“I’d have taken a point at 3pm” is the standard and eminently sensible/sanguine response to a draw which ultimately disappoints and never more apt was it than on a Saturday afternoon which screamed: “Welcome back to the Championship.”
Ipswich are the longest continuous inhabitants of the second tier after spending a great many years between 1961 and 2002 at the top table. It’s easy to forget they were Second Division champions at a bit of a canter the season we went up through the play-offs under Kenny Dalglish now that they are entrenched there in the almost perpetual limbo of mid-table with the odd play-off challenge almost a maximum aspiration.
For those of us who lived through the 1970’s and 1980’s they were a byword for style with substance on a budget under Bobby Robson. They were ahead of their time in introducing foreign players (Dutch) to our top flight and they hold a proud record of never losing at home in Europe in the three competitions they entered, one of which, the UEFA Cup, they won.
Rovers have seldom found results easy to come by there.
Only an inveterate romantic from either side on opening day would envisage a return to the Premier League at the end of this particular season and most will probably sigh with relief if and when survival and another year in the division is confirmed, be that in January, February, March, April or on the last day of the season. Get to 48 points before that and we can happen talk top six!
While we perhaps sniffed bit at rolling up at Ipswich in 2012, Saturday saw us arrive back in a land of decent grounds, reasonable home support (the population isn’t that different to Blackburn’s at 133,000) and far sterner tests than many in League One could offer.
Another healthy travelling contingent didn’t have long to wait to be reminded that the bar is set a little higher either. Gwion Edwards, one of that impressive clutch of players who caught our eye (and obviously that of others) last season and might well have ended up at Ewood, began something of an auspicious debut by planting a wonderful header in and generally tormenting us for parts of the afternoon.
I was at a cricket match and had been briefly elated by a text from my daughter at home shortly after kick-off saying, with her customary economy, “Wahey!” After announcing to my mostly Roverite associates that I therefore surmised we were one up early doors, further scrutiny revealed she was rejoicing after simply locating a satellite link to the match.
When I immediately had to disclaim that outburst and inform them, via the same source, that we were indeed a goal down I was summarily advised in brief but stern terms to keep my bulletins to myself for the afternoon.
The characteristically swift comeback and the fact that we were ahead by the half hour with two of the most comfortingly familiar names on the scoresheet was as heartening as any of the turnarounds we effected in the promotion campaign, although I was by now nervous about imparting the glad tidings to small number of cohorts who these days constitute the travelling Church and Oswaldtwistle CC Barmy Army.
It sounded like we looked in no way out of place in a Championship scrap. You can never read too much into the first game – Norwich were promoted as Champions by Saturday tea-time two years ago according to many – but retaining a few of the positive traits and habits from 2017-18 was encouraging.
The sickening equaliser, freakish and impossibly soft, was one of those things which, if it happens once in a blue moon, fair enough. Should aberrations like that become a regular occurrence we will show no such generous disposition. Conceding two in this division on a regular basis is an absolute no-no.
This weekend sees us face another of the division’s “Category B” men according to Rovers ticket pricing setters (who the devil is Category C one wonders? Rotherham?) in Millwall, who had a decent old season last time, galvanised in no small part by that all-too-rarely seen phenomenon at Ewood in years past, Ben Marshall pulling his tripe out.
He’s gone to Norwich to re-unite with Grant Hanley and Jordan Rhodes from the almost-ready-for-a-retrospective-judgement Gary Bowyer (of whom more later) era though and the Londoners’ summer transfer business has been low-key. They too though had reason to kick themselves after outdoing us and squandering a two-goal lead to Middlesbrough in the last five minutes at the New Den last week.
Having had a look at some of the fancied sides on telly – Derby, Leeds, Stoke, West Brom, Forest, Villa – it’s important that we cash in against some of the division’s lesser lights. Some crazy money is being chucked about,
If the Lions can kindly arrange to bring about 400 and lose by the odd goal in three in that way the less glamorous London teams often do up North, we can all move onto Carlisle and Hull (ordinary-looking against Villa) with hope in our hearts.
