it’s shameful, really.”

When I started watching football, and shortly after commenced attending gigs, this would have been no kind of surprise.

The worlds of football and pop/rock music could hardly have been more diametrically separated; it’s difficult to imagine which would have been more horrified to be linked with the other.

Even as a devoted follower of the very different milieu, you had to practically have two different sets of polar-opposite mates unless you had the odd buddy as odd as you were.

Today, any music awards ceremony organiser would give his left arm to have such like as Beckham and Ronaldo along and at most glittering football events players are overjoyed to be snapped with showbiz mates from rap or rock or even their very own high profile pop star girlfriends.

But it wasn’t ever thus.

When Rod and The Faces punced a plastic football about the TOTP stage in around 1973 as John Peel earnestly faked a mandolin solo, they were exposing a laddishness, a yobbishness almost, which almost undermined any claim to be serious about their musicianly art, fully decades before Loaded and GQ made such manly bonhomie de rigeur.

Football? Pop singers? What on earth was going on?

You got no such frippery from ELP, Yes or Ten Years After. Or indeed from Fripp himself, Robert of King Crimson.

If any of these hairy rock gods had a secret allegiance to Coventry City or Northampton Town, they weren’t about to chip away at semi-mythical status by revealing so. Mott The Hoople, one of the lairiest, hairiest combos going before a glam makeover, actually had Hereford United and Shrewsbury Town supporters in their ranks but would no more have made such a fact public than they would have claimed to frown on recreational drugs or back the Vietnam war.

And then, as hinted at, came glam itself, so swishy in its satin and tat bipperty-bobberty hat.

Star-cheeked Bolan blazed a trail in his sparkly jackets and flares and corkscrew glittered barnet, then Bowie skipped gaily down it in Kansai Yamamoto-designed print leotards and tunics and dressing gowns. Sometimes with his knackers hanging out.

Good lord, there was no way Norman Hunter or Mike Doyle or Eddie McCreadie were going to align themselves even with a universe of pop music which contained characters as edgy, threatening and corrupt as that.

It was said that even bricklayers had strange pangs of fancying Bowie but if anyone in the Burnley or Wolves dressing room at the time did, they weren’t letting on to Peter Noble or Derek Dougan.

If Bowie announced a comeback gig at Emirates or The Etihad today there would be whoie blocks of football people falling over one another to be seen in the plush Directors’ seats but when he was faking fellatio with Mick Ronson onstage at the Hammersmith Odeon in 73, you would no more have got even fringe-showbiz types like Marshy, Besty and Ossy Osgood in there than you would have got them to a premiere of an eight-hour Warhol movie depicting the druggy ramblings and fumblings of a bunch of homosexual cowboys.

I had football away day pals I just daren’t tell I was off to see Bowie, Mott, Roxy and Queen, just as my pop cred would have been out of the window had I told my circle of rock’n’roll friends I was off to Ewood Park to see how Barry Endean and John O’Mara might fare against Southend United before catching Sparks at King Georges Hall.

When Elton John – a long time before “coming out” – did exactly that and came to Ewood to see how the Watford team he was beginning an association with were doing, there was general disbelief that a global superstar of such standing would go to a football match that wasn’t at Stamford Bridge where the likes of Richard Attenborough or Raquel Welch might occasionally pitch up for a photo opportunity.

The 1970’s terraces were often a violent, racist, threatening, inhuman and horrid place to be and in many ways you couldn’t blame lovers of art and beauty and creativity for eschewing the delights of an afternoon at Elland Road or The Baseball Ground and their environs.

By the time Roddy Frame’s Aztecs, Edwyn Collins’ Orange Juice, Fire Engines and sundry other Scottish bands came to the fore in the mid-80’s, punk had somehow handed the music venues back over to the terrace classes.

Dr Feelgood, Eddie & The Hot Rods, The Jam, Clash, Pistols…suddenly here were bands you could catch and not be subjected to taunts that you were a foppish popinjay who would run a mile if the visting “crew” attempted to “take your end” (that was a football hooligan term, not a jibe about your musical leanings).

The in-truth pretty daft Sham 69 were actually named after a bunch of football yobs and their songs were virtually heavily-amplified terrace chants. It was all a far cry from Gong, Greenslade and Gryphon now. For the first time, bands even had to disassociate themselves from right wing factions fresh from the football grounds who not only no longer abhorred the music but often wrong-headedly and mistakenly gloried in its more basic, down-to-earth elements.

Today, football and music and showbiz in all its various tawdry manifestations couldn’t be more intertwined.

I know little other about Robbie Williams and his musical career than a few of his singles and the fact that he is a bit of a larrikin as the Aussies say. But any kudos he has with me are because he is a keen Port Vale fan. I kind of like that about him. He and his songwriter mates can’t wait to get on a footy pitch and show us they can do a bit with a few old stagers.

The old stagers can’t sign up fast enough to be on the pitch with ‘em, either.

