We’ve all been there and we all know the feeling.
You come off a game you think your team should be winning but your team has now gained just five points, and won one, of the last eight games, has kept a solitary clean sheet in three months and has slipped down the table after promising to do great things.
But enough about Huddersfield Town and their problems.
As admirably impressive and easy on the eye as David Wagner’s side looked, the point Rovers perhaps undeservedly gained through Danny Graham’s penalty against The Terriers at Ewood on Saturday actually made it 12 points over the same eight-game period for Owen Coyle’s team.
“The Wagner Revolution” under an innovative coach plucked from out of left-field, backed by some imaginative, fan-friendly marketing initiatives has stalled a little bit while Rovers, whose manager comes under fire for every mildly positive soundbite he utters and many of whose fans bang on about the “utter destruction in six years” of the club, actually aren’t doing quite as badly as we feared they might.
Perception eh? True, the Yorkshire side looked everything we aren’t and haven’t been for years now – out of the blocks at breakneck speed, fluid, pacey, inventive, looking dangerous every time they crossed halfway.
You have to go back more than three years to successive games at home to Bolton and Barnsley to recall the Rovers looking as bright and purposeful from the very off. Dunny’s last real hurrah, looking back, since when we have largely relied on altogether less gifted would-be playmakers and altogether weaker talismans.
That kind of craft, urgency and “right, let’s set about this lot,” mentality is a fading memory despite every subsequent Ewood manager’s solemn plea to his players and pledge to fans that it would happen.
Huddersfield could have been, like Peterborough and Arsenal in very different eras past, more or less able to declare after 25 minutes. Ewood would have emptied by half-time and the hellish doom-mongers of cyberspace would have been invoking Armageddon at their keyboards.
But somehow Coyle’s side, more by good fortune than any great skill on their own part, hung on and took advantage of the softest of unnecessarily given-away spot-kicks to restore parity after the early opener – it tells you much about the way a game began when a goal scored after five minutes “has been coming” – and even managed to see the game out without conceding another.
A little bit more vision and artistry (oh, alright, “competence”) from Liam Feeney and we could even have given ourselves opportunities to pull off a complete act of grand larceny.
We know draws won’t keep us up, certainly not home draws, and a record of three wins out of 10 at Ewood is unacceptable but if you’re getting run rings round as we were on Saturday it’s a bonus not to lose and we’ve now taken at least A point from 6 out of the last seven at home, not much but a partial stemming of a dire record which reached its absolute nadir when Huddersfield provided the very darkest day of the unhappy Lambert reign by winning here in April.
(It’s perhaps a measure of our decline though that if Jordan Rhodes, said to be available for interested Championship clubs with money to spend, was to look at the respective fortunes of his two previous clubs, he’d probably think that the team he left in 2012 for then-ambitious and free-spending Rovers was the better long-term bet currently!)
Rhodes, Hanley and Gestede are all currently sitting out most games for their new clubs while their cut-price replacements struggle to stay out of the bottom three.
Darragh Lenihan was head and shoulders the outstanding Rovers performer again on Saturday, it was as accomplished a defensive performance as I’ve seen since Ryan Nelsen’s heyday, almost Hendry at Goodison-esque, and Ryan Nyambe acquitted himself with some degree of honour against a very tricky and fired-up opponent in Van Le Parra. He will make mistakes and will need encouragement from the remaining faithful, not execrable dismissive comments on messageboards from folk who didn’t even go to the game, but has every chance of making a player.
Again the paucity of our midfield engine room was exposed. You can think back and recall the styles and characteristics of players from bygone eras, such as Barrie Hole, Sherwood, Atko, Batty, Simon Barker, and the duo who played most of my early seasons, Metcalfe and Parkes.
Close your eyes and you can see how they moved, ran, jumped how their arms hung or pointed, where they sprayed passes or nicked possession off immediate foes.
But what shall we remember of Jason Lowe or Corry Evans? Five minutes after coming out of a stadium I can rarely recall anything they do, well or badly, save that Lowe puts an occasional pass out of touch or unerringly into the grateful feet of an opposition player.
Just once on Saturday Evans beat a visiting player with a turn of the body…he was Iniesta for just three seconds, mister nobody for the other 95 minutes.
They are the generic, faceless, run-around-a-lot but contribute-little, jobbing 21st century huffers and puffers who will leave no indelible mark whatsoever on the memory save for the pub-quiz moments when they contrived to score their once/twice a decade goals.
Conway, sadly, has slipped as he often seems to do, from all-action, wonder goal, player-of-the-month contender Conway, to blind-alley pursuing, little-end-product Conway. There seems to be no middle ground with him. Brilliant or ineffectually anonymous.
Graham looked out on his feet quite some time before he was taken off. One gets the impression that he probably needs nursing from game-to-game at the moment and perhaps not able to train in between to a level which would allow him to maintain last season’s high standards of sharpness and brightness.
It’s as well that Emnes is looking to be getting up to speed. The whereabouts of Stokes every other week is somewhat more of a mystery, although happily there were alleged sightings in Glasgow City centre late on Saturday so happily whatever he had missed being named in the squad for hadn’t affected his further travel or entertainment plans for the weekend.
And so to PNE, they of the squabbling substitutes. If nothing else they could be lacking in firepower from the bench following their Batty/Le Saux moment (I wonder if any Rovers supporters fancy claiming their travel and tickets money for Moscow 1995 back in the light of North End fining the pair and refunding the travelling fans?).
Last season’s trip to Deepdale was memorable for many of the right reasons, a huge following at the proper kick-off time for a rarely-staged Lancashire derby, 3pm on a Saturday, with raucous Rovers fans on a surge of optimism under the new management of Paul Lambert.
This season the away contingent will be much-reduced due to the growing inevitability of the familiarity of the game plus the tea-time, televised situation. Even a planned “protest” sponsored walk has evidently and perhaps unsurprisingly been cancelled for lack of numbers.
Of course the first days of the Lambert era proved a false dawn as the relationship between manager and owners broke down irrevocably and the quality of football soon largely reflected Lambert’s frustration and disappointment at the circumstances if not even his utter contempt for a role he believed beneath him.
Coyle is at least invariably chirpy, even a tad annoyingly so, some feel, but the prospect of him getting even a fraction of what Lambert got to play with in terms of fees and wages in the January window seems remote.
With high-flyers Brighton and Shane Duffy (and all that his return entails) at Ewood on Tuesday Rovers surely need to win at least one of the two games to keep heads above water. But that’s a better scenario than I envisaged going into the Deepdale game a month ago so there has been some improvement and some cause for hope.
North End have tailed off a bit of late and a point there would do for most of us.
Brighton – which bright spark at the “EFL” comes up with that for a fixture on a mid-December Tuesday night? – are a different proposition altogether.
Very unlucky not to be promoted last season in my view, they have kept 10 clean sheets in the last 15 league games and look to have bounced back well from their crushing May disappointment.
The inevitability of an outpouring of scorn towards Duffy after the farcical and, for some, bitter denouement to his Ewood days might make for a hostile reception (and invoke the almost-inevitable law of former player having last laugh) but one hopes his return is as unhappy as Rhodes’ was earlier this year.
Otherwise I’m relying on the diminishing “Southern teams don’t travel well up here in the dead of Winter” rule to find cause for optimism.