Dig my mood – Brentford triple gave some succour

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(Picture courtesy Andy Currie)

My great friend of 47 tears, boy and man since day one at Secondary School Riversider 23 has occasionally taken the reins on this column this season. Here are his thoughts having journeyed to Brentford. Follow him on Twitter too @MarkMark37m

As strange as it may seem – since the outcome was relegation – last Sunday at Brentford was the most I’ve enjoyed a Rovers game for a long time.

Lovely weather, cosy ground, friendly stewards, buzzing atmosphere, flying start, and an eventual victory against the odds through sheer effort and guts against a good side who played some brilliant flowing football at times.

Add to that the barely-hoped-for drama of actually reaching and holding onto a “staying-up” position, and then the changes in the scorelines at Forest and Bristol City filtering through an increasingly anxious and despondent crowd, Conway head-to-head with Harlee Dean, Graham’s glaring miss, Dean’s-sending off and Conway’s penalty conversion to seal the victory, then hoping and praying for that Tammy Abrahams equaliser that must surely come (but never did), and it was an altogether unforgettable experience.

It was also a fitting end to a season that started, for me, at Spotland watching the pre-season friendly and wondering where on earth we could look for any hope at all.

Lowe and Feeney down the right. Was that the best we could do? Surely not.

How good were Byrne, Stokes and Hendrie? Not very as it turned out.

Still, Coyle would surely sort things out., realise where the gaps and weaknesses are. Bring people in. Nah.

Forward a short while to Norwich at home, and witness the most despairing start to a season that you’ll ever see.

The arrival of Greer and Williams tightened things up a bit, Mahoney and Joao and Emnes eventually added some much-needed flair, and Lowe and Guthrie were lately recognised as the best central midfield pairing available.

On the other hand, none of the wingers were reliable or consistently selected and none could deliver the quality of crosses needed, and there was never any sense of the managers being clear about who the best front two were. Chopped and changed all the time.

On the main ifs and buts – and ignoring gifted goals and missed chances and late equalisers – the replacement of Coyle with Mowbray came much too late, the replacement of Steele with Raya came even later, and, probably most significantly in the end, the worst spell under Mowbray came with the losses against Reading and Barnsley and the lame home draw in what was the real must-win game against Bristol City.

That poor period (punctuated by a win out of the blue at Forest) was a direct result of the injuries to Mulgrew and Lenihan in the first 46 minutes of the match at Reading.

With Hoban and Brown as the only centre-back options left to him, Mowbray had my sympathy.

It was an unenviable task to try and put a solid team together then.

Steele was nervier, and I think Mowbray made a significant misjudgement in using Akpan to (in theory, at least) protect a dodgy and off-the pace central defence while Guthrie was left on the bench for long periods.

So, we’re back where we were last August. Looking forward (perversely) to a new season, without much of a clue what players we might be watching, or who will be managing them – never mind discussing where the strengths and weaknesses are and what the best formation would be.

In my experience, the hope and enjoyment never really dies, although there have often been very miserable periods of frustration and a hint of despair.

My first season watching the Rovers was a relegation season – my first game a 4-1 win at Turf Moor, followed by months around the drop-zone.

Like this season, a surprising away win at Forest rekindled some hope, but in the end down we went. And then down again to the Third Division.

Even when we were in the top division, there were times when the over-riding impact of a game was the feeling that we’d never get anywhere till we could replace Emerton and Pedersen – just as an example.

Alongside that, over the years there’s been the joy of watching Metcalfe and Fazackerley, Hird and Bailey, Wagstaffe, Field, Price, Brotherston, McKenzie, Barker, Moran, Berg, Hendry, Shearer, Duff, Dunn, Jansen, Tugay, Bentley and Santa Cruz – to name just a few.

And now I still can’t stop myself thinking “if we can keep Raya, Lenihan, Mulgrew, Guthrie, and then if Tomlinson, Hardcastle and a couple of other youngsters come through, and Mowbray brings in some nuggets from elsewhere, and moulds them into the kind of team we saw at Brentford in spite of their individual limitations…”  and that’s the life of a football fan.

When I’ve been to watch the Rovers at Old Trafford when Ferguson was the manager, I’ve been struck by how boring their expectation of guaranteed victory every game must be. I wouldn’t want that.

I also have no time for any of the “We want our Rovers back”, “We want Venkys out”, “There’s only one Jack Walker” attitude.

Relegation was quickly followed by a flood of articles in the national press about the ins and outs of the Venkys, Jerome Anderson, SEM/Kentaro, the FA, “fit and proper person” etc.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s business – and my pleasure is in watching football.

Part of my enjoyment on Sunday was the performance of Romaine Sawyers – apparently not that appreciated at Brentford, but the best player I’ve seen all season. Didn’t put a foot wrong and just kept them flowing. Coolness personified.

And while it would be great to feel part of a homely, unified, fan-and-family-and-community-oriented club again – like Brentford – in the meantime, I’ll be happy enough watching players perform as a team and grow together and work for each other with drive and spirit to compete and win. Whatever they’re getting paid or how long’s left on their contract.

The Rovers delivered that on Sunday, but who knows what’s to come?