The Gallagher brothers? Well, I fell out with their rather eclectic brand of recycled rock about two albums in but I can always chuckle along to their waspish views on City and United while I’d have to be tied to a chair to listen to anything since “What’s the Story..”

Even a journeyman I have often seen perform in pubs and folk clubs, ex Any Trouble singer Clive Gregson, has been known to time his sets, fully approved by his coterie of followers, around watching his beloved United in the Champions League on the taproom telly. I once saw him go and sit in the car in between sets to listen on the radio…rock’n’roll eh?

At the very instant I write this, Snoop Dogg is reported to be “interested in investing in Celtic after being given the thumbs-up on the idea by his friend David Beckham. His favourite player is Georgios Samaras” The equivalent 45 years ago when I started going to football regularly might have been Jimi Hendrix buying some shares after being smitten by Bobby Lennox’s performance and given the nod by Nobby Stiles.

Wycombe Wanderers manager – manager I said, that’s right – Gareth Ainsworth fronts his own pretty decent grungey band, cupping the mike stand with his flowing locks falling from a woolly hat. It’s not the kind image we ever saw Bertie Mee, Bert Head or Bill Nicholson present is it?

Many think it was precisely the moment when Gazza burst into tears that it became positively fashionable, acceptable and trendy for everyone to be a football fan.

At least Roddy Frame resisted the trend and I’m quite glad someone did, even if it would be fascinating to discover that while growing up in East Kilbride he had avidly followed Airdrie and idolised Drew Jarvie as a boy.

As he listened to a whole crowd of around 500 sing along in that little Liverpool club to the closing line “There’s a message for us, we can get there by bus…from Killermont Street,” he stood back and took in the moment.

“That’s got to beat being a footballer,” he said.

Those of us who can only stand and admire both can’t tell you I’m afraid, Roddy.

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Everything I have is blue

Every week is a blank canvas when it comes to creating a fresh column, but this week is blanker than most.

I had planned to give you an eye-witness account of the Peterborough game, report on the Under-23’s progress at Leyland on Monday, reflect from afar on events at Crewe on Tuesday night and go watch the Youth Team on Wednesday.

However, circumstances have conspired in such a fashion that I didn’t make London Road, the Under-23’s was off and the Crewe game was delayed, thankfully for just for 24 hours with the ultimate outcome most, not quite all, of us wanted. I also ducked on the Youth Cup game after being out in town at tea-time and opted for following the FA Cup game from my armchair.

Credit to everyone for the common sense displayed in getting it played this week; I long since wearied of the authorities insisting on 10 days’ notice for the police to rearrange football matches which will attract negligible attendances and provide only the slightest of traffic inconvenience to anyone along with no hint of public order problems whatever.

At one point the inclemency of the conditions did briefly threaten another abandonment or postponement but a strong Rovers side got the job done and the major bonus, for me and a few of you I’m sure, is that instead of a blank weekend in early January we have a  reasonably attractive home cup tie on (hopefully) a Saturday afternoon with no reason to suppose we’re incapable of further progress. Feel free to send your Ressies, Hull.

I hear all the theories about resting and not risking key players – “promotion is the only thing that matters,” etc – but I’m old-fashioned and believe that professional footballers are well capable of and thoroughly enjoy playing every next game which looms before them.

On the occasion of our last promotion from the Third Division in 1979-80 we played seven FA Cup ties on a thrilling run to Round Five which began in front of 4,500 spectators at Kidderminster before culminating in two tumultuous home games against top flight sides, Coventry and Villa which attracted 20,785 and 29,468 to Ewood respectively.

The replay at Villa Park, lost narrowly and heroically, saw one of our best ever midweek away followings travel south to make up a 42,000 gate. I was on a Business course at the Tech and virtually the whole class decamped that Wednesday afternoon for the day out whether they were particularly Rovers fans or not.

Those days of more people turning out for a cup match than a regular league fixture have gone as the competition has been devalued but my point is that the prestige and excitement generated by that run considerably augmented the league effort which began to gather momentum under Howard Kendall around January.

The season would have been memorable for promotion but the cup adventures lent it mythical status and  the growing bonds of pride and affection between team and long-suffering fans back then is one of my fondest memories from my early twenties. Yes, we were a long way from our glory days but I couldn’t have been more in love with the team.

In six seasons at this level the first half, or just shy of it, of this season has been the most successful other than the one which saw Gordon Lee’s team’s establish themselves in the top two early doors and remain there all season.

I’m struggling to think why anyone wouldn’t want to see it develop. Other former champions have found themselves at this level or lower – Burnley, Leeds, Man City, Derby, Forest, Wolves, Sunderland – none of them presumably on account of expert custodianship and decision-making and we never actually had any divine right not to hit the skids one day.

Promotion from this level might be the best thing we achieve for a generation as it was on the past two occasions and for me, if it happens, it’s to be enjoyed by all. I really don’t care who thinks it’s somehow beneath us. I get that from Rovers fans but it doesn’t seem that different to the derision I also get from Burnley fans about how the mighty have fallen.

