Time is now for Mowbray’s men to make a strong promotion statement

IMG_7368[1]A little triva teaser to start off with.

 

Who was Rovers manager the last time we played Rochdale in a League match?

 

Answer a little later in the column.

 

Our first visit to Spotland for a third-tier fixture for 44 years certainly emphasises the fact that we’re playing lower-division football.

 

All four of our opponents thus far have locked horns with us at Championship level not that long ago but a trip over Owd Betts really is a throwback to the seventies.

 

My first visit to what is now known as – and I shall say zis only once – the Crown Oil Arena was in March 1972 and while I remember little snippets about the game, as well as the unfortunate result,  there is one fact about the day that I’ve never ever forgotten.

 

My best mate Graham and I were in the first flush of being allowed to travel to away games without our dads and we duly wandered into the Ribblesdale Coaches office on Blackburn Boulevard during the week after school and stumped up our 18p or whatever it was to book travel.

 

When we arrived over the hills and saw the Spotland floodlights on Saturday we turned left away from the stadium and parked down a tree-lined lane.

 

Wandering up the hill towards the ground we counted the coaches already neatly lined up by the kerb.

 

Ours was the 52nd coach. I couldn’t believe we had enough fans to fill so many charas on an away trip…. and I still reckon there were a few arrived later than us.

 

To give some further impression of the huge volume of the away support, Rochdale had played at home to Wrexham, not a million miles distant, the previous Saturday before a gate of 2,640. The attendance seven days later when Rovers visited was 6,494.

 

Lifelong pals Graham and I (I was delighted and honoured to be at the christening of his first grandchild last weekend) have savoured and endured almost a half-century of footballing trials and tribulations together since and we will both be there again on Saturday with another big following as Rovers look set to take around 3,000.

 

But one hopes the day pans out differently.

 

We lost 2-1 that day despite a goal from “Tony Field, superstar,” as the then-current chant went (“how many goals have you scored so far?”) and I vividly recall being able to wander around all four sides of the ground.

 

Just turned 13, we would follow the bigger lads and fellas around and watch as they purposefully staked out their territory by sheer weight of numbers coupled with a suitable air of imminent malevolence, then shuffle onto the fringe of the phalanx.

 

Later in the same year we were back but not before a goal by Malcolm Darling, an old Rovers favourite, had knocked us out of the League Cup to give Rochdale a first ever win at Ewood.

 

Darling had shown early promise for Rovers despite the astonishing decision on his arrival in Blackburn to offer the young Scottish apprentice digs….. upstairs in a pub. He lodged at the Fox and Hounds across from the ground!

 

He was unable to repeat his feat in the league match which brought 1972 to a close however, Field again scorer of Rovers’ goal, the matchwinner.

 

That win saw us leap-frog Dale to 13th in the table, a salutary reminder that we were for a time mired in the Third Division, a circumstance some of our followers feel would precipitate the end of the club if not very Armageddon itself this time around.

 

After a good second half of that 1972-73 season we finished third…the last-ever time only two went up!

 

The following season we arrived on the back of a spectacular 5-0 win over Watford and a cup replay against Willington, won 6-1 and lay in a promising fifth position.

 

On a sad December Friday 24 hours before the game at Rochdale, Ken Furphy, who had re-invigorated fallen Rovers but been unable to quite seal promotion, left to join Sheffield United.

 

The man in charge when we beat Rochdale 2-1 at Spotland the following day and the answer to the poser at the top of the column?

 

None other than Richard Dinnis, all-round good guy and erstwhile Radio Lancs summariser, in caretaker charge until the coming of Gordon Lee in January.

 

Field was again on the mark twice in a 2-1 win but the game is remembered for a howler of a refereeing decision when Rochdale striker Leo Skeete palpably put the ball in our net only for it to burst through a hole in the side netting onto the dog track. The ref gave a goal kick!

 

Dale were relegated at the end of the season never to be promoted again until their current manager, our old boy Keith Hill, took the reins for the first time. Lee, after a decidedly mixed first few months of 1974, took us up the following season.

 

Meetings in the interim years were sporadic and possibly the best-remembered was the 6-1 League Cup win at Ewood (after a rather more forgettable 1-1 draw at Rochdale) in a game best remembered for Dunny’s hat-trick of penalties, two goals for Damien Duff and, perhaps most remarkably, one for Kaba Diawara, one of the least affectionately remembered of Graeme Souness’s signings.

 

At least it partly made up for Rochdale incredibly beating us in a two-legged semi-final in the same competition’s second-ever season in 1962.

 

After leaving the Accrington Observer in 2003 – our head offices were in Rochdale and I spent a bit of time there making many friends, particularly on the sports desk –

I spent a few seasons covering Rochdale for Sunday newspapers.

 

The folks at the club were always welcoming and helpful and I am ecstatic that after his recent te-instatement a full house of Rovers fans tomorrow will have the pleasure I had for many years of hearing long-time stadium announcer Dave Sweetmore crank out punk and indie favourites at such ear-splitting volume residents of terraced houses nearby would ring in complaining.

 

Small wonder as you could usually wind your window down around Norden and catch the tunes.

 

Dave was unquestionably the best-known and most celebrated of his ilk in the business and had moved to fresh pastures where he DJ’s professionally in clubs with a large and devoted following.  

But the old job recently became available again and I’m sure he’ll treat us with plenty of Buzzcocks, Jam, Smiths, Joy Division and Clash on Saturday, not to mention more contemporary bands carrying the torch, pre-match and at at half-time.

 As I sat next to DJ Dave in my regular press box spot, I watched Steve Parkin and then Hill develop a very decent side. The number of centre-forwards who made a name at Spotland and graduated was bewildering – Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert, Adam Le Fondre, Chris Dagnall and Glenn Murray all served with distinction in the short time I sat there.

 

I found it incredible, and said so at the time, that not one of these players was ever considered by Rovers, a few miles up the road and a club which most of them would have walked the distance to sign for at the time.

 

Quite often we would be joined in the press area by manager Hill himself, stood in a little doorway behind us shouting his instructions to the players from a nicely elevated view above the dug-outs.

 

Now there are few among us in the sports reporting corps who haven’t made recourse to the odd oath or two, but I used to genuinely blush as Hilly unleashed the more indelicate selections from his vocabulary just a few feet from home and away directors and their wives.

 

I’d often chuckle and turn round to see my pal ex-Football League ref Tony Leake, a mad keen Roverite, there in his capacity as an assessor, smile back.

 

While he is an engaging character and often mischievously humorous lad, Hilly has a  serious side, an eye for talent and the ability to put a coaching staff together capable of polishing rough material.

He always had innovative ways of looking at and interpreting the game and I’m surprised after one relative failure at Barnsley, no-one else has taken a gamble on his talent. Rochdale’s gain of course.

 

We’ve certainly had worse.

 

Hill’s team haven’t got going yet this season but he will have them up for this one, make no mistake.

 

One hopes Mowbray proves as valuable to our club as Hill has been over a long period of time to his, removing the stigma of being a permanent fourth tier club and building something completely in contrast to the run-down music-hall joke they were sometimes cast as.

 

Mowbray’s  deadline day signings however were hardly the sort to get the supporters buzzing – although if Rakeem Harper is half as good as the PR suggests he might do – and smacked of last-minute necessity to boost the numbers rather than any bold statement of promotion-seeking intent.

 

I saw Harper briefly at Stanley the other week and he looked neat and tidy without setting the place on fire. He’s very young at 17 though and it would be unwise to expect too much.

 

Paul Downing has had some degree of experience at this level with four solid seasons at Walsall but the news about Daragh Lenihan – how damaging was that 20 minutes limping on at Southend? –  makes it a little more galling that we missed out on our number one target, Heneghan at Motherwell.

 

Doubly annoying that Lenihan’s one-time suitors Sheffield United pipped us too.

 

Young full-back Hart is an odd one. If any of the young guns looks ripe for a  promotion, it’s Jack Doyle who can operate at full back or wing back.