RIVERSIDER 23

 

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Grotesque – the frightening and not so wonderful world of Rovers’ fall

During the season I’ve regularly been privileged to have a couple of excellent bloggers deputise for me. 

I’ll need at least till my usual midweek slot to gather my thoughts and feelings but one of my friends and comrades felt the need to unload instantly and I think we are lucky to be able to host his musings….

Déjà vu all over again


(When it all looked so promising ..,, pic used by courtesy of Andy Currie) 

As a small boy I didn’t fully have a grasp on relegation; what it was, the impact and the implications. In that respect I seem to have much in common with the current owners of Blackburn Rovers F.C. I’d not long been initiated into the joys of supporting a football team but in my first full season relegation was a distinct possibility. I’d heard people around me worry about it; I copied the stock reply that I heard delivered many times;

“No, I think we’ll be OK, Charlton will go down not us…”. 
I didn’t understand what I was saying; it was simply a default, reflex response.
The following season we were in Division 3. I didn’t really care. As long as I could keep going, watching my team, having a cheeky pie every now & then, it was not an issue. In my defence, I was only 7 years old. 
It happened again in 1979. This time though it did hurt. I knew what the failure meant. I felt the pain and anguish. I despised the taunts from the “friends” who supported other teams…but mainly the ones from a little further east of Blackburn. 
Then the problems really started. We became quite good, positively dashing at times. Blossoming into a fine second division team and wait for it; threatening to gate-crash the big boys’ party in Division One, only to fail gallantly in the play-offs time and again.The Walker years are well documented. Still can’t believe what I saw in just 5 years. Still can’t reconcile how that legacy has been squandered so completely. 
The 1999 vintage was a litany of errors in managerial appointments and player recruitment. Ring any bells ? It felt like the alarm clock going off before you have had time to finish the dream. The princess was still trapped, I hadn’t saved her, but I’m awake now..! How do we get out of this one ? 
The answer was a canny managerial appointment and some very shrewd signings. A blue print that saw some fine talent grace Ewood over the next few years; under a series of capable managers…oh and Paul Ince of course. 
Then along come Venky’s; who in short order, have delivered two of the things they (allegedly) thought could never happen and 46 years on, my team is right back where they were in 1971, in my first full season as a fan. 
This one hurts the most without a doubt. Back to Division Three, learning nothing from the experience of the Premier League exit. It’s been like watching a close relative squander a hard-earned family inheritance due to a series of crass decisions; only to find themselves back on skid row, due entirely to their own profligacy and rank stupidity. 
The tale of Blackburn Rovers since 2009 has been nothing but self-inflicted wounds repeated ad nauseam. The biggest concern now is; “Is this as bad as it gets ?” 
I’m not entirely confident it is and there’s the rub. 
But what to do about it ? Last summer, my interest was waning largely due to the apathetic ownership and their serial incompetence. The appointment of the “outstanding candidate” (sic) was the final nudge I needed. The season ticket renewal form was binned and I decided it was mainly away games, with perhaps an occasional cherry-picked home fixture. 
A catalogue of player sales, a manager clearly out of his depth, boardroom re-shuffles, injuries, poor refereeing decisions, late goals…oh who am I kidding, we have got exactly what “We” deserve; if by “We”, you mean the owners/executives. 
The supporters, whether the “not a penny more” brigade, the “it’s my club, I’ll go whatever” and all shades in between, deserve better. Modern football is now a commodity. Clubs are bought & sold like cars. Fun to play with, the novelty wears off, the value quickly depreciates and they require a lot of TLC and routine maintenance. Once off the road they then need special dedication, knowledge, enthusiasm; (and no little cash) to restore them to former glories. 
And I guess that brings us up to date. Sunday’s events were no shock, not even a surprise let’s be honest. We’ve flirted so fervently with relegation all season it seemed that all that was missing was a full page advertisement in the Times announcing our impending nuptials. 
Yet still nothing from the absentee landlords. No idea as to understanding what value or pleasure can possibly gleaned from continuing ownership of a foreign plaything. A vintage sports car that’s no fun any more, that sits slowly rusting in a garage thousands of miles away. 
It’s not easy to take the positives from this “opportunity”; some fresh away grounds, some academy youngsters being given a chance, maybe actually winning some football matches ? 
I fear it is a long way back. Few of the necessary components of a fully functioning, fit for purpose football club exist at Blackburn Rovers currently.
Concerns over budgets and the epic scale of the continuing trading losses threaten the Walker legacy of the stadium, the training ground, the academy and the very identity of the club. 
Yet we are not alone in our predicament; Blackpool, Charlton, Coventry, Leyton Orient, Nottingham Forest to name but a few…all have suffered the vicissitudes brought upon them by their owners. It used to be a sport. It’s now a crying shame (unless you are a Burnley fan of course).

Old Blackburnian

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Rovers earn a slim shot at Salvation Sunday redemption

IMG_3882[1]I told you this would go to the wire, didn’t I?

Another week of counting the days and hours down, working out permutations, dreaming up scenarios….you just knew it wasn’t going to resolve itself last Saturday and give us all a day off.

