No gimme games for Bowyer’s dire defence – and farewell to an Ewood legend

Anyone who has spent more than twenty minutes in a pub with me knows there is no depth of resource in terms of loyalty, wit, memory bank  or knowledge I will not attempt to use to defend or “big up” my beloved Rovers.

But sometimes I find it difficult to fathom the unquestioning conviction of some of our own followers that this present-day side bears  genuine resemblance to a promotion, or even play-off team.

My hackles were raised when I read a tweet on Monday, after the Watford game, which read: “That brings to an end a very tough sequence of games (for Rovers).”

What planet are people on?

When you defend as abjectly as this team, there is no game or sequence of games which isn’t tough.

To proclaim otherwise is to heftily disrespect the opposition and so it proved in South Yorkshire as our season, like the two before it in the Championship, was once more punctuated by one of those dispiriting results to a team we feel we ought to be swatting aside – without any substantial evidence behind the belief that we have the right or ability to do so.

We are currently conceding goals at a more rapid rate than woebegone Blackpool, who are more or less pulling players out of the dole queue.

It is a measure of our travails in this area of the field that by far our most consistent, reliable performer in the department has been the once maligned Swede, Martin Olsson.

Only Blackpool’s companions in the nether regions, Fulham and Bolton, have conceded more.

Yes, like everyone else I looked at Tuesday’s game at Rotherham and Saturday’s at home to Huddersfield as two which any side with pretensions of promotion simply had to win.

But you won’t always be able to pull back a two-goal deficit as we did against Watford and nearly did against Derby.

Those two home games – which yielded one point out of the six available remember – engendered reams of hyperbole and the most over-the-top praise for our “battling fightbacks” while largely choosing to ignore the calamitous defending which led to the surrender of a two-goal deficit in the first place.

I know that fans will always try to see the positives but I also see through vacuous “I thought we were magnificent second half” boasts and extravagant claims laid by Bowyer and his cheerleading press posse.

The fictionalised “unlucky not to take all three points” version of Saturday’s 2-2 draw ignored the fact that Watford squandered at least one gilt-edged chance to go 3-1 up – Vydra fluffing his pass with a free man either side in the area – although we could indeed on that occasion have won the game with more precise, measured, less panicked finishing late on.

But you can’t get away with murder every game and on Tuesday at the New York Stadium, ill-fortune with injuries, rank poor play and an ultimate lack of focus and desire in comparison to the home side meant that the trick of rolling down to the bottom of the mountain then running up it again was beyond us.

If the first goal was poor, with Evans failing particularly miserably to clear, the second was the kind of goal your hung-over pub team pals concede to a crack team of Liverpudlian semi-pro ringers, who all play in the North West Counties League, in the Lancashire Sunday knock-out to go 12-1 down.

Ryan Tunnicliffe’s “drunk uncle carrying a tray of drinks across the dancefloor at a 21st do” slalom into his own penalty area, patented by Keith Andrews at home to Villa a few years back, was bad enough but Steele’s attempted clearance, admittedly under undue duress as Tunnicliffe capped his idiocy by ill-advisedly playing it back to him, told you much about why a month before he was third choice at Middlesbrough.

When someone is a club’s third choice keeper there’s usually a good reason and that pathetic attempt at a clearance coupled with an ineffectual flap at Tozser’s free-kick on Saturday, must even have the Gary-signed-him-so-he-must-be-good happy clappers doubting a little.

The most telling vignette of all at Rotherham however came when Rudy Gestede went off with his hamstring injury.

No substitute was ready and an impromptu pitch-side conference took place between Bowyer and his numerous coaching staff over what to do.

That kind of management-by-committee moment convinces me that Bowyer has either no particular convictions or, if he has, no courage of them. Can you imagine Big Sam, Sir Alex or Cloughie having to take advice from minions on replacing his stricken centre-forward?

I’d raised an eyebrow earlier that day reading an article about Ben Marshall in which Bowyer had mentioned discussing his versatility in a staff meeting. I’ll bet they have a lot of them.

I’ve never called for Bowyer’s head but have constantly said I’d never have chosen him as full-time manager in the first place either and nothing has happened to alter my view that he is not capable of taking this collection of players up. I’m not sure anyone is.

The last times we lost at Rotherham were two end-of-season games near the middle of Bob Saxton’s 1980’s reign at Ewood.

Saxton was a loyal, likeable, knowledgeable, hard-working if slightly uncharismatic pair of safe hands as a manager who got the most out of a bunch of players assembled on peanuts – and I do mean peanuts.

Somehow, you knew he was never going to take us to the next level no matter how hard you wished it for us or how much you would have liked to have seen an entirely admirable journeyman of football management have himself a season in the sun.

When he was replaced by energetic, snake-oil-salesman ideas man Don Mackay his lack of vision and ambition, his sheer ordinariness, was thrown into sharp relief.

Sound like anyone we know?

  • After a week of defensive woes it was with enormous sadness that I heard of the death of

Matt Woods, centre-half at Ewood from 1956 to 1953, a golden era of promotion and a Wembley FA Cup final, during which he played 307 games and scored three times, two of them from his own half which tells you much about where a defender’s priorities lay in those days. He passed away at 82 a week ago.

I only saw him play in a testimonial for either Bryan Douglas or Ron Clayton but my dad and granddads impressed upon me what a travesty it was that such a fine player ended without an England cap.

I was honoured to meet Matt five years ago at a book launch and he was still a big, imposing man with a presence about him and a twinkle in his eye recalling the 1960 Cup run when he scored with a 55-yard free kick in the White Hart Lane mud after politely telling Mick McGrath to, erm, “get out of the way” (Matt used a shorter, less delicate phrase) and leave it to him.

He was able to tell me, without hesitation, when I asked him what the odds had been on that final. I’ve now forgotten but Matt hadn’t.

Although the 1960 Wembley defeat was a burden never fully shed to this day, the men who took us there remain true legends of Ewood and I hope all of us get the chance to pay our grateful respects to Matthew Woods on Saturday.

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