 

If Mowbray is adamant that our fledglings aren’t ready, I’m sure even a few hundred grand – Venkys’ regular late-window modus operandi – would have enabled him to pick up a couple of players of proven pedigree to ensure a genuine promotion push rather than quarter-to-eleven deadline day take-a-chancers.

 

Curiously, Mowbray, who has talked down the need for Rovers to retain Category A  Academy status, seems reluctant to utilise what increasingly looks to be an outstanding crop of youngsters in the Under-21’s who are deservedly harvesting rich plaudits as they continue a coruscating unbeaten streak this season.

 

They were again hugely impressive in beating (penalties after a 2-2 draw) a vastly more seasoned Wigan side in the Lancashire FA Senior Cup at Leyland on Monday.

 

It really is a pleasure to watch such a well-drilled Rovers team in which every player thoroughly knows his job within a well-honed, effective and at times thrilling pattern of play.

 

I’m sure those who have the interests of say, Willem Tomlinson, Doyle and Joe Rankin-Costello at heart must raise a quizzical eye upwards when we recruit young players in similar positions with not that much more senior experience.

 

The Lenihan injury news is a grave concern and one hopes Mulgrew’s knock with Scotland was no more than that…we can ill afford to lose the presence and game-changing ability he provides.

 

Funny enough, watching the League One goal highlights last weekend I saw a young player discarded by Rovers not long ago pop home a free-kick even better than Mulgrew’s two goal efforts this season when Josh Morris netted to win unbeaten Scunthorpe, our opponents on Tuesday, the tightest of games at Gigg Lane before the break.

 

If we can gather a minimum of four points from tomorrow’s game and Tuesday’s at Scunthorpe, we will be not far off the mix. Any less and catching up will take some doing.

Four games unbeaten, three of them away,  would be a decent run but at least one of these needs to be won to get the momentum properly rolling along. Six points would make a powerful statement.

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pause button on progress as Rovers show signs

IMG_7199[1] 

It’s just typical that after a week in which derby despair – and my, it was desperate, a real embarrassment on every level – was followed by genuine, encouraging  sightings of green recovery shoots, Rovers get landed with an international break lay-off to press the pause button on progress.

It’s probably as well that Lancashire’s newest and rather unlikely derby is on hold with a key duo like Mulgrew and Evans missing. Maybe the absence of cameras when it is re-scheduled, hopefully soonish, preceded by both clubs continuing to do well, will add to the atmosphere and turn-out.

Regular readers will know though that I hate these bloody international weekends with a vengeance and, just when we get a scintilla of momentum going, other sides will stack up a point or two on Saturday and Sunday. But on this occasion, with a Christening for the Blue Eyed family to attend this Sunday lunchtime it’s a bit of a result.

Certainly a novelty for Fleetwood who would be playing the like of Atherton Collieries and Maine Road a decade ago.

The Burnley game was all so predictable in its unfolding horror, a vastly superior team toying with us, even to the extent of being able to visibly step off the gas and enjoy a 45-minute keep-ball training exercise in the second half, before a sold-out away end in an otherwise half-empty Ewood.

The two imbeciles who ran on the pitch were an awful manifestation of what’s become a  a sinister unpleasant element, an embittered, twisted section of our support which was in any case thooughly out-sung and shouted by our neighbours, who at least introduced a modicum of humour into what’s become over recent years, startlingly ugly all-out hatred.

“We’re going to Wembley, you’re going to Shrewsbury,” I had to admit caused me a wry forced smile after listening to ghastly youths in a nearby bar shouting that witless and charmless “What do you think of Burnley?” call-and-response abomination for a  solid pre-match hour. Neanderthal stuff.

I sat depressed towards the front of the Upper Jack Walker behind a young blonde slip of a mum, almost certainly under 30, periodically stood up v-signing the Clarets End while shouting and singing vile obscenities as her nine-year old daughter looked bewildered and not a little upset by the horrendous spectacle.

A large meathead next to my daughter stood up throughout the first half-hour blocking a family’s view behind, making unfunny “six fingers” signs to the visitors. When he occasionally alighted his gaze on the pitch, it was to drunkenly roar “fuck off….” to the Burnley players or “come on….” to his Rovers heroes.

Unfortunately he was unable to extend either phrase to a third word as he clearly didn’t know the name of a single player on either line-up. What a relief when he and his rather less irksome companions decided to retire to the bar on 32 minutes, never to be seen again.

As for those who applauded and cheered the pathetic actions of the pitch invaders – these people always look even more ridiculous than even they themselves can possibly imagine before waddling their unathletic frames across a sports field don’t they? – have a read of noted football writer John Nicholson’s imperious  recent essay on “lad culture” http://www.football365.com/features/john-nicholsonand stay away from football, perhaps saving your money for the next big EDL rally.

Oaf that he was, the first intruder was scandalously unchallenged by stewards and I don’t blame the Burnley players who decked him as he made his pitiful grab at Westwood. Dyche was quite right when he said security was unacceptably lax, even more of a joke when you consider the song and dance involved in attending these games. Folk getting in with flares showed the bag and body search routine to be a joke, too, if morons are determined to take crap like that in they’ll find a way.

There was little else to cheer either, as one of the least passion-fuelled, least intense, least competitive East Lancs  derbies  from a Rovers point of view I have ever witnessedunfolded.

Fellow supporter Brian Clarke unearthed a remarkable little-known quirk of history when he revealed that next September it will be fully half a century since Rovers beat a side from a higher division in the League Cup despite spending 32 of those years out of the top flight.

Mowbray got some deserved stick for his selection against Burnley and the lack of urgency shown on the night so he deserves considerable credit for the changes he made to personnel and formation against MK Dons on Saturday.

Samuel and Chapman both showed enough in the Carabao Cup to deserve to be involved and finally Tony listened to someone (maybe Mark Venus if not the fans) and jettisoned the ineffective and over-cautious (certainly at home) one up front  set-up.

Antonsson certainly wasn’t great on full debut – but not so bad as to deserve the writing off he’s had by the messageboard vultures, for goodness sake –   and for very different reasons I’d currently have Graham and Nuttall, of whom more later, in front of him but the system inarguably carried more positive intent and threat.

After years of failed gaffers banging on about “starting games on the front foot” I’d practically given up on us putting anything meaningful together until A) the natives get vocally restless about the half-hour mark or B) we go a goal down, so I was barely concentrating when Williams, woeful against Burnley, popped up on the edge of the area and expertly put us ahead before I’d really settled in my seat.

Unfortunately Williams appeared to enjoy his foray into a central area of the pitch so much that he remained as distant from his left touchline as was possible without putting a knock on the snooker table in Ewood Club for the rest of the period, allowing his namesake the Dons right back the freedom of one third of our half. With Conway also found wanting in his covering duties, an equaliser was inevitable.

Mulgrew’s free-kick expertise always offers us an even chance within a few yards of the other penalty area though, particularly if the goalkeeping is average, and while the visitors threatened in a spell they bossed after the interval, one of Mowbrays’s substitutions proved to be the winning choice.

Harry Chapman showed such effervescence, enthusiasm, ambition and skill that he helped put a gloss on the scoreline to suggest the margin of victory was rather more comfortable than a nervy first 75 minutes had intimated at.

Mulgrew’s pure footballing nous and positional awareness earned him a third, Chapman having won the corner I think, which any fox-in-the-box poacher would be proud to notch up and the fourth was a few seconds of total football joy.

There was something about the Duggie or Fergie (Duff or Dunn for younger readers perhaps) in the insouciant, impudent way Chapman danced onto the otherwise disappointing Gladwin’s pass  through challenges to the by-line and pulled a delicious ball back which the rapidly-improving Samuel could hardly do other than but stroke into the net.

Both our opening and closing goals were the type I imagined Bradley Dack would provide with regularity and if he can kindly arrange to focus his attention onto getting fit and showing us what he really offers as the division’s costliest signing of the summer, we’re getting somewhere “in and around the attacking part of the field” as Mowbray said, employing football’s current cliché de rigeur.

Defensive reinforcements are imperative however, even assuming Mulgrew and Lenihan stay beyond the window closure. It’s been a quiet few weeks since the Sheffield clubs expressed tentative interest in the pair while Feeney and Graham seem to have moved to the front of the most-likely-to-leave list.