If there’s one lot I’d never give the satisfaction of seeing me pack it all in because times are bad, it’s our eternal rivals currently lording it above us down the M65! No fan of any team will ever be able to say to me: “You enjoyed the success but you soon bailed out when it dried up.”

While I’m keen to see as much of the developing story as I can, my elaborate scheme to get to Peterborough on Saturday from a mid-morning wedding in Leicester, a 40-mile one-hour drive, fell foul of a late running order. I was booked in as a guest for the reception meal and with my ticket in my suit pocket, was hoping to discretely slip away maybe between main course and pudding.

As it panned out there was no way I could have beggared off without seeming extremely inconsiderate and rude so with the soup not served until 1.45pm, I opted for once not to let my patience-of-a-saint wife down and stuck it out for the duration.

A break in the speeches – top marks to the bride’s dad for getting Shakespeare, Virgil and Tommy Cooper quotes into his – allowed me a glance at Twitter at half-time and, as many who watched the game live said, I had a strangely reassuring feeling that we’d be alright despite being a goal down.

As wedding proceedings wound up – the groom was 80 so it was never going to be all-night party time – I saw with great relief that we were level and by the time I’d driven a short distance to the road out where Filbert Street once dominated the view, 5 Live informed us we were 3-1 up.

Late consolation goal notwithstanding it was a happy drive home with a couple of bets up and a happy Mrs Blue Eyes relieved to have not had to wait alone until half past six for me to roll up at a now-deserted hotel.

I was sorry to have missed out on the game though. Days like that are what you live for as a fan, every penny and hour spent on tickets travelling rewarded with that shared joy and commonality of purpose when the team does as the supporters wish them to do.

I loved my mate and fellow blogger Michael @MarpleLeaf Taylor’s account of happy train travellers returning with the warm glow which only a winter away win can give you. Time and money well spent in the company of fellow Blues. Unbeatable.

After a summer of doom-and-gloom about which players would be sold by cash-hungry owners, which signings were wholly inadequate, what a poor manager (“too thick to get us promoted” one of the more execrable judgements I spotted not that many days ago) we had and how there couldn’t possibly be any enjoyment to be had even from performing well in such a low level of football, it’s great to see and hear from people hugely enjoying supporting Rovers again.

In some ways I get the impression that many are managing to get as much from the new experiences, new grounds, age-old rivalries renewed and the buzz of actually seeming like a big club in a division, however modest in the overall scheme, as we old ‘uns got in the seventies half a  decade after dropping out of the top flight.

Mulgrew and Dack, Saturday’s scorers, are pivotal to the upturn in our pride and affection for the club. Not just the weight of goals they are contributing – both are palpably a class apart from most of the jobbing journeymen operating in League One.

Dack is the irrepressible, impossible-to-contain attacking x factor other teams simply don’t have and few can cope with. If his role, range of attributes and position on the park are hard to specify in absolute terms, imagine trying to plan how to contain him.

Mulgrew oozes gravitas and class, a player displaced from a higher echelon into an environment where other players simply aren’t good enough to exude the calm, the time on the ball and the reassuring class with which he elevates playing out from the back in a division in which the prowess of defenders has often been measured by their ability to inflict grievous bodily harm or launch the ball into adjoining car parks.

There are still areas of concern in the team but the class in key areas is lifting us when we need to be lifted. That’s why I still think Wednesday’s scorer, Danny Graham, has a key role to play if he wants it and is prepared to apply himself diligently. Samuel, Antonsson and Nuttall have their attributes but Graham really ought to be saying:”I need to be playing week in week out in this team… there’s an 18-goal season and a title medal in it if I shape myself.”

Full-back positions are a weakness and we could do without relying on aged or injury-prone non-contributors in midfield but it’s clear that the side is currently a different beast to the nervy, tentative unit which began the campaign.

Unbeaten in nine at a time everyone else has lost at least one of their last five and with away form currently imperious, we need to find a formula at home to augment the progress.

Charlton on Saturday will be only the second home league match since Hallowe’en and will provide a useful barometer. I fancied them at the beginning of the season and though they’ve lost two of the last three, I think they’d previously gone nine unbeaten in the league. Their big summer signing, Billy Clarke from Bradford City, has had far less impact than Dack thus far.

It’s sometimes difficult to judge a side on one viewing. We all thought Fleetwood looked a good side but they haven’t won in League One subsequently while Portsmouth, who were completely dire at Ewood, haven’t done much wrong since.

So it probably depends, as the old cliché goes, on which Charlton turns up.

It’s important for fans to stay positive. With 26 league games to go it would be astonishing if there weren’t odd defeats or disappointments along the way. A loss away or a draw at home here and there isn’t the end of the world.

If our visitors on Saturday force a 0-0 or a 1-1 there’s no need to be wailing and gnashing teeth about the average points going marginally below two per game, the gap to second place slightly widening or re-opening ludicrous “sack him or back him?” debates over Mowbray.

It very much looks like we’re going to be alright. Enjoy it and snap a half-season ticket up if you’re not on board to start with.









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