Rovers have occasionally sorted their destiny out with a game or two to spare – Matt Jansen’s tumultuous winner  at Deepdale in 2001 followed by an unburdened awayday at Gillingham to enjoy, the Third Division triumph in 1975 sealed at Vale Park with a celebratory Monday night at home to Wrexham for Gordon Lee’s heroes to stroll through hungover and that wonderful night at Gigg Lane as Howard Kendall’s side confirmed their return to Full Members of the Football League status was followed on the Saturday after by an almost-erased-from-memory Ewood defeat to the self-same Shakers which was forgiven by all in the pervading euphoria  despite starting the day with an outside chance of sneaking the title.

Relegations – and I’ve fully experienced the misery of just four of those, not having really realised at age seven what would become the long-term significance of dropping out of the top flight in the World Cup summer of ’66  – have generally been confirmed with a game or two, if not weeks, to absorb the glum repercussions.

Last-day all-or-nothing finishes have been relatively rare with a couple of exceptions, most notably of course the time-stood-still moments which saw fleeting seconds of incalculable shock and misery almost instantly morph into unfettered ecstasy at Anfield in 1995.

In the pre-internet, pre-mobile era many of you will remember hearing the cheers ring around Eastville in 1981 when some fool decided to spread the rumour that Preston were ahead against Swansea. By full time most of us had realised that blokes with transistor radios pressed to their ears had the correct information that Swansea were winning at a canter and Kevin Stonehouse’s winner for us would only provide the questionable consolation of finishing level on points with John Toshack’s side but missing out on promotion to the top flight on goal difference.

We would have to wait another 11 years…

And Selhurst Park 1989….well, we just don’t even want to go there, do we?

Even in the joy of winning promotion in 1992, matchwinner Mike Newell denied us three or four minutes of cigars-out relaxation in the Wembley caldera by missing his second penalty!

The play-off spots of 1988, 1989,1990 and 1992 (although the final table shows you that even a defeat in that Speedie hat-trick game at Plymouth wouldn’t have mattered) were all clinched pretty late although never did we have the luxury Huddersfield Town were afforded last weekend of being able to field a virtual reserve XI for the second-last game – a questionable if understandable decision which was always going to raise an eyebrow or two as we hoped The Terriers would present Birmingham with rather more formidable opposition.

Personally, I think it would have been just as easy – and possibly just as unethical if wholly unprovable  – for David Wagner to send his usual team out with instructions to go meekly through the motions and avoid bookings, injuries and even 50-50 challenges and such.

I do think that a Rugby League style incentive for finishing high would be a welcome innovation….maybe Third plays sixth in a one-off semi-final at Thirds’s stadium, or third goes straight to the final with the others playing off for the right to meet them.

Brighton certainly suffered in their Play-Off campaign last season by going hell for leather to the final seconds of their 46th league game and starting over in the knock-out lottery absolutely crushed with disappointment.

Those with long memories could argue that in ’88 we got the benefit of playing a Millwall side who had clearly been on the pop all week.

Certainly on Saturday last we got the benefit of playing a Villa side who could not possibly have been any less competitive or ‘at it.’

Rovers did the job they had to do well but they could not have wished to be provided with a more weak, submissive foe on a day a win was imperative.

I foolishly backed Villa to go up at the start of the season and even more foolishly did so again at much longer odds after they splashed out in the January window.

They were living proof that a wealthy owner picking a proven manager and giving him zillions to spend is not necessarily guaranteed to bring success.

For the second time this season I’d have sent a steward to ask Henri Lansbury for £29 when he came off substituted for being a spectator.

But credit to Rovers for at least showing the doggedness and determination not to let Villa’s conceited mercenaries stroll about as they plainly seem to consider they have a God-given right to do.

The keeper (who hasn’t given us one moment of apprehension since claiming the spot that I can think of) and back five were, I thought magnificent, the midfield unfailingly industrious and Gallagher led the line gamely if gauchely at times.

I realise that Jason Lowe can do no right for some but I thought he was in credit with his display, particularly after supplying the pass for the goal when yet another moment of Villa insouciance offered the opportunity to capitalise.

He would be in even more credit with me if he can arrange to score the first goal on Sunday as I weekly back him at 28/1.

“One goal and one assist in his Rovers career,” grumbled one curmudgeon coming off, possibly with some degree of accuracy but with a level of cynicism even I would consider churlish.

The tenner tickets generated a large enough and otherwise cheery home following to match the travelling Claret and Blue Army and it all made for mostly a happy, positive afternoon of togetherness  in the sunshine.

The convivial atmosphere throughout and at the end was how you’d want to send the team off into a crucial decider. I thought the players’ and manager’s understated but appreciative gestures to the Ewood crowd at the end were pitched just right. It wasn’t a day or circumstance for parading round on a “lap of honour” however much the kids enjoy that kind of thing.

That may well be – and I desperately hope I’m wrong – the last game with such a “big match” feel at Ewood for some time as you couldn’t imagine Wigan, Oldham, Bury or Rochdale actually filling the Darwen End if we came down and Bolton have booked the kind of swift return we all hope for but somehow doubt we’re capable of engineering if the worst happens.