No-one would lament Feeney’s exit but I’d be disappointed if Graham’s stay ended like this. Many were predicting a hatful of goals for him in League One and while he has never looked as impressive as he did in his blistering initial loan stint here, I certainly hoped for more than a few friendly tap-ins from a bloke who made a fool of a couple of Manchester United superstars earlier this year.

While many of Mowbray’s signings have shown promise, his last couple for the time being in these next two days, if he is able to pull them off, could be his most important.

We got a look at some of the lads pressing for a place in the enjoyable Checkatrade win at home to Stoke’s kids (and, bafflingly, Charlie Adam). Travis and Doyle acquitted themselves decently at full back.

We didn’t learn much we don’t already know about Nyambe, Williams,  Graham, Whittingham, Feeney and Gladwin but Willem Tomlinson was bright and energetic while the memorable moments were provided by Chapman again and sub Joe Nuttall.

Not everything Chapman tried came off but I like players who try it in the belief it can actually be done. There’s a bit of the Duncan McKenzie about him. Younger and quicker, too if not yet always as supremely blessed in his decision-making.

Nuttall has been scoring for fun for the Under-21’s and looked hungry and boisterous here, capped by a  fine piece of opportunism from Chapman’s wonderful slide-rule through ball. His obvious up-and-at-em lust for fniding space and scoring excites me.

He looks to me one we can chuck in at some stage and he could surprise a few. It’s the Third division, not the Champions League and an unknown quantity is sometimes a wily card to play.

One or two claimed the 1,500 attendance at the Stoke game as Rovers’ lowest ever gate (2,161 v Wimbledon in a League Cup second leg, 5-0 down from the first game the previous low) for an accredited if arguably theoretical  “first-team” fixture but noted Rovers archivist Bernie Horne points out that in October 1970 we had 561 on a Lancashire Cup tie at home to Rochdale.

I’m not sure if second division sides, which we then were, were obliged to put a first choice side out in that competition at the time and a line up of: Barton, Charter, Eccles, Sharples, Kopel, Atherton, Bradford, Wood, Dunning, Parkes, Whalley suggests that Eddie Quigley had no intention of doing so – not one of those players started the league matches either side!

Roll on Rochdale.

IMG_7278[1]BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

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Dishwater-dull derby flop leaves jury out on Mozzer’s methods 

Blue Eyed Boy was involved with a Mick Ronson memorial event in Hull on Saturday so regular guest columnist Old Blackburnian takes the reins….

How wonderful to welcome the return of an old friend, a victory, at last ? It wasn’t especially aesthetically pleasing, neither was it comfortable; but it was deserved and welcomed with gusto, following two sub-optimal performances that punctured premature, pre-season, predictions of promotion.
 
Coming the day after the passing of a beloved, versatile, all round entertainer and national treasure; Rovers’ performance at Bradford City in front of 2,000 travelling fans, owed less to flair, a soft-shoe shuffle and stagecraft and much more to graft, grit and determination. Not so much “Give us a twirl dear…” as “Give us three points dear, by any means”.
 
The transfer window doesn’t close until the end of the month of course, so more new faces may yet be added to this squad; but the cheque book is not and cannot, be seen as a panacea to resolve all difficulties. Of the signings made so far by Mowbray, the jury seems to be struggling to reach a decisive verdict on all except Richie Smallwood; who has been the recipient of the most authentic fan tribute possible, a bespoke song in his honour and very well done to whoever adapted Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” for this very purpose.
 
The welcome evidence of Saturday’s encounter was that some actual coaching had taken place in the week leading up to the game. This correspondent is firmly of the opinion that the coaching prowess of Tony Mowbray and his team is every bit as important as his ability to spot a player; especially when the verdict on his recruitment ability is currently “case unproven”.
 
Mowbray had claimed after the dismal Doncaster defeat, that the formation was not to blame. He then undermined his own assertion by changing to a flat back four at Valley Parade (no sponsor plugs here), who responded by delivering a season’s first clean sheet at a ground where the away team had not won in the league for the best part of 18 months.  
 
It was not without concerns, that would not be the Rovers’ way; twice in the first half Bradford had players in the penalty area with sufficient time and space to receive the ball with backs to goal, control, turn and shoot, all with no Rovers defender close enough to even attempt a block. That the shots were feeble was a blessed relief. The second half saw a couple of those “I’ve seen ‘em given” handball claims but the referee waved away the City protests.
 
The midfield seemed to be more structured and steely, with Smallwood launching himself at opponents who had the temerity to bring the ball forward towards Rovers’ goal. This feature has been lacking for a while and having a player who harries the opposition forcing them to move the ball on just a little quicker and with less accuracy than they would like is an asset to any team.
 
It was a distinct pleasure to see Conway return after injury and he is to be credited with the assist for the goal. Following some typically tenacious work by Bennett, Conway crossed to Samuel whose header found the Bradford net. Watching on TV on Saturday night and with the benefit of about 53 replays, I think the final touch might just have come off a Bradford defender’s armpit, which helped to wrong foot the keeper, but no matter; another goal for Samuel who has deservedly moved ahead of the lethargic Graham in the striker pecking order.
 
The next home fixture of course is a low-key cup tie, so thankfully there’s nothing much about which to get excited. Oh, who am I kidding ?
 
There are two distinct schools of thought about this; it’s either the best possible draw or the worst possible draw. For what it’s worth, at this stage of the evolution of Mowbray’s team, a tanking at home against your nearest & dearest is possibly not the best way to build fragile confidence. On the other hand, just suppose that Rovers mirror the achievement of Stanley and somehow secure a memorable win, imagine the potential boost from that ?
 
The league is paramount this season, no question and given the choice now, I’d sacrifice the derby for three points on Saturday but the romantic optimist in me (it’s a very small part of my composition I accept !) would welcome a victory over the Clarets much as a starving dog would welcome being locked in a butcher’s shop alone overnight.
If on Thursday morning I can say “Didn’t they do well ?” then that will suffice.
Old Blackburnian

(Photograph courtesy of Jack Heyes)

Epilogue by Old Blackburnian 

Did they do well ? Not really, the gulf in class was all too evident and the 2nd half was played out in the manner of a practice match between the 1st team and the academy lads when the 1st XI need to work on keeping possession.

What did I hope for ?
A full strength team giving it their all to impose themselves on an opposition that might not be taking it wholly seriously. A few shots on target. Maybe a goal.

What did I fear ?
Revenge for the 5-0 Souness era drubbing. 

What happened ?
Something between the two I guess. Burnley did enough to demonstrate that they were in “economy of effort” mode but even that was more than enough to contain Rovers. 

Rovers declared their hand 30 minutes before kick off with a team selection that said, this is a secondary priority. That’s fine, it’s what managers are paid for & if we somehow go up this season, then this is inconsequential & will be forgiven.

However, I can’t but help feel that Mowbray doesn’t yet know his best team. He has signed a lot of bits & pieces players but has not settled on a meaningful style of play. The jury remains out on almost all of his signings (honourable mention to Harry Chapman last night who is this season’s “Connor Mahoney One Bright Spark” candidate) & frankly the addition of Mark Venus to the coaching staff has not had a demonstrable beneficial impact on our basic defending.

The league is paramount; nothing that 3 or 4 wins on the trot can’t resolve but I have a funny feeling that we are still drifting aimlessly. My pre-season prediction of 10th might prove to be optimistic.

Did we play our cards right last night ? Not really. 

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And what do points make? Nice to see you, Rovers….

 Blue Eyed Boy was involved with a Mick Ronson memorial event in Hull on Saturday so regular guest columnist Old Blackburnian takes the reins….

How wonderful to welcome the return of an old friend, a victory, at last ? It wasn’t especially aesthetically pleasing, neither was it comfortable; but it was deserved and welcomed with gusto, following two sub-optimal performances that punctured premature, pre-season, predictions of promotion.

 

Coming the day after the passing of a beloved, versatile, all round entertainer and national treasure; Rovers’ performance at Bradford City in front of 2,000 travelling fans, owed less to flair, a soft-shoe shuffle and stagecraft and much more to graft, grit and determination. Not so much “Give us a twirl dear…” as “Give us three points dear, by any means”.