Given the rather prosaic stature of our early opposition, the transfer window is as ever generating its often frightfully ersatz and exaggerated hype but on this occasion teasingly providing us with the vague prospect that our most costly business might be towards the end.
The eventual capture of Adam Armstrong is a useful addition if not quite, as I’ve seen claimed (I saw the same said about Kasey Palmer) “one of the signings of the summer at £1.75m.” Names such as Patrick Bauer and John McGinn have flitted in and out of our wish-consciousness without landing but it all suggests we have a few quid if we can persuade anyone decent to come here or more pertinently persuade the current employers of said decent performers to part with them.
But as the week’s gone on the names suggesed are getting more and more exotic. USA international Will Trapp sounds like the kind of mantra you’d have quietly intoned to yourself walking into the Mecca on a 1970’s Saturday night and a much sought-after Lithuanian teenager named Vilius Piliukaitis has been mentioned this (Wednesday) morning.
None of us has a clue who they are or if they are any good of course but all of us will rejoice, acclaim them as precisely what we needed and wish them well if they arrive, accompanied by the ludicrous kind of social media frippery which it seems the youth demand these days. I’ll rejoice a sight more if Sam Gallagher ends up back here by September mind.
It was a little sad to see Gary Bowyer leave neighbours Blackpool one match into the season. I wasn’t a huge fan of his football management but there is no arguing that his successive eighth and ninth finishes look a lot more of an achievement than they did at the time. Maybe time will give his stint as favourable a historical slant as Bob Saxton’s or Don Mackay’s. Something must have caused him to finally snap this week after a perfectly decent draw at Wycombe at that most dysfunctional of clubs after doing so well but having indignities such as having to fork out his own money for training facilities heaped upon him this summer,
Talking of earlier Ewood eras Hyndburn –based Rovers fans and others who recall him of a certain vintage will join me in saying a fond farewell to Dave “Haggis” Hargreaves who passed away this week aged 64. I’d known David was very poorly for some time and the news wasn’t totally unexpected.
Even in an area as small as Accrington and its satellite towns and villages, being instantly identified for 40-odd years by a simple nickname is quite something.
His brief Rovers career in the middle of glittering, goal record-breaking stints at Accrington Stanley was a curious but unique footnote. Signed by Jim Smith from Stanley early in 1978 when his exciting promotion-seeking team was hit by injuries and short of strikers he started two games,
He made his debut away at Blackpool (a 2-5 humbling best remembered for a fearsome display from Tangerines striker Bob Hatton who scored four and had two disallowed
He also played in a 2-0 Ewood win against Luton Town on treacherous ice (it wouldn’t stand a chance of being played today), a match remembered for an exquisite Noel Brotherston chipped goal and a brutal tackle on Lil Fucillo by Glenn Keeley, roundly condemned by self-appointed guardian of the good of the game, Jimmy Hill on Match of the Day. Such was the force by which “Killer’s” tackle from behind, which was so late it almost went into the following month, propelled Fucillo into the air, horizontal and landing on the tundra flat on his back, that my late pal Fred Bentley once recalled: “He could see the tops of the cars on Nuttall Street at one point.”
Both games, unusually for Rovers at the time, were televised, the Bloomfield Road game was the Granada Kick-Off Match. In later years I wrote a decent-sized interview feature on Dave and began moves to help him obtain video footage. I don’t know if he ever did but both matches eventually, in the way of things now, surfaced on YouTube. I think Old Blackburnian, sometime of this parish and who will write the column next week, presented him with the programmes from the games.
A legend at the Crown Ground and at Immanuel and Accrington Amateurs where he played later, David was also a familiar sight on local league cricket grounds. He would be terrifically proud that his son Bryn made the First XI at Accrington.
He held no bitterness about the brevity of his injury-ravaged Ewood spell which saw him return to Stanley within months and when I last contacted him he was so generous about another ex-Rover he’d played with later named Jeff Whalley who had also died young that he called me back concerned that in describing Jeff as the most talented player he’d played with, others might feel slighted.
That’s a proper team player. His former team-mates at Stanley, Oswaldtwistle Immanuel and Accrington Amateurs speak effusively of his talent and generosity helping out players less gifted.
