Not everyday you capture three welcome and much-need points AND expose a myth into the bargain!
The thinking abound last week was that this Blackburn Rovers side needs to score twice to win a game, but Owen Coyle and his team firmly debunked that accusation by presenting the visitors Brentford with two first half gifts before over-hauling them.
After snowstorms in the Tockholes area as we gathered for pre-match hospitality, followed by a slow, slushy descent to Ewood I was just through the turnstiles and within sight of the pitch as the kick-off whistle sounded; indeed wearing a bright blue jacket sashaying along the Riverside concourse I thought the ref might have deemed that I played Scott Hogan onside as he sauntered through otherwise unaccompanied for the opener.
In arrears after thirty seconds with a back four comprising three midfielders and a bloke rushed back from injury, the portents were not good.
The disorientation of the back line manifested itself again when the Bees grabbed their second, one of those where the entire Riverside and Nuttall Street screams “offside” only to realise Hogan was anything but when you see the replay later in the evening.
With the defence so configured and initially dysfunctional, Coyle was also under fire from many – including me – for his inexplicable perseverance with Feeney, press comments pre-match pointing to a starting role to follow several ineffectual sub appearances, and for restoring favoured captain Jason Lowe to the centre of midfield.
Both selections, I (and I hope a few others) now admit proved spot on as Feeney (perhaps a specialist snow player? I’ve seen them before!) and Lowe both did well and the serial grumblers, after expressing their regular and justified ire at the goals conceded, were left with just Coyle’s substitutions to make an issue of, neither of which seemed entirely without logic to me and which certainly cost us nothing.
There are so many barmpot conspiracy theories and frankly insane interpretations of every single facet of every event at Rovers (“Venkys are profiting from illegal betting,” “deliberate plan to get relegated” “every player signed is a dodgy deal by a dodgy agent”) that a few of the more fanciful dreamers-up of extreme fictional scenarios sometimes simply forget to just enjoy the feeling of winning a do now and then.
The one up-side of the dreadful conditions leading up to the match was that the pitch lent itself to a typically soggy West Pennine slug-fest, with pretty passing and neat triangles rather less easy to effect than say, for Norwich City on sun-kissed opening day.
The kind of day when once, many moons ago, you’d have said: “these Southern softies don’t fancy this today,” as lads from Isleworth or Berkhampstead were unceremoniously dumped into the sleety mush by the hardy Northern likes of Jim Branagan or John McNamee.
I’ve no real idea of the geographical background of most players today so I’m sure that hardly applies today, but though it was plain Brentford wanted to and were able to play a bit, you could often see that Rovers were able to get a crucial foot or a head in to break their elaborate plans up.
My man of the match award would have gone to Darragh Lenihan who I counted getting about six or seven vital blocks or cut-outs in as a Brentford goal seemed an inevitability – a toe here or a reddened thigh there isn’t as noticeable or glamorous as a couple of goals up the other end but the young Irishman typified the determination that saw us see the goalless second half out.
In that regard I enjoyed the second half almost as much as similar brave rearguards at Deepdale almost exactly a year before, and against Middlesbrough at Ewood last Spring. I’m not sure how many games Charlie Mulgrew has played at centre half, or against what quality of opposition, but he settled to the role with aplomb after the early positional errors.
Derrick Williams, the only man in the back four playing in his natural position, did nothing to disabuse me of the feeling that he’s a decent player either.
At the other end it was heartening to see an industrious and battling Danny Graham looking more his 2015-16 “on-loan” self leading the line.
With a few bob on both a Gallagher hat-trick and a Marshall brace it threw me a bit when he took the penalty but he stuck it away looking anything but a man who hasn’t taken one for six years and his first goal was a real poached good centre-forward’s staple fayre.
The frequent injuries and changes have meant we have had several individual performances up front but not really developed a week-in-and-out partnership so far but Graham and Gallagher, quieter on Saturday but provider of the fortuitous if well-deserved third with an explosive burst, look a potential handful.
I always like to see a new Rover get his blooding at league level and Ryan Nyambe lent his athleticism, power and muscularity to the back four as Brentford pressurised and a full-back, not a wing back without much defensive idea, was needed.
Bennett for Evans late on raised a few eyebrows but again, it made enough sense to me not to get into a huff about it. A bloke with a modicum of pace for the final minutes as the opposition pushed up and left gaps at the back?
I suppose if you’re the warped kind of “supporter” who goes on a message board and says: “Let’s hope we get absolutely smashed today,” the minute we go a goal down , you’ll find fault and something to grumble about anywhere.
Even the protests were barely noticed as the game demanded full attention. My 12-year-old daughter, who enjoys that kind of thing, downloaded the red card app and held it up on 18 minutes but the reprise after 75 genuinely passed us by completely unnoticed and was forgotten about as we bit our nails over the outcome of the game. If we missed it, it’s difficult to imagine Pune being rocked!
With a full contingent of Blue Eyes and Riversider23 families (welcome back Jacob!) celebrating for once at the end the result was far more pressing a matter than any half-arsed token gesture.
Two points off safety – and I know it might well be as many as five tomorrow the way Newcastle are going – looked a lot better looking at that table than it might have on Saturday tea time.
As I’ve said repeatedly home form will be the key to survival with what we can gather away a bonus. It would be a major surprise if that happened tomorrow – although I read last week that no side winning eight ina row at this level, as the Magpies have, has ever failed to get promoted.
Those stats are impressive but runs have to end somewhere and what we’d give for a Kendall/Saxton style 0-0 at St James Park – though there were a bloody sight less on than 50,000 when we pulled off those 80’s results!
The debate over Martin Samuelsen seems another complete storm-in-a-teacup to me. What little bit I’ve seen of him didn’t suggest that his frequent omission from the starting line-up or lack of even any action from the bench was anything more sinister than a lightweight lad not really forcing his claim to a spot.
On this, if not everything, I do actually trust Coyle and his staff. If they see the lad day-in day-out and he hasn’t really demanded an opportunity by virtue of his attitude and performance in training , then perhaps the boy needs to look at himself as to why he can’t cement a place in a bottom three Championship side rather than go moaning to his parent club or the Norwegian press.
The situation whereby he’s been playing Under-23 games for West Ham was rather bizarre and suggests he might not really have wanted to be here in any case.
Tom Lawrence, Modou Barrow, Matty Grimes…. he’s not the first “Premier League loan star” to ultimately underwhelm at Ewood and quite why we need two of similar ilk (with Jack Byrne already occupying a spot) is unclear.
If the lad goes out somewhere and does the business at this level I’ll hold my hand up (ditto Byrne) but while the circumstances have been less than satisfactorily handled, I’m not losing any sleep about it.
What bit I’ve seen of the “ressies” suggests that Mahoney would be a far more robust option if we are looking for an impact wide man to change games.
There’s nothing other than “vital games” or “crucial next five games” when you remain in our perilous position but there are other clubs struggling and looking like sinking into the mix so while we have plenty to bemoan, all hope isn’t gone yet and still won’t be even if we get spanked tomorrow.