 

The transfer window doesn’t close until the end of the month of course, so more new faces may yet be added to this squad; but the cheque book is not and cannot, be seen as a panacea to resolve all difficulties. Of the signings made so far by Mowbray, the jury seems to be struggling to reach a decisive verdict on all except Richie Smallwood; who has been the recipient of the most authentic fan tribute possible, a bespoke song in his honour and very well done to whoever adapted Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” for this very purpose.

 

The welcome evidence of Saturday’s encounter was that some actual coaching had taken place in the week leading up to the game. This correspondent is firmly of the opinion that the coaching prowess of Tony Mowbray and his team is every bit as important as his ability to spot a player; especially when the verdict on his recruitment ability is currently “case unproven”.

 

Mowbray had claimed after the dismal Doncaster defeat, that the formation was not to blame. He then undermined his own assertion by changing to a flat back four at Valley Parade (no sponsor plugs here), who responded by delivering a season’s first clean sheet at a ground where the away team had not won in the league for the best part of 18 months.  

 

It was not without concerns, that would not be the Rovers’ way; twice in the first half Bradford had players in the penalty area with sufficient time and space to receive the ball with backs to goal, control, turn and shoot, all with no Rovers defender close enough to even attempt a block. That the shots were feeble was a blessed relief. The second half saw a couple of those “I’ve seen ‘em given” handball claims but the referee waved away the City protests.

 

The midfield seemed to be more structured and steely, with Smallwood launching himself at opponents who had the temerity to bring the ball forward towards Rovers’ goal. This feature has been lacking for a while and having a player who harries the opposition forcing them to move the ball on just a little quicker and with less accuracy than they would like is an asset to any team.

 

It was a distinct pleasure to see Conway return after injury and he is to be credited with the assist for the goal. Following some typically tenacious work by Bennett, Conway crossed to Samuel whose header found the Bradford net. Watching on TV on Saturday night and with the benefit of about 53 replays, I think the final touch might just have come off a Bradford defender’s armpit, which helped to wrong foot the keeper, but no matter; another goal for Samuel who has deservedly moved ahead of the lethargic Graham in the striker pecking order.

 

The next home fixture of course is a low-key cup tie, so thankfully there’s nothing much about which to get excited. Oh, who am I kidding ?

 

There are two distinct schools of thought about this; it’s either the best possible draw or the worst possible draw. For what it’s worth, at this stage of the evolution of Mowbray’s team, a tanking at home against your nearest & dearest is possibly not the best way to build fragile confidence. On the other hand, just suppose that Rovers mirror the achievement of Stanley and somehow secure a memorable win, imagine the potential boost from that ?

 

The league is paramount this season, no question and given the choice now, I’d sacrifice the derby for three points on Saturday but the romantic optimist in me (it’s a very small part of my composition I accept !) would welcome a victory over the Clarets much as a starving dog would welcome being locked in a butcher’s shop alone overnight.

If on Thursday morning I can say “Didn’t they do well ?” then that will suffice.

Old Blackburnian
(Photograph courtesy of Jack Heyes)

Epilogue by Old Blackburnian 
Did they do well ? Not really, the gulf in class was all too evident and the 2nd half was played out in the manner of a practice match between the 1st team and the academy lads when the 1st XI need to work on keeping possession.
What did I hope for ?

A full strength team giving it their all to impose themselves on an opposition that might not be taking it wholly seriously. A few shots on target. Maybe a goal.
What did I fear ?

Revenge for the 5-0 Souness era drubbing. 
What happened ?

Something between the two I guess. Burnley did enough to demonstrate that they were in “economy of effort” mode but even that was more than enough to contain Rovers. 
Rovers declared their hand 30 minutes before kick off with a team selection that said, this is a secondary priority. That’s fine, it’s what managers are paid for & if we somehow go up this season, then this is inconsequential & will be forgiven.
However, I can’t but help feel that Mowbray doesn’t yet know his best team. He has signed a lot of bits & pieces players but has not settled on a meaningful style of play. The jury remains out on almost all of his signings (honourable mention to Harry Chapman last night who is this season’s “Connor Mahoney One Bright Spark” candidate) & frankly the addition of Mark Venus to the coaching staff has not had a demonstrable beneficial impact on our basic defending.
The league is paramount; nothing that 3 or 4 wins on the trot can’t resolve but I have a funny feeling that we are still drifting aimlessly. My pre-season prediction of 10th might prove to be optimistic.
Did we play our cards right last night ? Not really. 

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Tinkerman Tony must forget fancy formations & get back to basics

For all the indignities heaped upon Rovers fans over seven years of failure, the constant simmering anger and despair of the long-suffering supporters – and we’re unquestionably down to a few thousand of the most fiercely loyal and tolerant at the stadium now – I’ve never witnessed such a startling and damning sound as I heard at around a quarter to five on Saturday.

 

For every Venkys Out chant, for every attack on a manager (Kean and Coyle both vehemently targeted individually on occasion) and for every groan or boo of dissatisfaction individual players have come in for (Andrews, Best, Murphy, Orr etc) over the years I have never previously heard a decent home turn-out (including, importantly, many non-season ticket holders who were willing to give the new team a trial run) turn so unanimously and vociferously in venomous vocal condemnation of what they saw before them and vent their spleen on the team as a collective.

 

At the precise moment fans chanted “You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” – not just a few, practically everybody – there were four of Tony Mowbray’s summer signings on the field as well as men like Elliott Bennett, Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Graham, who along with the withdrawn Peter Whittingham, we were told, were players the like of which humble third tier outfits would not be able to cope with being on the same pitch as.

 

It was simply staggering – although surprisingly not remarked upon by Rovers’ closest press commentators who deign to suggest “Five talking points” after each game. If that wasn’t second or third on the agenda in any pub full of fans following the game, they must have had a hell of a stripper on.

 

We’ve had home humiliations – Cardiff 4-1, Peterborough 3-0 up after 20 minutes, Birmingham similar, and we’ve had teams wipe the floor with us, Huddersfield the season before last under Lambert a particular low point  – but usually we’ve had the consolation of a doughty fightback of some kind or the fact that the opposition were just too classy for us.

 

I’ve heard some of the most pitiful stuff I’ve ever heard trotted out by Rovers supports this week to attempt to explain the stark reality of a  pointless start against two of league football’s perennial nearly men.

 

“Teams are trying harder against us because we are former Premier League champions.”

 

“We’re a big scalp, the team everybody wants to beat.”

 

Get real, pussycats. We are no longer considerd so storied or monied to be regarded as any kind of fading aristocrats or elite.

 

After five largely wretched seasons in the Championship hoovering up rubbish such as Chris Brown, Paul Taylor, Simeon Jackson, Lee Williamson and Luke Varney, any residual sheen or lustre from our gold-standard spending 1990s or early 21st century glory years is a distant memory.

 

It’s like me claiming to have been in awe of Ipswich in 1967 because they’d won the league five years earlier. Ancient history.

 

Teams – and more to the point smart opposing managers like Phil Brown and Darren Ferguson – know full well that Rovers are damaged goods psychologically and that Ewood, statistically, is a  ground more than half of visiting sides have walked away from with one or three points for a period of more than half a decade now.

 

Let’s not flatter ourselves that we’re bringing an exciting touch of glamour to deprived footballing regions only for them to insult our largesse.

 

We get a few thousand at home and take a fair –to-above-average following away. We’re hardly Newcastle or Man City rolling up.

 

Footballers, if they are truly professional, want to win any game. The win bonus on offer is usually sufficient to ensure that.

 

If we really are reduced to arguing that a passionate Roots Hall home contingent or a larger-than-usual Doncaster following for the first away game is a factor in raising the odds against us we ought to be thoroughly ashamed.

 

Where we must look for reasons is inwardly, are our manager and players up to the job? So far resoundingly not with hopefully a few tough decisions to be taken and one or two looking at themselves so as to say: “What more could I have done to avoid this start?”

