Away in London last weekend so once again Riversider23 supplies the wise words this week. He also blogs brilliantly on politics, economics and social issues, follow him on Twitter @MarkMark37m or remarkablethings1.wordpress.com
The sun was out and there was just a touch of warmth in the air; daffodils in bud here and there in sunny sheltered spots, and there’s birdsong in the early hours of the morning.
But at Ewood there are no green shoots of spring. The long dark Venkys winter grinds on and, after the feasting of the Walker years, famine stalks the land.
The game against Birmingham on Saturday got off to the worst possible start when Steele made the mistake of not coming for a ball that was clearly his, and then compounded his mistake by coming when it clearly wasn’t his, with a penalty the inevitable and undisputed result.
He who hesitates is lost. His brave attempt to save from Lucas Jutkiewicz failed, and yet again we were behind early on.
To be fair to him, Steele later made amends with two great saves – one in the first half from Cotterill when he was clean through, and one in the second half from a point-blank header from Shotton – but the unwelcome pattern of self-inflicted wounds continues.
This wasn’t a Birmingham side with any Zola-esque zest or threat and one that has lost its Rowett-infused functional efficiency since the inexplicable sacking of the manager who had them on the fringe of the top six.
Much-travelled David Cotterill (saddled, according to Wikipedia, with the middle names “George Best”), recently-arrived loanee Craig Gardner, and centre-back Ryan Shotton were their best players, but only just.
They are a dull and uninspiring team who should have been there for the taking.
Unfortunately, we have become even more dull and uninspiring.
Plenty of successful teams have included a Makelele-style “water-carrier”.
Players who may not catch the eye but who do their basic work simply and well, holding the team together, and contributing much more than they might seem to. Our Mark Atkins and Burnley’s “Ginger Pele” Billy Ingham are just two local examples.
Our problem, and Birmingham’s too judging them from Saturday’s match, is that we’ve ended up with a team chock-full of water-carriers who often can’t even do the simple basic things well.
Our midfield – however you try and configure it – has no bite or creativity or daring.
No-one who can slot a pass, or plough through a tackle, or burst into the opposing half and threaten the penalty area.
The midfield four of Feeney, Lowe, Akpan, Bennett has to be one of the worst we’ve ever put out.
Add an out-of-position Gallagher to make a midfield five, as Coyle did with 15 minutes gone, and you barely improve it.
Exchange any of those five for Evans, Guthrie, or Conway, and it’s hardly worth doing.
We still don’t know enough about Mahoney’s ability at a senior level to judge whether he might bring some hope, but if there was really anything about him, then surely he would be the first name on the team-sheet, not the last name on the bench.
There’s a great quote from Birmingham’s recently-departed boss, Gary Rowett, on Cotterill’s Wiki page. He highlights his rare ability to “play badly and still affect the game in a positive way”. What a gift! If our players had that, we’d be flying.
To continue in this slagging-off vein, and with Gallagher pulled out to the wide left, Graham did a passable imitation of Jordan Rhodes.
Look like you’re putting some effort in and chasing without ever actually getting close enough quickly enough to make a realistic challenge or force a defender into a mistake; wrestle with the centre-backs with your eyes off the ball, and end up on your backside or conceding a foul; offer nothing to team-mates who now and again might just be looking for a forward pass or a floated ball down the channel.
And then suddenly pop up with an impeccable finish. It’s still not enough. The disconnection brought to the team does more damage than an odd goal can off-set.
And I don’t want to leave out the defence. Greer had one of his worst games for us but his ageing frame survived apparently intact.
The similarly experienced Mulgrew looked classy again but only lasted 23 minutes, with my fellow-substitute-columnist “Old Blackburnian” offering the view that his three-year contract might not turn out to be the most sensible deal ever done.
Coyle’s comment that “you couldn’t make (the saga of his injury woes) up” was among his most laughably risible yet, among some considerable competition possibly the stupidest thing he’s come out with.
You didn’t have to make anything up with a record of about ten starts in two years for Celtic and practically everyone said so from the moment he was signed.
At left-back, Williams is limited but tries hard. Lenihan wasn’t his usual forceful and combative presence.
Just two flashes of play stood out apart from Graham’s sweet finish, and Gallagher’s glaring late miss. Nyambe’s first-half interception and charge forward, that eventually petered out with a sideways flick to Feeney’s wrong foot, in the absence of any other options.
And Lowe actually beating a man going forward with pace and a jink for the first time I can remember, late in the game, before he also fed Feeney to no great effect.
It’s highlighting those two rare moments that makes me realise how bereft of excitement and endeavour the Rovers’ performances have become.
Coyle is working with limited resources but has to carry the can for the stultifying approach. “Safe” sideways and backwards passes that often waste good possession and position; an emphasis on defensive covering and playing on the break, when we don’t have players who can break with pace and control and awareness of others; loose passes that put players who don’t have the confidence or ability to play under pressure, under pressure.
The extent of ambition, if there is any ambition left, seems to be survival in the Championship.
With only Rotherham and Burton looking as poor as us, and Wigan apparently picking up, it’s only catching Bristol City that could save us.
Unless, of course, the completely unexpected happens and some transformative players are brought in before the end of January.
Most people’s resigned conclusion, based on recent history and the continued shenanigans between ownership and management, seems to be that there’s absolutely no chance of that.
There are dark days ahead.
Gary Bowyer’s return with Blackpool in the Cup this Saturday is perhaps an unwelcome distraction from what really matters, although it’s better than the away trip to Fulham that would have been the alternative.
I’d expect Coyle to field the “reserves”.
After that, home games against an in-form Leeds on Wednesday with their new manager making a big impact, followed by struggling QPR on the following Saturday might just lighten the gathering gloom temporarily.
I can’t see us taking more than a point, but you never know…
Even a heartening 4-0 win over the Clarets’ youngsters at Morecambe, a rare green shoot perhaps, was tempered by the fact that the newspaper report on the “Premier League Cup” (whatever that is?) game featured a photo of the 36-year-old Wes Brown congratulating Anthony Stokes, 29 this year, on scoring for our “kids”!
RIVERSIDER 23 (@MarkMark37m on Twitter)