But for all we’ve been through and experienced down the decades, this Sunday could be the strangest and weirdest day of all.

Who could ever envisage that there could be an afternoon of football when a win might not be good enough but a defeat theoretically could be in the right circumstances?

If us, Birmingham and Forest all win and there is no difference in the margin of Forest’s and our victories, we’re down. If we lose 1-0 and Forest (unlikely I know but stranger things happen) lose 3-0 at home to Ipswich, we’ll be dancing in the streets of NW London, or in my case, Penwortham.

The happiest outcome for me – and lots of others I suspect – would be for both Rovers and Forest to win and Birmingham to lose at Bristol City perhaps undeservedly clearing Huddersfield of any responsibility for anyone’s plight.

Although much as I enjoy revisiting Nottingham it would make for an altogether less stressful afternoon if both Midlands sides can arrange to be three down after 20 minutes and conceivably a draw would do us.

It’s such a likelihood that there will be twists and turns from first minute to last though that Sky have seized upon the games at the bottom for live coverage rather than the somewhat academic matters of which play-off side finishes in which spot and plays who (and who avoids who as I suspect may be behind Huddersfield’s disinterest).

Television will be my family’s medium to follow proceedings but I sincerely hope those lucky enough to have secured sold-out tickets for Brentford’s away seats and terraces – yes, wonderfully there are still terraces at Griffin Park – enjoy the day, see a Rovers’ performance they can be satisfied with and most importantly spend the return leg of the journey celebrating.

The reasons, ramifications, repercussions and reflections if we fail are not subjects for discussion this week, I’ll be analysing them at length next week if need be. I sincerely hope I’m doing no such thing.

For now, all that need be said is to wish the manager, staff, players and travelling fans all the very best for a monumentally important day.

It’s not wholly in our hands but let’s do our bit on the day.

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BLUE-EYED BOY

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No pussyfooting – it’s the drop otherwise for Rovers