 

One or two, like Caddis I suspect, will prove to have been folly, mistakes of acquisition which all managers make. The trick is identifying the error quickly and eradicating it.

 

Remember every one of those 2-3,000 walk-ons on a lovely August afternoon was a potential bury-my-reservations season ticket holder who went home thinking: “Same old crap, different division, I’ll keep my money in my wallet and come to one or two if they pick up.”

 

I called the pre-season 100-point talk delusional nonsense all summer but nothing had prepared anyone but the most avowed pessimist for the meek, simpering manner in which Mowbray’s side has failed to even compete adequately for the first six points of this campaign.

 

I certainly didn’t subscribe to the arrant “walk this league” twaddle (read some of that back if you want to see why some fans might enjoy doing a number on us) but nor did I or do I believe that the personnel available to Mowbray are incapable of giving a better account of themselves. But, boy, do they need to start showing signs thereof soon.

 

I dismissed as hysterical bullshit the notion that Mowbray should be judged on the first ten games. But I’ll revise that – three more displays like the first two and serious questions will have to be asked.

 

Whether the likes of Dack, Gadwin, Whittingham, Samuel and Smallwood and co will eventually sparkle in this league remains to be seen.

 

Antonnson, Nuttall, Chapman and the likely Celtic loanee Liam Henderson offer Mowbray options but they deserve to be introduced into an environment where at least the senior pros are taking responsibility. So far they pointedly aren’t.

 

One thing which isn’t in doubt however is that if the manager’s selection and tactics aren’t quickly tinkered with after an appalling set of Mowbray errors for the openers, nobody is going to be able to show their best in a  system ill-designed for the parts available.

 

Whatever formation you imagine we are playing, three at the back with two wing backs only offers a foundation if your three at the back are solid and able to concentrate and your wide fellas are capable of contributing going forward along with their defensive chores.

 

Mowbray reiterated on Saturday evening that there was nothing wrong with the system. He’s right,  there isn’t if you have the 1974-78 Dutch World Cup side at your disposal, or perhaps peak Dani Alves and Roberto Carlos with Baresi, Costacurta and Maldini inside, Lothar Matthaus holding while Carlos Valderama and Messi slip balls through to Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.

 

With the best of wishes, it’s not gonna work with Derrick Williams and Elliott Ward key men in it.

 

And if your midfield is packed with holding type players and has little inclination and even less options to move forward or get the ball to attacking players then the system looks what it did on Saturday, ponderous and slow, calculated to offer incessant sideways and backwards movement as the opposition get behind the ball in droves with a centre forward not in the first flush of youth or indeed inclined much towards industry when so isolated, rendered virtually a passenger.

 

Smallwood showed flashes of a quicker, crisper ability to demand the ball, think swiftly and shift it but by the second half he had reverted to anonymity among his less pro-active colleagues.

 

The one time Rovers worked an opening, Graham, who thought he’d bought himself a gap with a neat shimmy, found a second defender showing enough commitment and awareness to block what momentarily seemed a golden chance.

 

That’s not a team fired up to beat the champs of 22 years ago. It’s a team where everyone knows his job and knows when he needs to step in and help his mate out in a difficult moment.

 

There are no stats recorded in Rothmans for how many times you get your head, chest, upper thigh or arse in the way of a cross or shot but the way the game panned out the importance of the kind of doggedness and defensive determination Doncaster displayed throughout was thrown into sharp relief shortly after the interval.

 

A rather casual attempt from a strangely disinterested-looking Mulgrew wasn’t the best but it ought to have presented no real problem for Ward, heavily lambasted for pre-season aberrations, and Marquis (a striker Roves might have coveted before he extended his Keepmoat contract) would have been considered ungrateful to have missed out on such a gift as the hapless centre-back tumbled like some Sunday morning hungover mate of the manager’s who hasn’t played for 20 years drafted in on a bumpy pitch five at Pleasington.

 

Of course there was no-one anticipating a potential mistake other than Marquis.

 

Around that point Mowbray chucked his three subs on. The possibilities of injury aside, I thought there was an argument for doing that after half an hour, or at least half time, when the initiative was still there to be seized by any configuration which could carry a threat to Doncaster as eventually Gladwin, and to a lesser extent the thus-far underwhelming Dack, did.

 

These were players, we were told, who had “bought into Tony’s vision.”

 

At the moment “Tony’s vision” looks as singularly odd as but less convincing even than the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult’s who persuaded his followers that a spaceship following the Hale Bopp comet was about to pick them up if they shed their earthly existence.

 

I dunno about that but a move to Sheffield United or Wednesday by any available form of transport must look increasingly appealing with an unsteady hand at the helm already plain to the players.

 

By the time Mulgrew’s crass challenge, outpaced onto a straightforward but incisive through ball from a midfield runner – how many times has that happened at the other end lately? – gave Donny a cushion, the game was up.

 

I would have had Nyambe as my Rovers MOTM (with maybe 6/10 and nobody else above 5) personally but I’d remarked to Old Blackburnian beside me early on that I felt queasy anytime he and Raya were left in tandem and so it proved to be a route to complete bathos as the pair’s fatal hesitation offered the lively May a comic third to unleash the collective anger and derision of the crowd.

 

All Rovers can do to win back the faith is improve a great deal, which shouldn’t really be rocket science. I’m unconvinced by the argument that we will rise to the top because we have better players than everyone else, no-one knows that, but we certainly can’t be the bottom two material we have looked in the first 180 minutes of a long campaign.

 

It would be devastating not to pick up at least a point at Valley Parade on Saturday. It’s a long time, although in some ways it doesn’t seem it, since we went there. Their two years in the Prem coincided with our two out of it if I remember rightly.

 

Their top flight experience was fleeting but they have had Wembley finals and promotions to enjoy and with imaginative pricing they have an excellent home following and a good start behind them.

 

An unexpected away win has often been the catalyst for a  Rovers revival in years past and with a decent following ourselves just over the dark side who will, as ever, faithfully and admirably  support the team as if they’d won the last two, there must be at least something for them to drape hopes on.

 

Then on Wednesday it’s the game you either most dreaded or most desired when the Caraboa Cup draw was made.

 

I’m in the latter camp and can’t wait.

 

A decent pricing structure and absence of TV coverage should generate at least the impression of a big game and despite the bubble travel arrangements our cousins will bring a large contingent hoping to see them extend their recent upper hand in the exchanges.

 

If many Rovers have lost a little faith this fortnight, they can certainly be won back by this time next week. A result against Bradford and at the very least a dogged performance on Wednesday and the team will be just about in credit with the ever-forgiving football fan.

 

You know just what to do to make us happy,Tony and the boys!

 

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

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Roots-Rocked Rovers but couple of Ricoh specials set the blue beat