Thoughts go out to Dave’s family and friends. I’ll always believe had he been given more of a chance to get over those early injuries – full-time training has often been an initial shock to a non-league star’s body – “Rovers 2-0 (Garner, Hargreaves)” might have become a familiar scoreline.
As I hinted, Old Blackburnian will be in my seat at Ewood this Saturday and writing the column next week. If I can shake off a very sore back I’m off to Warsaw with the family at the end of a week of trauma in which we said goodbye to a beloved old Spaniel.
Legia have a home game on Thursday in Europe so I’ll at last get on a stadium I missed when Rovers played in it during the ill-fated 1995 champions League campaign. At least it’ll take my mind off the fact that our beloved neighbours are having Europa fun of their own. While I stop short of wishing them a positive result, I hope they all get back safe and well.
Championship incomings May-August 2018
Aston Villa (Steve Bruce)
Andre Moreira Gk Atletico Madrid Season loan
Axel Tuanzabe, Df, Manchester United, season loan
Orjan Nyland, GK, Ingolstadt, undisclosed
Birmingham City (Gary Monk)
Omar Bogle, CF, Cardiff City, season loan
Conor Mahoney, winger, Bournemoth, season loan
Blackburn Rovers (Tony Mowbray)
Joe Rothwell MF Oxford Undisclosed
Jacob Davenport MF Manchester City Undisclosed
Kasy Palmer MF Chelsea Season loan
Adam Armstrong, Fwd, Newcastle United, undisclosed
Bolton Wanderers (Phil Parkinson)
Jason Lowe MF Birmingham City
Erhun Oztumer MF Walsall free
Clayton Donaldson CF Sheffield United
Pawel Olkowski RB Cologne Free
Yanic Wildschut Winger Norwich Season loan
Marc Wilson MF Sunderland Free
Josh Magennis, CF Charlton Undisclosed
Jack Hobbs CH Notts Forest Free
Luke Murphy, MF, Leeds United, free
Gary O’Neill, MF, Bristol City, Free
Brentford (Dean Smith)
Ezri Konsa CB Charlton Athletic
Said Benrahma CF Nice Undisclosed
Julian Jeanvier DF Reims Undisclosed
Moses Odubajo, RB, Hull city, free
Bristol City (Lee Johnson)
Marley Watkins FW Norwich City £1m
Adam Webster CH Ipswich Town Undisclosed
Jack Hunt RB Sheffield Wednesday Undisclosed
Hakeeb Adelakun MF Scunthorpe United Free
Andreas Weimann MF Derby County Undisclosed
Mohammed Eisa, CF, Cheltenham Undisclosed
Niki Maenpaa GK Brighton Free
Derby County (Frank Lampard Jnr)
Harry Wilson MF Liverpool Season loan
Mason Mount MF Chelsea Loan
Florian Jozefzoon Winger Brentford Undisclosed
Jack Marriott CF Peterborough Undisclosed
George Evans MF Reading Undisclosed
Martyn Waghorn, CF, Ipswich, Undisclosed
Fikayo Tomori, DF, Chelsea, season loan
Hull City (Nigel Adkins)
Eric Lichaj LB Notts Forest
David Milinkovic CF Genoa Undisclosed
Reece Burke CB West Ham United Undisclosed
Jordy de Wijs Defender PSV Eindhoven Undisclosed
Todd Kane RB Chelsea Season loan
George Long GK Sheffield United Undisclosed
Ipswich Town (Paul Hirst)
Trevor Chalobah MF Chelsea Season loan
Jordan Roberts winger Crawley Free
Gwion Edwards MF Peterborough United Undisclosed
Ellis Harrison CF Bristol Rovers Undisclosed, reported at £750,000
Janoi Donacien CB Accrington Stanley Undisclosed
Tayo Edun, Mf, Fulham, season loan
Jon Nolan, MF, Shrewsbury, undisclosed
Toto Nsiala, Df, Shrewsbury, undisclosed
Leeds United (Marco Bielsa)