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So typically Rovers that in a season of agonies which began with 20 minutes of horror at home to Norwich and has improved only marginally and for brief periods since, we now could have to wait until the final minute of the final day before our fate is decided – and that’s the best-case scenario.
Of course that may well not be the case after Saturday but I have a feeling we will have another week of permutation-calculating. No wonder I’ve dropped below 14 stone for the first time in years.
Ironically we could quite easily have everything go our way tomorrow and still go down even if we emerge from what’s going to be a nerve-shredding last home game with any semblance of a chance.
I’ve seen every theory possible to man expounded this week from “Villa won’t be trying and their fans will be cheering us” to “Huddersfield will rest everyone at Birmingham having made the play-offs” and while you can see a smidgen of possibly-skewed logic to it all, the only people who can really save Blackburn Rovers are the 18 people selected to wear the shirt and the bloke who selects and instructs them.
They haven’t done much in the last 10 games to suggest that self-preservation is what’s really going on today but still our young hearts run free, imagining two perfect performances while everything else falls favourably to end an otherwise mostly thoroughly miserable campaign and at least avoid adding an ignominious new low to Venkys’ wretched seven-year tenure.
Third division football, any relegation even, doesn’t have to be the end of the world. I was at a  gig with a pal of similar vintage to me who’s a  lifelong Bolton fan earlier in the week and he said he’s really enjoyed what looks like being a  promotion campaign even if Bolton were hamstrung by restrictions on conducting incoming transfers, are still uncertain of their financial future and had to suffer indignities such as selling their training facilities to a rival.
“I admit I’ve enjoyed the feel of being a big fish in a little pool, out-singing home fans at away grounds, taking followings which are huge for that league,” said my pal, “…and just bloody winning a lot more.”
Like us Bolton can point to being a top-half Premier League side and playing in Europe what seems like a fortnight ago.
If you thought Rovers, ie anyone working on behalf of Rovers,  could appoint – or keep – and properly back a man capable of weaving a silk purse from such conditions as Phil Parkinson has then you’d almost accept a season or two of it but the more all-pervading dread at Ewood is that we are locked into an inexorable vortex of atrophy and descent to an even more Hades-like destination than simply one season’s worth of visits to Boundary Park and Spotland,  if such a thing is indeed imaginable.
This time last season the lugubrious Paul Lambert – doing a similarly inspirational job at Wolves if this week’s events are anything to go by – unexpectedly pulled out two pretty welcome but largely meaningless wins against a pair of sides with little to play for to end his own wearisome and underwhelming spell at the helm with a little bit of a flattering flourish.
Oh, for a repeat of that but Villa and Brentford are sides which have improved towards the back end of the season and I don’t care what anyone says, they and their managers will be gunning for a Rovers team which is surely known around the game as flaky on their own ground and virtual canon fodder away from home.
Tony Mowbray’s response to this has been to employ a caution-first approach in recent weeks but you can’t really do that time and time again and profess at the same time the pledge to start games on the front foot with attacking intent aforethought.
If you repeatedly hand the opposition the initiative it’s no point complaining if they seize it in open hands.
I didn’t see anything but the briefest of highlights from Molineux but the recurrent theme from away regulars whose verdict I usually seek out as a sensible view hammered home the point that we contributed little that was pro-active in terms of taking charge against a team customarily almost as nervy on their home patch as we are.
I realise that Villa are the kind of team that can probably hurt you on the counter with the likes of Hogan, Adomah and Kodija but the time for pussyfooting has surely passed and only a bold approach will win the day.
People are very fond of saying, when their team is largely outplayed but sneaks a goal and holds on, “the manager got his selection and tactics spot on today,” but I would be surprised if that was Mowbray’s Plan A against a side who despite underachieving hugely – and after appointing the kind of manager and spending the kind of money Rovers fans once dreamed of Venkys spending in a bid to go back up  – have dangermen all over the field.
The bottom line is that we have too many players who just aren’t good enough, have no inclination to lead by example and no capacity to demand that the rest raise their standards. And possibly, no deep objection to being benched or left out altogether.
It says it all that I saw some discussion of an innocuous performer like Eliott Bennett being nominated as Player of the Year earlier this week. I’ve got nothing against the lad and he’s provided a few goals and assists in recent weeks but he started two Championship games before mid-January, lasting 45 and 61 minutes respectively, and appeared further for a total of 109 minutes over five substitute appearances in the league to that point.
What does that say about those who were regulars in the first 20-odd games?
That’s of no consequence as regards Saturday of course and you could possibly argue that anyone responsible for two winners this next week or keeping clean sheets would be in the running for such an accolade.
As a crowd of supporters we all like to think we can play a part in proceedings and although Ewood has never really enjoyed any kind of reputation as a simmering cauldron of passion worn on the sleeve  or hostility towards visiting teams (well, except that other lot in claret and blue) it’s important that the three sides of the ground  we occupy on Saturday make their presence felt faced with what seems likely to be a  packed Darwen End in those colours.
Credit to Rovers for re-thinking their original decision to charge home fans Category A prices (I think that’s £29 in the Blackburn End, a lot of money to watch a failing outfit), I hope many will take advantage and I’ve tried to encourage a couple of non-regulars to come along even though I’m always ever-so-slightly miffed at season-ticket holders’ pro rata per game rate being undercut – I pay £279 for 23 games, working out at over £12 a game.
I always write to Rovers and point this slight anomaly out and got a semi-reasonable response this week* but there would be no-one more delighted than me if we had the best attendance of the season and it helped eke out a victory.
Whatever befalls us, and as we all know and fear it could be the worst, I hope all will remain civil and reasonable with fellow supporters. Of course there’ll be an outpouring of disdain, hatred even for the owners and the inept board which made the mistake everyone saw but them in making the doomed appointment of the hapless and incompetent Owen Coyle.
Some of the stuff I see on social media and forums disparaging supporters who choose to continue go to games and eschew the token protests periodically suggested (ie the vast majority of even those who continue to attend) is frankly risible.
It’s ugly enough to see on the phone or computer screen so let’s not delight our close rivals by presenting a squabbling, divided rabble gift-wrapped on TV to them.
Personally, I’ll just, as I always do skulk off to the pub disappointed and discuss our sorry plight with mates if the (unfortunately) eminently thinkable happens, I’m just not that demonstrative a person to want to hang about howling abuse at an object of scorn who isn’t there and probably couldn’t care less.
I asked our daughters this week if they wanted season tickets next year and the answer was a  resounding “yes” whatever occurs so it looks entirely certain that we’ll be continuing our family’s century of support for at least another year.
I must admit I was proud of them for that even if I think it will be some time before we re-ignite their mother’s once-legendary enthusiasm! Far from feeling compelled to instruct them that they should be boycotting games or sticking Venkys Out stickers up and down – and as strong, smart individuals they are perfectly at liberty to do those things if they wish – I’ll continue to enjoy my afternoons and evenings out with them and lifelong Rovers buddies.
With rather less road in front of me than I have travelled down the decades I can’t yet bring myself to chuck it in. Watching Chorley or Stanley has no pull for me, shopping certainly hasn’t and I’m living in hope that the girls decide they want to travel to away games – provided they’d put up with me tagging along!
I’m greatly looking forward to finally meeting Old Blackburnian who often sits in for me and dashes this column off these days in person at Saturday’s game (or hopefully in the pub before too)  as well. As someone who has found the long journey from his home in South Yorkshire an unpalatable one this season as his match-day pals have dwindled, he’ll get a warm welcome if he chooses to resume his patronage and sit with the Blue Eyed clan and his fellow contributor Riversider23 whatever standard of football we are taking part in come August.
I recently spotted that it was exactly 50 of those years ago that a midweek trip to Burnden Park with my dad finally did the trick a few dozen Saturday home games had failed to do and got me hooked, lined and sinkered as a Rovers fan.
After sitting in front of him on the handlebars of his bike down Livesey Branch Road many times and parking up at an old aunt’s next door to the White Bull, Saturday afternoons at Ewood pre-1967 had failed to captivate me and remarkably for one so anal-retentive about dates and facts I remember little of who we played or which games I saw.
There was something about the journey to Bolton though, parking up in the early April evening, walking to the ground among men wearing scarves in the home club’s colours with a slightly darker blue, the sounds, the smells of food and cigarettes, the sounds of the partisan home lot howling their slogans and the floodlights coming on as the night darkened…
After all the blue and white I’d had ingrained in me from age four or five onwards, I finally fell for a team wearing all red! We won 1-0 a Bryan Douglas winner I recall. I was a lifer from that night on.
And as Van the man says: “It’s Too Late To Stop Now.”
BLUE EYED BOY

* An excerpt from Rovers’ reply.