An old fitter pal of mine at the Gas Depot in Great Harwood was summoned into the boss’s office one Friday after the gaffer, extremely well refreshed as was his custom, made a rare late afternoon appearance.
“You’ve grafted this week,” he beamed, handing an initially nervous and perplexed but delighted Pete, who well knew his supervisor’s tea-time visits were seldom bestowed in order to exchange pleasantries, a tenner.
But as he relaxed, Brian’s face immediately assumed a thunderous countenance rather more choleric.
“But I also note that you’ve also been late every fucking morning. Now go and get yourself a reyt alarm clock and make sure you clock on at eight on Monday and every other day or you’ll find yourself down the job centre.”
Rovers got the wake-up call they and a fair proportion of the fans badly needed on Saturday at Southend and having already claimed they had received one in the final friendly at Carlisle, one hopes Tony Mowbray was similarly unforgiving and quick to summon them for a rollocking after what, in the wake of so much silly talk about walking the league, amounted to a humiliation at Roots Hall.
“They couldn’t have complained if they’d been 5-1 down at half-time,” said a long-suffering eye-witness, “and it said everything that at 2-1 down we were the side hanging on as they pressed at the end as well.”
I’m absolutely convinced that a proportion of our supporters began the campaign firmly in the belief that no other side in the division had acquired any decent players in the summer or even possessed any to start with.
Two of those I warned about in last week’s column, Ryan Leonard and Michael Kightly, put Rovers to the sword while one of those much-travelled and oft-rejected lumbering, seldom-scoring beanpoles we have struggled to cope with for generations, Marc Antoine-Fortune, took advantage of a central defensive pairing which is possibly one of Rovers’ most capable in a footballing sense but lacks the kind of dominant aerial presence we were afforded by messrs McNamee, Hawkins and Keeley on the occasion of our previous lower league adventures.
I was sat on Trent Bridge Cricket Ground on Saturday and roughly in the concurrent time it took Alex Hales to smash 50 from his first 19 balls received Rovers were two down, a depressing echo of last season’s “we’ll look-to-begin-at-a high-tempo-but-we-never-do” repeated pattern of beginning games dopily then pledging sincerely not to do so again.
My head was spinning enough watching Hales go completely beserk for a 30-ball 95 without that.
It’s an absolute must that it was a one-off aberration. We will lose games for sure but to surrender the initiative in the opener that early and squander the residual feelgood factor a promising summer spread among fans was a pitiful effort.
I could have done without reading one of our lot was up and down in a nightclub after limping off with a tight hamstring. But as his in amorata that evening is rather more newsworthy currently than is he, perhaps he was the incidental support B-feature in the story, a fact hammered home by the fact that his surname was erroneously spelt, to the tune of one vowel, “Deck” by one newspaper. Oh well, that could have been a whole lot worse I suppose.
I was amused by the fans who banged on about how the lass in question was “entitled to her privacy.” If anybody who has just come off a TV reality game show, or whatever the hell Love Island is, hasn’t hired a PR firm to extend their 15 minutes of fame and brief the press as to where and when they can locate them, I’ll knit myself a mankini and wear it at Ewood on Boxing Day.
Dack wants to study the Leon Best and Anthony Stokes files and see how long the “big popular summer signing” cache lasts with lads who are prone to act the goat.
Back to the football, one supporter made a decent point that around 17 or 18 of our fellow League one rivals had played at least one friendly against a team from a higher division or at least semi-decent continental opposition. It might have benefited us more to take on a Stoke or Everton, even a Leeds or Middlesbrough, rather than strolling about peppering a York team virtually having to advertise in the paper shop window for players.
As a largely irrelevant aside I’m also baffled by us playing in the home kit against a side whose shirts are primarily blue. Modern football often baffles me. I hate to see us change from our proud, unmistakeable traditional unique strip when we don’t actually need to but it looked weird.
Lovely, though, to be able to reflect on a midweek boost from a win in a competition which has provided us with all kinds of opportunities to make life hard work for ourselves in recent seasons.
I know a lot will say we could do without additional fixtures but progressing in any cup means: A) you get to look forward to and enjoy the draw a lot more
B) It’s another midweek match night.
I’m on holiday at the moment but I insist with every fibre of my existence that any working week with a match in the middle of it, home or away, going or following it from afar, is more enjoyable than a blank footballing week. Well, I say that now, ask me again when it’s Plymouth at home on a Tuesday in October.
I note Stanley had a fine win too, congratulations to Coley and his boys, and having missed out on a rare competitive meeting with our closest neighbours in the Checkatrade I’d like to see it happen in the League Cup.
So well done to Mowbray for putting a strong side out – I’m not entirely sure how seriously Coventry were taking it with six changes from Saturday – and to players like Smallwood and Samuel who I believe impressed. Evans’ goal was a stunner – when was the last time two central midfielders scored in a game for us?
The fans who’ve put in all those miles this week at considerable cost deserved a performance and the possession and shots stats suggest they got rather more for their money on Tuesday.
One hopes that Mulgrew limping off was a precaution, however it seems Lenihan might be a while with his foot injury. That might just dampen the ardent and persistent upfront pursuit of the Irishman by Sheffield United.
Lose either or both of those short-term, long-term or permanently and a centre-back of some experience becomes a priority if it isn’t one to start with. 
I’ve no problems with Chris Wilder being honest.
I know people will say: “He’s trying to unsettle our player,” but guess what? All players are informed and know full well when someone wants to sign them. That’s how we sign players other clubs don’t really want to sell us and always has been.
It would be unfortunate to be without the pair for the visit of Doncaster, themselves off to a decent start under a manager who knows this league well in Darren Ferguson.
They had a fine promotion campaign last season, inexplicably collapsing for the final four games after sewing up promotion with a great run from October to April only to miss out on the League Two title which looked theirs for the taking.
Like most, their summer signings consist of a couple of interesting Premier League and Championship loanees such as Manchester City’s Rodney Kolongo and a smattering of frees though Alex Kiwomya, son of Chris, signed permanently from Chelsea, is out through illness and unable to replicate his fine performance here for Shrewsbury a year ago.
Let’s hope for one of those sunny August Saturdays and a decent turn-out from both sets of fans to provide a bit of atmosphere.
It will be grand to be back at Ewood but I must admit I have an ulterior motive in hoping for a baking hot afternoon – before setting off to take my seat in the Riverside I’ll be taking in the first part of Church’s Worsley Cup final reply to Darwen’s 186 all out last Sunday before rain wiped out the home team’s innings.
A Rovers win and a possible Church Worsley Cup win? Something tells me one excited lad won’t need an alarm clock to get up this Saturday.
BLUE-EYED BOY

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Never look back, walk tall, act fine and give us a Golden Year, Rovers

Let’s start the season with a little quiz. No googling.

Go on the Beeb website and look at the League One table, all currently listed neatly in alphabetical order.

When you get over the thrill of seeing us in an automatic promotion spot, try this little exercise.

Write down every club’s manager.

Then try writing down roundabout where they finished last season.

Next maybe have a stab at who was their best player last season and is he still there?

Finally, and this is where you can really stack points up at a mark each, write down any players each club has signed in the summer window.

I must admit had I not started monitoring the transfers daily from mid-June onwards, I wouldn’t have scored heavily.

Neither, I imagine, would many of the people currently proclaiming that Blackburn Rovers are about to sweep all before them triumphally as they parade untroubled to the League One title.

You can maybe multiply your final answers  by approximately how much you knew about Rovers’ summer signings before they landed here and a lot would still struggle to top the 100-point mark  the more extreme optimists are predicting.

Leonard Cohen used to deliver an onstage rap about how “I’ve tried Prozac, Ritalin, I’ve plunged into studying the great philosophies and mystic religions…but cheerfulness kept breaking through,” which amused me every time I saw him (a lot) over 30-odd years and it always reminded me of the indomitable human spirit of the football fan.

Although I will take some convincing about the nine month title procession, I find myself enjoying and if not  falling in with the (possibly insanely) positive attitude of those expecting the 100-point stroll, preferring the outlook to the utterly miserabilist doom-mongering Jeremiahs who foresaw administration, another relegation and re-forming as a Phoenix club ground-sharing with Mill Hill St Peters as an inevitable consequence of relegation in May.

That’s not to say that the prophets of Stygian gloom won’t necessarily turn out to be exactly right. I just reserve the right not to subscribe to their fear-laden rhetoric for a bit along the way as I continue to enjoy going more than I’d enjoy not going.

This season  represents the 50th anniversary of the autumn when I got completely hooked on football. I rolled up at Ewood in August of 1967 just about keen enough for my dad not to have to drag me there and something magical happened in the ensuing weeks.

I vividly remember by Bonfire Night that year having my dad and granddad test me, as the last embers of our fire glowed in the garden in Feniscowles, on every one of the 92 league clubs they could recall… manager, kit, name of ground….I bet I did better than most of you do with the League One quiz we nosed off with.

Despite the fact that our fall from the Premier League years has been long and vertiginous, I dearly want my kids to experience that feeling I felt, after what seemed at that age very long years of disappointment and mediocrity, as a 16-year-old in ’75 and again five years later, of seeing your team actually win something which every other side you played that season wanted to win so much too.

There can, in all likelihood these days, never be scenes like there were at Port Vale under Lee or  Gigg Lane under Kendall (or at Ewood when triumphant Bolton invaded two years before) – modern stadium H & S restrictions and ticketing prevent that ever happening again and in any case most of the local away games at which a big following is likely (how cynical and opportunistic is that “another fiver, please” 1875 Club rubbish?) take place in the first half of the season or shortly thereafter.