Lewis Baker MF Chelsea Season Loan
Jamal Blackman GK Chelsea Loan
Barry Douglas LB Wolves Undisclosed
Jack Harrison Winger Manchester City Season loan
Patrick Bamford CF Middlesbrough £7m
Middlesbrough (Tony Pulis)
Paddy McNair MF Sunderland Undisclosed
Aden Flint CH Bristol City £7m
Andy Lonergan, GK, Leeds, free
Millwall (Neil Harris)
Murray Wallace CB Scunthorpe
Ben Amos GK Bolton Season loan
Norwich City (Daniel Farke)
Emi Buendia ST Getafe
Moritz Leitner MF FC Augsburg Undisclosed
Teemu Pukki CF Bronby Free
Ben Marshall MF Wolves Undisclosed
Felix Passlack DF Borussia Dortmund season loan
Jordan Rhodes CF Sheffield Wednesday Season loan
Tim Krul GK Brighton Free
Nottingham Forest (Aitor Karanka)
Tobias Figueiredo DF Sporting Lisbon
Michael Dawson CH Hull City
Joao Carvalho MF Benfica £13.2m
Diogo Gonvalves W Benfica loan
Gil Bastiao Dias Winger Monaco Loan
Hilal Soudani CF Dinamo Zagreb Und
Jack Robinson LB QPR Free
Costel Pantilimon GK Watford Undisclosed
Lewis Grabban CF Bournemouth Undisclosed
Jack Colback MF Newcastle United Season loan
Luke Steele GK Bristol City Free
Preston North End (Alex Neill)
Ryan Ledson MF Oxford United
Ryan Crowe GK Ipswich
Jordan Storey DF Exeter City
Graham Burke CF Shamrock Rovers
Andrew Hughes LB Peterborough Und
Brandon Barker , winger, Manchester City, season loan
Queens Park Rangers (Steve McClaren)
Toni Leistner CH Union Berlin Free
Joe Felix RB Fulham Free
Reading (Paul Clement)
Andy Yiadom FB Barnsley
David Meyler MF Hull City
John O’Shea DF Sunderland
Marc McNulty CF Coventry City Undisclosed
Darren Sidoel DF Ajax Undisclosed
Sam Walker GK Colchester Free
Sam Baldock CF Brighton Undisclosed
Rotherham United (Paul Warne)
Kyle Vassell CF Blackpool Free
Clark Robertson DF Blackpool Free
Zak Vyner DF Bristol City Season loan
Billy Jones RB Sunderland Free
Marek Rodak GK Fulham Season loan
Sean Raggett DF Norwich Season loan
Sheffield United (Chris Wilder)
Dean Henderson GK Manchester Utd loan
John Egan DF Undisclosed (club record fee)
David McGoldrick MF Ipswich Free
Ben Woodburn CF Liverpool Loan
Kean Bryan, Df, Manchester City, season loan
Sheffield Wednesday (Jos Luhukay)
Stoke City (Gary Rowett)
Oghenekaro Etebo MF Feirense 6.35m
Benik Afobe CF Wolves loan
Adam Federici GK Bournemouth Undisclosed
James McClean Winger West Brom £5m
Tom Ince FW Huddersfield Town £10m
Ashley Williams, CB, Everton, Season loan
Swansea City (Graham Potter)
Joe Asoro Winger Sunderland Undisclosed
Barrie McKay Winger Notts Forest Undisclosed
Bersant Celina Winger Manchester City Undisclosed
West Bromwich Albion (Darren Moore)
Sam Johnstone GK Manchester United £6.5m
Kyle Bartley DF Swansea City Undisclosed
Jonathan Bond GK Reading Free
Harvey Barnes Winger Leicester Season loan
Conor Townsend FB Scunthorpe Undisclosed
Boaz Myhill GK re-signed after release
Tosin Adarabioyo, Df, Manchester City, season loan
Dwight Gayle, CF, Newcastle, season loan
Wigan Athletic (Paul Cook)
Kai Naismith MF Portsmouth
Leo Da Silva Lopes MF Peterborough
Christian Walton GK Brighton loan
Reece James RB Chelsea Season loan
Callum McManaman MF Sunderland Undisclosed
Antonee Robinson, LB, Everton, Season loan
Cedric Kipre, CH, Motherwell, £1m
Darron Gibson, LB, unattached
BLUE EYED BOY