New manager settling in with six window signings, terrace idol and top scorer sacrificed for £9m worth of rebuilding money an hour before the deadline… a quiet day expected at Ewood then.
But oh no, folks, this is the weird and wonderful world of Blackburn Rovers and weeks after satisfying most of the fans that we have the right man at the helm and wriggling out of the suffocating embargo, the bloke purportedly paid for and charged with the day-to-day running of the club gets the chop!
I’ve no idea whether Derek was a workaholic or played on Minecraft all day so I have no strong opinions either way, unlike the army of (presumably) lawyered-up Twitterati who were straight on their phones posting potentially libellous stuff within minutes.
It’s incredible how many young adults and people who never get within three-quarters of a mile of Ewood are so comprehensively clued up on the club’s internal workings and machinations.
But who cares? It’s what goes on on the field between now and May which is my immediate concern.
Selling your best players and replacing them with not-quite-as-good-ones is not a policy which has historically benefited many clubs (and most decidedly not Rovers) in the past but many are confident that Lambert has a system of play in mind in which he thinks his acquisitions – Ward, Bennett, Jackson, Watt, Graham and Jordi Gomez – will sparkle in a team which has let King (no great loss for me), Cairney, Gestede, Olsson and Rhodes leave in the past few months.
Lawrence never quite flowered as much as I’d hoped either but I feel he could do well elsewhere. Perhaps he couldn’t adapt to the “high pressing game” which some have perceived and consider we have mastered after a bit of a cup day out. Certainly Lambert made no over-strenuous efforts to retain his services.
You could argue that Gomez is more experienced than Cairney and he is certainly an able and creative footballer. He and Rhodes must have permitted themselves a wry smile apiece that they have passed like ships in the night.
The bloke who has been looking forlornly for a midfielder with a tin-opener left foot for three and a half years misses him by a week!
Gomez sees Mr Guaranteed Goals pass him on the A1 and is reunited with a bloke who largely drew blanks on the end of his supply!
A relegation-haunted Premier League side were of the opinion that neither Gomez or Graham had anything to offer them in their battle and those who were fondly imagining hatfuls of goals would do well to be mindful of the fact that the Gomez-Graham combination produced a single goal in 18 months for Sunderland, a mishit Gomez shot turned in by Graham at Goodison.
So presumably Watt, impressive against modest Oxford but with a history of paltry goal returns and a career littered with suggestions that his training-ground behaviour and dedication to maintaining fitness are not all that they might be, is key to the equation.
Although he was woeful for Charlton at Ewood early this season, reports of his spell at Cardiff suggest that he has improved and can knuckle down at least for short periods and certainly, his bustling goal against the Fourth Division side, winning the ball and driving hard at the defence and shooting decisively, was a rare sight in a blue-and-white halved shirt of late.
Some responsibility for goals has to come from elsewhere. Marshall and Conway ought to be ashamed of their league tally so far this campaign, full-backs have contributed none, central midfielders the usual pathetic haul and someone like Colin Hendry would have had half a dozen to his name presented with the opportunities Duffy has had.
I have a sneaky feeling that Ward, reportedly outstanding at Oxford, will nudge ahead of Duffy. I can’t see a two-and-a-half year contract being handed to a bloke hauled out of Bournemouth stiffs unless Lambert intends playing him.
Let’s hope he doesn’t suffer from “ten-bob head” syndrome on the end of set-pieces, which Gomez will certainly assist in lifting the quality of.
The sad likelihood is however that Rhodes, suddenly maligned by his one-time worshippers as everything from “a weak, useless so and so,” “a player who’s been playing to avoid injury,” and even much worse by the even more disturbingly hard-of-thinking will still end the season as our top scorer with 11 goals.
“He didn’t fit into Lambert’s pattern of play,” chirped many, as if every other unit of the team had been functioning as smoothly as a well-oiled sewing machine. There’s a pattern of play?
I’m personally sorry to see him go despite being among those who feel his game never really took on any new dimension or improvements on top of his innate unarguable potency as a great Football League goalscorer (not as often a “scorer of great goals” as Shearer for example, but almost as clinical and consistent at this level until recently).
Though his performances dipped – whose haven’t this season? – he’d always have been my first pick on the team sheet as a likely match winner (or saver, as evidenced by his final two appearances).
As Lambert said, it would have probably made more sense to part with him in August when the fact that everyone started the season level might have widened the range of possible replacements.
I was disappointed to hear the manager make reference to a third previous window Rhodes had “wanted to go.” If he did, there was no public mention or fuss at the time (summer 2014 or January 2015 when Gestede was the story presumably) and if he did covet a move he knuckled down professionally and did his job.
To make that public even if it is true was wholly unnecessary and undoubtedly a clumsy, crude and largely failed attempt to eat into Rhodes’ popularity and unblemished reputation as a model pro.
A lot of his goals came against the lesser opposition, true, but take off the points his goals have actually gained us in even this woebegone season and the table would be looking anything but nice and bonny.
Whatever the add-ons in the Rhodes fee though, it is our immediate job to attempt to deny Boro six of the points they need for promotion. Other than hoping he draws two forlorn blanks against us, it’s in our pecuniary interest that he does well, and I hope he particularly excels against the sides currently below us in the table.
Make no mistake, with the top two to play next and seven games against teams in the current top eight before mid-March, relying on sides below us not to pick up any points simply won’t do. I’d personally shake hands on two points from the next two – though I have a sneaky feeling we’ll win one – but even what would be two creditable draws will leave us closer to danger with a gruelling and demanding schedule ahead.
But look on the bright side… we play a side on Saturday who’ve lost their last two in the league, haven’t scored and have just signed a striker who’s only scored one open play goal and a penalty in three months!
Credit to Lambert for getting shut of timewasters Petshi and Koita. Next priority should be severing any ties with any silly bugger who had any part in bringing them here.
The cup win and a subsequent plum home draw will again prove an enjoyable diversion but we can certainly do without replays this time.
Lambert’s team in August, will, after more wheeling and dealing, barely resemble the one which began 2016. He will be looking at a promotion push.
The question every Rovers fan is haunted by is: from which division?
*Footnote – for goodness sake can we take a couple of youngsters on away trips for the experience? Six subs is just so village, isn’t it?
*Statisticians/historians – a club debut AND a goal for Rovers in an FA Cup tie – I can’t find a post-war instance before Tony Watt, can you?