On the plus side for the first time in a long while we have a manager who’s popular with the fans, has some pedigree, is respected by most in football and seemingly able, unlike the chip-on-both-shoulders Lambert and the inane, inept Coyle, to manipulate our absentee owners into enough support to ensure he doesn’t, like most of his predecessors, guarantee making an utter buffoon of himself.

It’s as well that Rovers have almost certainly been the biggest spenders in the Third Tier this season. I rather expect there WILL be a couple of departures and a possible net profit  but that doesn’t alter the fact that no-one, absolutely none of our competitors, has acquired players costing what, say, Dack and Samuel have cost,

Practically everyone else is operating on frees and loans – which to me refutes the argument that Mowbray and Mark Venus could not be held responsible for leaving Coventry bottom of the pile as they had no funds to work with.

Let’s hope the truism that all managers get better when they have more money to spend holds true.

It’s obvious looking at the list below that plenty of managers and clubs have been highly active in the market and a few will be fancying it a bit themselves. Charlton and Bradford look to have done decent business.

Others like Bury – whose ambition and purchasing power may surprise one or two – Northampton and Shrewsbury have recruited in large numbers but are very much an unknown quantity. Who knows how good guys they have signed or borrowed are?

Who knows how good all ours are/will be?

The signings themselves have been encouraging on two fronts.

One, Mowbray has clearly identified that the midfield he inherited was crushingly dysfunctional and laboured, neither destructive in stopping the opposition having largely their own way for long periods nor creative enough to supply quality strikers like Graham and the departed Sam Gallagher with sufficient chances to win enough games.

I’m not a big stats fan but Whittingham’s show that the fella actually PLAYS GAMES, as in lots of them.  Never less than 32 a season in the last ten years. Compare that with the like of Guthrie and Corry Evans. I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t a positive addition.

He also contributes a fair portion of goals, almost a lost Ewood art, as does Dack who had a  splendid campaign for Gillingham in 2015-16, rather less so last season which was hopefully down to that undefinable yearning to be elsewhere young players who’ve been denied one big move are sometimes consumed by (See Rhodes, Gestede).

I expect double figures plus dscf1101from him if he lives up to his billing – and fee!

Smallwood, Gladwin, Samuel, Nuttall, Caddis..possibly not names to get the pulses racing and as I seldom bother with friendlies I can’t proffer an opinion. But neither possibly were Hawkins, Beamish, Hickman, Oates, Burgin, Hoy and Mullen on the occasion of our first promotion from this level, nor Crawford, Arnold and Branagan second time.

And there’s a great lesson of patience to be learned from those promotions of yesteryear. I’ve heard more than once “a good start is essential.”

Gordon Lee’s team had just that, hit the top two in the first week of October and were never subsequently out of it.

Howard Kendall’s baptism in management saw just two wins, none of them at home, in the first 12 games. It is unthinkable that he’d survive under today’s prevailing entitled, social-media-fury conditions. In mid-January 1980 Rovers, even after the first win of a run which transformed the season, lay 14th.

So whether we are 3-0 up at Roots Hall after an hour on Saturday or 3-0 down it won’t necessarily augur with certainty the pattern of the season. We all watched a side last season go four up in 20 minutes and acclaimed them Championship title certainties.

Coincidentally, Sheffield United are currently coveting The Shrimps’ Player of the Year from last season Ryan Leonard (five bonus points if you got him!) in much the same way they are testing the waters over Darragh Lenihan, like Charlie Mulgrew certain to attract interest not only this week but through to the end of August.

Danny Graham is another who will come onto the radar of championship outfits struggling for goals early on if he continues his pre-season form.

But Mowbray will continue his search for additions too, whether we armchair sports news watchers are fully conversant with their pedigree or not. Surely nobody feels we are the finished article, particularly if one or more of that trio depart.

Even if you didn’t know there were able managers at this level such as Darren Ferguson, Lee Clark, Uwe Rosler, John Sheridan, Kenny Jackett, Keith Hill and Phil Brown (2 points apiece) operating, even if you don’t know who’s signed Michael Kightly, David Ball, Brett Pitman, Steven Taylor, Chris Maguire, James Henry or Chris Long (don’t panic they’ve all gone to different clubs not the same one), expecting a procession seems fanciful.

It’ll be a slog at times, with dollops of Checkatrade nonsense thrown in, even if we make no progress in the two authentic cup competitions.

As ever, I hope we extend our fixture list by progressing in those, starting on Mowbray’s old manor at Coventry next week, but I will be slightly more forgiving than I have been in the past if we don’t, although I can never understand not giving your first choice XI a free chance to blend together in the first 72 hours of the campaign.

There’ll be hard days and dark, cold nights against opposition even less glamorous and attractive than we have got used to over the last half-decade. It’s the Third Division because the players and teams and possibly the managers aren’t as good as they are in the Premier League and The Championship.

The gates are lower and the grounds aren’t generally as good – there’ll be midweek drudgery with the away end (and possibly vast home sections) sparsely populated although you will be spared the delights of the likes of Haig Avenue, The Shay and Layer Road of yore, or Torquay fetching about enough to fill one-and-a-half minibuses.

But it’s what we do. Turn up. I have far fewer winters ahead of me than behind me and as long as I can get there and there’s one or two prepared to meet up for a pint and sit it out, I’ll carry on in the hope that fortunes turn.

Maybe this year, every year, that’s football fans.

I hope all Rovers fans, whether incurably romantic, cynically miserable or irascibly angry and raging at our plight, find much to enjoy between now and May.

Surely no-one on Saturday will have as unfortunate a day as I had on my last visit to Roots Hall in February 1980 when, having travelled by train for our game, a couple of lunchtime pints before emerging into a cruel seaside wind without wearing  a vest occasioned me a slight chill on my kidneys which I could only assuage by means of a visit to the gents….precisely as little Andy Crawford was striking our winner home in a customary Kendall-era 1-0 win.

BLUE-EYED BOY

*If anyone would like to listen to my four-part account of Howard Kendall’s Ewood tenure, which of course began with our last Third division promotion campaign, through the eyes of a fan, you can hear it on the BRFCS.com, read impeccably, mercifully not by me in my Grimshaw Park/Lower Audley accent, unchanged from the 1960’s, but by the estimable and loquacious Ian Herbert, sometime Old Blackburnian of this column, who makes me sound far more articulate than I could ever hope to be.

You’ll find it on the Football Messageboard section with thanks to Ian, Glenn Pegeden and Kamy who considered it a worthwhile undertaking.

 

 

 

 

League one signings
AFC Wimbledon (Neal Ardley)

Kwesi Appiah.CF. Crystal Palace. Free

Demi Oshilaja. DF. Cardiff. Free

Cody McDonald. CF. Gillingham. Free

George Long. Gk. Sheff Utd. Season Loan

Jimmy Abdou. MF. Millwall. Loan

Liam Trotter. MF. Bolton. Free

Blackburn Rovers (Tony Mowbray)

Peter Whittingham. MF. Cardiff. Free

Richie Smallwood. MF. Rotherham. Free

Bradley Dack. MF. Gillingham. £750,000

Ben Gladwin. MF. QPR. Und

Dominic Samuel. CF. Reading. Und

Paul Caddis. RB. Birmingham. Free

Joe Nuttall. CF. Aberdeen. Free

Jayson Leutmeiler. GK. Shrewsbury. Und 

Blackpool ( Gary Bowyer)

Curtis Tilt. DF. Wrexham. Free

Peter Hartley. DF. Bristol Rovers. Free

Olly Turton. FB. Crewe. Free

Max Clayton. Forward. Bolton. Free

Nick Anderton FB. Barrow. Und

Jimmy Ryan. MF. Fleetwood. Free

Ryan Allsop. GK. Bournemouth. Loan

Callum Cooke. MF. Middlesbrough. Loan.

Christopher Mafoumbi. GK. Free State Stars South Africa). Free

Sean Longstaff. MF. Newcastle. Loan.

Viv Solomon-Otabor. MF. Birmingham. Loan.

