Rovers’ Cup of joy continues to drown league sorrows

For more years than I care to remember, I slavishly traipsed off to places like Cardiff for midweek games.

I can’t imagine it now, having gone to Watford the other week and arrived home at 11.30pm – the day after!

Even a relaxing day in London couldn’t hide the reality that my jiggered old body isn’t up to clocking up those motorway miles on a regular basis any more so I have every respect for those Rovers supporters who religiously take their days off work and travel long days and nights to follow the team.

What I do remember is that a draw away was never to be sniffed at and, as we showed at Middlesbrough, undoubtedly cause for celebration when it comes courtesy of a last-gasp equaliser having gone a goal down yourselves late on.

“We should be beating sides like them,” was often my dad’s opening line at the breakfast table as I made my bleary-eyed preparations for work the following day, countering that if you’d been driving all day and half the night with stale butties for refreshment a point was a point and would do.

He would certainly have said that on Wednesday, after we failed to secure the three points in the latest “must-win” game at Cardiff.

And, with the perspective few years remove from the road miles and anything’s-a-bonus travelling mentality brings, he would be right.

Russell Slade’s side had won one out of 11 league games up to Tuesday and the former Orient manager, a rather odd appointment to start with, was under the kind intense fire from his own supporters and merciless scrutiny from his local media which makes any stick or questioning Gary Bowyer has had seem positively cosmetic.

Coming off the magnificent 4-1 FA Cup win against Stoke, Rovers ought to have been an unstoppable force if they really have any pretensions about re-entering the race for the play-offs.

Make no mistake, despite the fact that only around 9,000 home fans were there to see it, Saturday at Ewood was one of the great cup occasions at the ground in my half-century of going on.

I’ve seen us as a second or third tier side upset top-flight outfits before but never dismantle and humiliate one in such swashbuckling fashion.

Josh King finally did what we all know he’s capable of but also know he will never produce on a regular basis. That’s why he plays for us and not Arsenal or someone.

Gary Bowyer’s pick’n’mix selection finally came up with a lucky bag to suit everyone on a one-off cup occasion.

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But that’s what it was – a happy accident on a one-off occasion. It reminded me greatly of a thrilling 3-2 Noel Brotherston-inspired win over Cloughy’s Forest in 1986, an otherwise miserable campaign illuminated by a night to remember.

It’s happened far too seldom in the league to be by design

That 1986 run ended on Merseyside (where this brave one might do too)  at Goodison, where a huge Rovers following saw Gary Lineker and Everton, who should have done the double that year, overpower us.

While the thrill of a cup run can assuage the pain of a likely- doomed league campaign – ask fans of Reading or Bradford City too – consider this stat.

Rovers entertain hapless bottom-of-the-league joke team Blackpool on Saturday. Most anticipate a win by a hatful.

Played 12 won 3, drawn 3, lost 6 – that’s The Seasiders’ recent league record.

By co-incidence, it’s also our recent league record too. Although they have conceded far more, Blackpool have actually scored more than we have in those dozen games. That’s us, a team with an £8m (£11m-rated?) striker on the bench.

Our “promotion push” is currently keeping pace with the Championship’s basement  boys point-for-point.

If contenders we still are in the minds of some dreamers, fellow hopefuls Norwich are at Ewood on Tuesday.

The quick turnaround in games will doubtless give Gary another opportunity to ring multiple changes. He’s confused, we’re confused and the players must surely be confused.

No-one knows our preferred starting XI, certainly not the bloke who selects it.

Jordan Rhodes has scored winners in our last two home league games yet such is the bewildering nature of Bowyer’s tinkering that it’s no longer a shock when the plodding Chris Brown comes off the sub’s bench in preference to him with a goal needed.

It is the kind of muddled thinking which may occasionally produce a rabbit from the hat but more often will lead to unsatisfactory performances and outcomes such as the drab draw in South Wales.

Anything less than six points before I sit down to write this column next week and the season is over apart from that trip to Anfield.

Who knows when my old travelling  mates and our younger men of the road will be filling their petrol tanks to visit grounds like that again?

BLUE-EYED BOY

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