We did debate at length whether we should reduce prices to this level as we don’t like to undercut the price that our loyal season ticket holders have paid.   As a club we felt that season tickets are already great value – effectively providing 9 free games in the Riverside when set against the price of match tickets.

 In the end we went with the offer in the hope that  season ticket holders would understand the reasoning behind the decision.  It is imperative that we fill the ground on Saturday in order to stand any chance of playing in the Championship next season.  This game is massively important for the future of the club and its Championship status and we are trying to create a ‘Fortress Ewood’ feel, which requires large numbers of home fans in the ground – especially given that we are likely to be facing 6-7,000 Aston Villa fans in the Darwen End.      

 So think on – you get “nine free games a season” – as opposed to the many thousands of people who attend every one of the 23 games and pay the individual match price, presumably.
And surely if you’re trying to create a “fortress Ewood” feel, after 22 games winning seven, you possibly don’t give over the whole of the Darwen end to 7,000 visitors?
Obviously the points were relatively unimportant in games against the likes of PNE, Leeds and Newcastle when the club were happy to ensure the minimum number of home supporters turned out by charging Category A prices while giving away fans the same 7,000.
Smarten up, someone.
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All things must pass but mainly backwards and sideways for Rovers

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I’ve just finshed the music writer/TV presenter David Hepworth’s wonderful book “1971 Never A Dull Moment” a fabulous month-by-month roller-coaster ride through the year he considers the best and most artistically fertile ever for rock music.

Hepworth makes the point that in the genre of popular music, the notion of nostalgia for the past and re-packaging it hadn’t then been invented.

Not that, aged 12, it would have mattered to me if it had. If I was in the formative stages of pop fandom and “Disco 45 Songwords” mag, printing out the lyrics to Chicory Tip songs, was dictating my mood and metier more than the NME or Melody Maker arguing the merits of Zep’s or The Who’s latest.

I was practically a fully-formed football fan by then however, five years or more into being as obsessed and consumed by the game as a whole and my hometown team specifically as I would soon be by Bowie, Roxy Music and The Velvet Undergound and in April of that year of 1971 my pre-pubescent incarnation felt the pain of relegation for the first time.

Oh I knew we had come down from the top flight just before the World Cup Willie summer of ’66. I’d even been at some of the games but without any real idea why I was there, what was going on or what the concept of falling from one division to another really entailed.

By ’71 I’d voluntarily had our history, recent and bygone, drummed into me, I was insatiable for knowledge about the past. When you are 12, tales of the likes of FA Cup finals, Ronnie’n’Bryan, Mike England, 7-2 wins over Spurs, a marvellous marauding forward line of Ferguson-McEvoy-Pickering-Douglas-and-Harrison are magical but they are half your life away and seem as distant as recollecting your grainy memories of the Beatles/Stones era today.

Hepworth inexplicably doesn’t weave our relegation into his narrative as he does with most major news events of the year but to me it was as seismic and painful as any world event.

It was my first year at secondary school. At games, I’d be allowed to stand on the Blackburn End with new pals from St Mary’s College, my dad and granddad close by but allowing me just enough room to roam that I felt that first flush of independence. I still meet up with three or four of the same lads for a  pint before games and sit next to one at every match. The ties that bind.

What a shocking season it was. Six wins (out of 42 games). One away win. Two wins before December. One win out of the last 15. Our joint top league scorers with six apiece were Eamonn Rogers, a gifted maverick but visibly and tragically falling out of love with the game by then, and Brian Conlon, a much-travelled forward who looked about 80 to us kids and sadly played as if he was at least two-thirds that age.

Three blokes scored four. Nobody else scored more than two. We went out of both cups at Burnden and Goodison at the earliest stage without a goal in either.

For the final game, against Bristol City at Ewood, just 3,971 turned up – at the time the record low attendance for a  league match. It was beaten, bizarrely, on a Bank Holiday Monday in 1984 at the end of a season we’d finished in what now would be the last play-off spot!

We were already down by that final Saturday against Bristol. We’d been to Burnden the previous Saturday tea-time (A 5.30pm kick-off  “to avoid clashing with Turton Fair” I’m reliably informed) and the bottom two clubs, each Football League founder members neither of whom had played in the Third Tier to that point, played out a drab 1-1 draw in a match Rovers needed to win against the already-relegated Wanderers.

Conlon, a kind of ageing Chris Brown who did actually score occasionally, scored our goal. A bloke called Freddie Goodwin, a full-back who wasn’t the best, scored their goal. Trouble was he was our full-back. It was that kind of occasion played out before a paltry derby crowd of just over 7,000.

