Thank heavens for the end of another barely sufferable international break, with, for Rovers, an absolute corker of a domestic week of football to stir the true passions of supporters.
With due deference to the elation the Welsh and Irish feel, what really matters to the vast majority of fans is how their clubs are doing and while England’s qualification was statistically perfect, it was also a relatively tedious formality from the moment the balls came out of the bag for an expanded tournament for which it is hard not to qualify (although the serially incompetent Scots and ever-mutinous and self-ruinous Dutch managed it).
As if to hammer home the point, it’s almost impossible to get knocked out at group stage when the tournament proper begins next summer, reinforcing the utter pointlessness of much international football these days.
A lad who made his name scoring goals on loan with Saturday’s opponents Milton Keynes, Dele Ali, has after two substitute appearances for England under Roy Hodgson, played almost as much international football as he has in the Premier League in a handful of outings for Spurs.
No offence to the lad, who I hope has a long and productive career, but it wholly devalues the cap and the essence of international soccer itself.
My main concern after the hiatus is that goal machine Jordan Rhodes, unused by the Scots once more, is fit after a throwaway but worrying Strachan reference to a “medial knee ligament problem.”
That would be all we needed. While Rhodes is scoring we are competitive most weeks but take him out of that side….well, you all know the rest.
Preposterously, after two infernal two-week interruptions to the league season already, we have another in November as the bumbling also-rans fight it out over play-off places.
If I had any hair, I’d be tearing it out during these fortnights of enforced ennui.
We’d best make the most, then, of an intense few weeks starting with a first league trip to the franchise club’s stadium.
Around a thousand Rovers fans had snapped up tickets at the time of writing, a good turn-out I reckon – I’d idealistically like to think one or two might boycott a club which was shamelessly permitted to steal another’s identity but can’t think anyone is still thus hidebound- and they will be hoping for better fortunes than the few who turned up for one of our annual League Cup humiliations a few years ago.
When we lost to at Griffin Park last season I heard a phrase I’d never heard before in decades of following Rovers: “We have no right to expect to beat the likes of Brentford.”
While I was mildly shocked I could see a hint of a point but I like to think that even after what’s now approaching five tears of stewardship running the gamut from scandalous to laughable that we are still imbued with sufficient gravitas through weight of history and achievement to beat a hastily cobbled-up team from a town called nowhere which was disgracefully admitted to the league to the horror of non-league sides who have attempted to scale the pyramid in the accepted fashion.
In a reminder of our stark financial handicapping though, the Dons were able to cock a snook at us and sign one of Rovers’ most coveted loan targets, Southampton’s young striker Sam Gallagher, in summer through the advantage of being permitted to pay Saints a hefty loan fee, forbidden unto us by the FFP constraints.
Ironically, he has made no impact whatsoever and in their last game at Ashton Gate when his side needed a goal, former Ewood coach Karl Robinson sent on a man who was recently at Brockhall and available for a song, Nicky Maynard in preference.
My gut feeling is that we should have enough to deal comfortably with a side who are starting with a journeyman such as Simon Church up front.
That, or at least a draw, would send us into the home game against Derby County on Wednesday on a decent run of five games unbeaten. That will be the best litmus test to date of how Gary Bowyer’s side has improved since the earliest games of the season, not to mention a hammering of sorts 12 months ago.
Derby are themselves hitting their stride after a ropey start which itself seemed to be a hungover continuation of last season’s alarming late collapse under Steve McClaren.
But under the initially suspect Paul Clement, briefly another Ewood employee in the Steve Kean era, they have themselves won four out of five unbeaten games ahead of a Sunday game against Wolves this weekend.
They have goal power in the likes of Ince, Bent and Martin as well as depth in midfield where Clement has added the seasoned likes of Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield to an existing hand including Bryson, Hendrick and Thorne but without Will Hughes, injured, who so irresistibly orchestrated a 3 -2 Derby win at Ewood last season which flattered us statistically out of all proportion to the absolute chasing we were given for much of the night.
How our four of Marshall, Akpan, Evans and Conway fare against the Rams’ unit will be an indicator of any progress after being pressed, passed and chased to death on that occasion.
Another old adversary, Jason Shackell, scorer on his last two visits to Ewood, will marshall Derby’s defence, a shuddering reminder that there’s another rather appetising home game three days after that which we will deal with fully next week but I have to say Rovers have done precisely nothing to encourage any stay-aways down for either or both of the home games.
I personally can’t wait to get back on the Riverside on Tuesday but if I wasn’t a season ticket holder 50 quid for me and a few more for junior would make it difficult to justify two games in three days.
At one of those fans’ forum things this week, which I didn’t attend (I can’t stand these stage-managed-by-sycophantic-local-radio occasions) messrs Bowyer, Shaw and Myers were asked about the high – higher than Category A – prices for the East Lancashire derby and one, I know not who, replied that we have to “maximise business opportunities” and asked “what more motivation do people need to attend such a big fixture?”
If you needed any conclusive proof that the club is run by half-wits you need look no further than that answer.
When there are 14 or 15,000 home fans on Ewood for the biggest draw of the season but the second game in four days, kicking off at 12.30pm and televised live, perhaps they’ll realise it would have been better to trim the price and have a huge home support.
But don’t hold your breath.
Evidently the Q & A evening was brought to an early halt when a loud, sweary drunken oaf who no-one was sure was arguing with himself, fellow supporters or the panel, had to be evicted from the room.
If ever anyone needed a human metaphor mise-en-scene for the Rovers these days, our tanked-up, foul-mouthed chum surely provided it.
BLUE-EYED BOY – Follow Blue-Eyed Boy on Twitter @jimwilkz