Bradford City (Stuart McCall)

Adam Chicksen. FB. Charlton. Free

Paul Taylor. Forward. Peterborough. Free

Dominic Poleon. Forward. AFC WImbledon. Und

Shay McCartan. Forward. Acc Stanley. Und

Jake Reeves. MF. Wimbledon. Und

Alex Gillead. Winger. Newcastle. Loan

Bristol Rovers (Darrell Clarke)

Liam Sercombe. MF.Oxford. Und

Sam Slocombe. GK. Blackpool. Free

Adam Smith. GK. Northampton. Free.

Marc Bola. LB. Arsenal. Loan

Tom Nichols. CF. Peterborough. Undisclosed.

Tom Broadbent. DF. Unattached.

Bury (Lee Clarke)

Jermaine Beckford. Cf. PNE. Free

Phil Edwards. RB. Burton. Free

Stephen Dawson. MF. Scunthorpe. Free

Callum Reilly.MF. Burton. Free.

Adam Thompson. CB. Southend.Free

Joe Skarz. DF. Oxford.Free

Eoghan O’Connell. DF. Celtic. Free

Jay O’Shea. MF. Chesterfield. Free

Chris Humphrey. Winger. Hibs. Free

Tom Aldred. FB. Blackpool. Free

Tom Heardman. CF. Newcastle. Loan

Nicky Ajose. CF  Charlton. Loan

Chris Maguire. MF. Oxford. Und

Alex Whitmore. DF. Burnley. Loan

Chris Sang. Striker. Wigan. Free


Charlton Athletic (Karl Robinson) 

Billy Clarke. CF. Bradford. Und

Mark Marshall. Winger. Bradford. Free

Tarique Fosu. MF. Reading. Free

Jay Dasilva. FB. Chelsea. Loan.

Doncaster Rovers ( Darren Ferguson) 

Niall Mason. Mid. A Villa. Und.

Danny Andrew FB. Grimsby. Free

Alex Kiwomya. Forward. Chelsea. Free

Ben Whiteman. MF. Sheff Utd. Free

Issam Ben Khemis. MF. Lorient. Free

Rodney Kongolo. MF. Manchester City. Loan. 

Fleetwood Town (Uwe Rosler)

Kyle Dempsey. MF. Huddersfield. Und

Harvey Rodgers. DF. Hull. Free

Conor McAleny. Striker. Everton. Free

Lewie Coyle. RB. Leeds. Season loan

Aiden O’Neill. MF.  Burnley. Loan. 

Gillingham (Ady Pennock)

Alex Lacey. CB. Yeovil. Free.

Luke O’Neill. DF. Southend. Free

Gabriel Kakuani. CD Northampton. Free

Tom Eaves. CF. Yeovil. Free

Conor Wilkinson. CF. Bolton. Und.

Conor Ogilvie. DF. Tottenham. Loan.

Billy Bingham. MF. Crewe. Free

Liam Nash. CF. Maldon & Tiptree. Free


MK Dons (Robbie Neilson)

Conor McGrandles. MF. Norwich. Free

Ousseynou Cisse. MF. Tours. Und

Ethan Ebanks-Landell. CB. Wolves. Loan

Gboly Ariyibi. Winger. Notts Forest. Loan.

Ryan Seager. CF. Southampton. Loan.

Northampton Town (Justin Edinburgh) 

George Smith. LB. Gateshead. Und.

Sam Foley. MF. Port Vale. Free.

Leon Barnett.Df.Bury.Free

Billy Waters. CF. Cheltenham. Und

Dean Bowditch. Forward. MK Dons. Free

Yasser Kareem. MF. Swindon.free.

Regan Poole DF. Man United. Loan.

Matt Crooks. MF. Rangers. Und

Aaron Pierre. CB. Wycombe. Free

Chris Long. CF. Burnley. Loan


Oldham Athletic (John Sheridan) 

Dan Gardner. MF.Chesterfield. Free

Craig Davies CF. Scunthorpe. Free

Rob Hunt. DF. Brighton. Und

Courtney Duffus. CF. Everton. Und

Oxford United (Pep Clotet)

Scott Shearer. GK. Mansfield. Free

Charlie Raglan. DF. Chesterfield. Free

Fiacre Kelleher. DF. Celtic. Free

Jonathan Obika. CF. Swindon. Free

James Henry. MF. Wolves. Free

Xemi. MF. Barcelona. Free

Mike Williamson. CB. Wolves. Free

Jack Payne. MF. Huddersfield. Loan

Ricardinho. DF. Habana FK. Free

Peterborough United (Grant McCann)

Jordan Tibbetts. GK. Birmingham. Free

Jonathan Bond. GK. Reading. Six month loan

Jack Marriott. CF. Luton. Und

Michael Doughty. MF. QPR. Und

Alex Penny. DF. Nuneaton. Und

Steven Taylor. CB. Ipswich. Free

Idris Kanu. MF. Aldershot. Und. 

Plymouth Argyle ( Derek Adams) 

Lionel Ainsworth. Winger. Motherwell.Free

Ruben Lameiras. MF. Coventry. Free

Ryan Edwards. DF. Morecambe. Und

Jamie Ness. MF. Plymouth. Free

Robert te Loeke. GK. Achilles 29(Holland). Free

Gregg Wylde. Winger. Millwall. Free

Aaron Taylor. -Sinclair. LB. Doncaster. Free

Portsmouth (Kenny Jackett)

Nathan Thompson. DF. Swindon. Free

Luke McGhee. GK. Spurs. Free

Brett Pitman. CF. Ipswich. Free

Rochdale (Keith Hill) 

Reece Brown.CD. Bury. Free

Jordan Williams. MF. Barrow. £100,000

Brendan Moore. GK. Torquay. Free

Brad Inman. MF. Peterborough. Season loan

Kgosi Ntihe. DF. Stevenage. Free

Matt Done. RW. Sheff Utd. Free


Rotherham United (Paul Warne) 

MIchael Ihiekwe. CD. Tranmere. Free

Darren Potter. MF. MK Dons. Free

Ryan Williams. MF. Barnsley. Free

David Ball. Forward. Fleetwood. Free

Jamie Proctor MF. Bolton. Und

Kieffer Moore. CF. Ipswich. Loan

Josh Emmanuel. Df.  Rotherham. loan


Scunthorpe United (Graham Alexander) 

Cameron Burgess. Fulham. CD Und

Matt Gilks. GK. Wigan. Free

Rory McArdle. CB. Bradford. Free

Funso Ojo. MF. Willem II. Free

Devonte Redmond. MF. Man Utd. Loan.

Shrewsbury Town (Paul Hurst)

Craig McGilvray .GK. Walsall. Loan

Arthur Gnahoua. CF. Kidderminster. Free

Lenell John-Lewis. CF. Newport. Free

Jon Nolan. MF. Chesterfield. Und

Zak Jules. DF. Reading. Free

Ebou Adams. DF Norwich. Loan till Jan.

Daniel James. Winger. Swansea. Season loan.

Dean Henderson. GK. Man Utd. Loan.

Carlton Morris. Striker. Norwich. Loan

James Bolton. RB. Gateshead. Und

Niall Ennis. CF. Wolves. Loan

Southend United (Phil Brown) 

Stephen Hendrie. LB. West Ham. Free

Michael Turner. DF. Norwich. Free

Michael Kightly. MF. Burnley. Free

Amouda Ba. CF. Unattached. 

Rob Kieran. FB. Rangers. Und

Walsall (Jon Whitney) 

Luke Leahy. LB. Falkirk. Free

Jon Guthrie. DF. Crewe. Free

Mark Gillespie. GK. Carlisle. Free

Nicky Devlin. RB. Ayr Utd. Free

James Wilson. DF. Sheff Utd. Loan

Wigan Athletic (Paul Cook)

Cheyenne Dunkley. DF. Oxford. Free

Terell Thomas. DF. Charlton. Free

Gavin Massey. CF. Orient. Free

Christian Walton. GK. Brighton. Loan

Lee Evans. MF. Wolves. Loan

Callum Elder. DF. Leicester. Loan.

Ivan Toney. CF. Newcastle. Loan 

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