In the week, we were away to QPR, Rodney Marsh et al. In those days, with no cell phones, sports news channels, no Five Live, no local radio, unbelievably you had to wait for the end of the nine o’clock news for the football results to be briefly read out, bereft of any further details until the morning paper arrived.

My dad came up and broke the unwanted tidings to me that we’d lost 2-0 and were confirmed as down. I cried myself to sleep. I don’t think football has ever felt quite so crushing since whatever’s happened.

Eight years later, age 20, now working for a clerk’s wage and a travelling fan who went all over the place, I was on the Riverside (4,684 the gate on a Wednesday night against Fulham) as virtually everyone present broke into a chant of “When we all go down, we all go down together.”

I still don’t know what we all really meant by it but that and The Jam’s “Thick As Thieves” sum up for me the post-punky spirit of youth and the camaraderie we enjoyed as a bunch of fans following a crap side at the decade end.

After another hideous campaign we were Division three-bound again. This time we had won 10, but most of them far too late to matter. Simon Garner with eight was top scorer. The 5-0 defeat at Oldham on Good Friday was the only time I’ve ever walked off a ground early watching Rovers for reasons other than illness and I saw all five goals – and Faz getting sent off in utter frustration – before departing with two minutes left.

If you thought things couldn’t get worse than that 24 hours later we were at Ewood to see us lose 2-1 to, of all people,  Burnley.

“Clarets twist the relegation knife,” ran the Saturday night Sports Pink headline.

Can you compare one relegation with another? Are circumstances now worse than then? Who knows, only history can tell you what the future once was.

Most of us hope that Venkys will have a tipping point but none of us know when or what will trigger it.

Perhaps we would find a buyer or at least a caring steward in the image of a Bill Fox or Bill Bancroft. A steady and locally-connected hand in the boardroom would find favour with everyone.

Ian Battersby, who’s spoken with nothing but sense and compassion about the club and its situation would be everyone’s favourite to find a backer and lead any attempted route map back to glory.

That’s the hope. A wealthy backer maybe.

There wasn’t a bloody prayer of one of them in 1971 or 1979! I recently scoured the Evening Telegraph pages from that era in the library archives and in the pre-Twitter/Facebook epoch people expressed their frustration by writing to the local paper.

Far from seeing the era as one where the club’s directors “had the best interests of the club at heart” (and, boy, they did) as I am often told now, the noisiest and most vociferous critics wrote in reams about how they lacked ambition, wouldn’t invest and lacked the imagination to speculate to accumulate.

There are dozens of such letters. I wrote some of them myself!

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose, eh?

What we will need, first and foremost is a decent manager. Mowbray resigned at Coventry saying you couldn’t do much with frees and loans which is sadly what we will be dealing in.

Phil Parkinson hasn’t done badly at Bolton though.

It wasn’t as disastrous as 1979 (which had a third game in four days and a shock 1-0 win at packed Roker Park as a welcome but ultimately meaningless little twist) but two steps forward, two steps back. That was this Easter, though it could be a (generous) description of our midfield, a unit so static and bereft of athleticism and sharpness that Opta stats on four of those wooden figures across a table football pole would surely suggest more positive movement and sprints in a 10-minute tap room encounter than most of Rovers’ midfield  clocked up in 180 minutes over the Holiday weekend.

I’ve watched football enough decades in enough far-flung points of the compass to know that any away win is to be savoured and I dropped lucky on Friday when my only road trip this season yielded three priceless points.

I didn’t think it was the greatest performance. Forest ran out of ideas, we had none to start with other than keep a clean sheet – nothing wrong with that – and we got the delivery spot on at one of the few set-piece danger moments our largely timorous approach afforded.

Mahoney looked the only viable outlet or source of a telling ball for much of the game and his perfect inswinger precipitated joyous “Duffy at Brentford” scenes.

Me and Mrs Blue Eyes witnessed them from the Brian Clough stand, immediately looking down on the away section. Our daughters were in with the Rovers lot though and it was wonderful to see them come singing and dancing across the car park, overjoyed and carried away with the significance of the occasion, when we met up with them after.

It was a classic Howard Kendall defend-properly-you-get-one-point –sneak-one-you-get-the-lot display and the back four and keeper deserved every credit. The fans who’ve travelled up and down and watched us play far better and get nowt on occasion deserve it far more than we occasional day-trippers too.

That ought to have been the springboard to set about Bristol City, who recently capsized to the tune of 5-0 at Deepdale, like a pack of rabid dogs.

But once again, by five minutes into an Ewood game, we have lapsed into that soporific, slow-slow, slow-slow-slow fug of a tempo, allowing the opposition – this a side which recently won one out of 20-odd, mark you – the opportunity to pass it around and feel comfortable and unharried, neat triangles, people skipping into space unaccompanied, full-backs constantly finding space.

As ever, we made the visitors look a good side. Okay they were coming off two wins but they’re not Rinus Michels’ Ajax side which is precisely what we made them look like.

One of my pals summed it up better than I could: “Quite simply we don’t work hard enough with or without the ball, that’s why we concede so many.”

