I’m not one that has much sympathy for players and managers moaning about playing twice a week but after a strange four-week period without a home game followed by a run of six home games within 24 days, even I’ll be ready for a breather after Leeds have departed Ewood early on Saturday afternoon.
I feel like I’ve virtually lived at the place for three weeks so what a bonus a run of victories has been.
We all studied the fixtures for February and early March and calculated all manner of doomy scenarios and outcomes but while we got a good spanking in the cup and as expected lost to three of the current top five, Rovers emerged with a great deal of credit, a smattering of fine and in some cases wholly unexpected results and the requisite number of points to stay well clear of immediate danger.
Make no mistake, we needed to do a bit better than most expected or feared looking at the table – a couple of points off here and there and it still could have looked decidedly uncomfortable.
Those two results against Middlesbrough in particular look immense now.
A loss to your oldest and bitterest rivals is never easy to stomach but it was smashing to have a fixture on Tuesday night to get it out of our systems and an entertaining fourth home league win on the trot – the first time we’ve managed that feat since 2010 – against Birmingham was just what the psychiatrist ordered for those of us whose state of mental health is so dependent on the fortunes of this schizophrenic team.
After 18 months of fumbling and faltering at home we at last look a proper attacking force with a rearguard of steel at Ewood while still seemingly vulnerable away from home where one goal is usually enough to beat us.
The crushingly disappointing Turf Moor defeat was entirely self-inflicted. A Burnley side who never otherwise looked remotely likely to breach our backline were gifted a penalty and Andre Gray, who hasn’t otherwise had a meaningful kick in either game against us, did the necessary.
Our own less blatant penalty appeals were perhaps understandably waved aside and despite enjoying the possession I told you in this column last week we would be granted, we created little with it in the first half, despite looking the more cohesive outfit, and fell apart as a threat in the second 45 minutes when we failed to fashion a single meaningful effort on goal save for a puny side-netting effort from Bennett.
Ought Lambert to have been a little bolder in selection and matched the Clarets’ straight 4-4-2? Certainly the vivaciousness of Tuesday’s win suggested so. From the off against Birmingham, Watt, clearly lacking in 90-minute fitness but prepared to make a proper nuisance of himself, and the utterly magnificent Danny Graham looked a handful together who might just have discomfited Burnley’s back line.
Watt showed great ingenuity, impudence and sleight of foot to work the opener as the Birmingham defence dallied and after Rovers fans were, for once, delighted to see a referee dismiss a “there was definitely contact” penalty appeal from Clayton Donaldson, another piece of quick thinking from Jason Steele set up a delicious second.
I haven’t enjoyed a finish as much as Graham’s for the second for a long time. His presence of mind to seize upon the opportunity, his swagger and physical prowess to shrug off any challenge and the little shimmy before nutmegging the keeper belonged to an altogether higher echelon.
It was the kind of swagger you see from the likes of Suarez when Barca are four up to start with.
I must admit I was somewhat baffled as to what Graham had been up to for two years when we signed him and sceptical that he had anything significant to offer in the wake of Rhodes’ departure but my word, he looks a player.
Confident and highly-skilled, he looks a real practitioner of the centre-forward’s art. What a pity he had no service at Burnley where his ability to get hold and keep hold of the ball usually found him in splendid isolation.
Having cantered into a two-goal lead Rovers created several more chances and might have easily scored four or five.
But the game was never over. Particularly when Birmingham brought on the twinkle-toed ex-Middlesbrough man Fabrini the match was always on the verge of becoming a contest – had the Brummies got one back at any stage a nervous period might have ensued.
But the aforementioned Steele was terrific, handling everything cleanly and pulling off a terrific save on the one occasion Fabrini got through and arrowed in a goal-bound shot.
Steele’s virtuosity, however, was eclipsed by a magnificent display by the captain Hanley, recipient of numerous offers to drive him to Burnley you will recall at the beginning of the season. He was simply stupendous while Duffy too performed well enough to absolve Saturday’s aberration.
There was always a head in among the boots, a body on the line and a willing chaser or tackler ensuring that the visitors never got the opening which could have made for a difficult ten or 20 minutes for a team entitled to look exhausted but fired with the adrenalin that winning brings.
It was a grand way to mark Ewood’s final midweek game of a long hard season.
Let’s hope for a fifth home win on the bounce on Saturday before a couple of away games which could yield that elusive win on the road and an Easter international break we’re probably all ready for.
BLUE EYED BOY