Their goal was a perfect illustration. Somebody counted 31 passes, most in our half before a clever run by Abraham allowed him the kind of finish your bored mate who once had trials with Everton, played non-league for money and still runs half-marathons scores to make it 18-3 against your lot in the weekly over-45’s kick-about on the Astroturf he’s been asked to make up the numbers in.

You can guarantee that if we get to make 31 passes, Derby away excepted, 27 will be in our own half and the final one will evade our widest player’s attempt to catch it as it sails  over his head into row 14.

 The lack of any kind of response was so staggering that when Rovers actually did produce an equaliser they had scarcely threatened it seemed as difficult to comprehend as the 72 minutes of mind-numbing incompetence which preceded it.

Even then there was little need for Elliot Bennett’s unseemly posturing to the Riverside.

He’s been far from our worst performer of late and popped an odd goal in but after declaring to those daft enough to follow him on Twitter that the relegation battle was now so important that he would be depriving his acolytes of his social media wisdom in order to fully concentrate on his job (Gee, thanks, El, so glad you’re going to give this your best shot from March onwards, how will we manage without  “3 massive points 4 the boys today and a  great away following”) his reaction to actually slinging a cross in competently was way over the top and beyond the merely celebratory.

Tony Mowbray has to shoulder a bit of blame for the remarkable lack of urgency in the last two home games. With wins a must and decent attacking players among his armoury, setting up to approach the Bristol game in a similar mind-set to Forest away was handing the initiative to the foe from the off.

He’s been unlucky with injuries to Mulgrew, Lenihan and Graham but could have got more out of the three strikers available (the moronic Stokes presumably awarded another idiocy-related absence  after his brief and unremarkable cameo at the City Ground) with a more positive approach, possibly involving Guthrie on the field at some stage.

Guthrie, however, probably has to ask himself, after witnessing Lowe and Akpan flounder from the bench: “How on earth have I given the manager the option of leaving me out when that’s the competition?” Guthrie turned 30 this week and needs to take a good long look at himself if there is reasoning behind his omission.

I think we’ll now need a minimum of two wins from the last three and I can’t see it happening.

Forest’s fixtures look less imposing than Birmingham’s but the appointment of Harry Redknapp is an “It’s A Knock Out” style joker card to throw in after the misery Zola visited upon them.

How ironic if, as predicted by my fellow columnist Old Blackburnian, Paul Lambert  and his Wolves side, safely mid-table, hammer a decisive nail into our relegation coffin on Saturday.

For one of our girls, aged 12 as I was, it would be a first real taste of relegation since becoming a supporter around the start of the 2012-13 season when hopes were high of a swift return to the top flight.

Five seasons of failure and disappointment followed by Third tier football would exactly mirror my initial fan experience.

I desperately hope Mowbray sends the team out in a positive frame of mind for these last three and gets the wins which spare her that ordeal, the one that dad wept over, 46 years ago.

My favourite line in the David Hepworth book is one he quotes early on, describing a meeting between Paul McCartney and the gentlest of the Beatle souls, George Harrison.

McCartney desperately wanted to get away from the Apple contract which meant that despite the band breaking up, they were inextricably bound together in perpetuity in a seemingly unbreakable business arrangement and asked George to agree to his release from the commitment.

“You’ll stay on the fucking label. Hare Krishna,” snapped George with a strange cold-eyed mixture of corporate stubbornness and mystic religious gobbledook peace-and-love sentiment.

That’s what being a Rovers fans sometimes feels like. However much we’d like to get out of the contract we have to stay on the effing label forever!

Hare Krishna indeed!

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

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Back-foot Ewood timidity leaves Rovers needing big hits with five left

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At the exact time I write this, 37 years ago to the day, I was stood at Knuzden traffic lights with a  bag of butties and six cans of Stein lager awaiting the Accrington Branch of Rovers Supporters Club coach to St James Park.

Exeter, not Newcastle. We were going full tilt for promotion from Division Three.

I’d run out of Persil vouchers for cheap train travel and knew Paul Astley, now sadly no longer with us, who ran the coach operation so decided to “slum it” on the Aspdens yellow and black bus which didn’t even afford the luxury of an on-board toilet.

A “comfort break” meant pulling into the services, or even less edifying, onto the hard shoulder and dozens of blokes disappearing as best they could into whatever foliage was available for cover. Or, for those less bashful, simply not bothering.

With the stink of stale sandwiches, cheap beer, sweaty male flesh and the cumulative odour over a period of hours of all conceivable unpleasant bodily functions it wasn’t for the feint-hearted, so imagine my surprise on seeing a couple of perky teenage girls among the be-denimed, cheap training shoe-wearing throng.

The shyer of the two lasses, a pretty red-head, caught my eye. By the end of the game, which we lost 2-0 to end a run of 15 games dropping  just a single point (and a record run of eight consecutive victories) I was fairly smitten.

I was particularly impressed by how she’d steadfastly ignored boos and jeers from three sides of the ground as, wearing a Rovers scarf, she was accompanied by stewards out of our paddock around the running track to the only female toilet in the stadium behind Exeter’s home end.

Lesley was possibly the only girl in Blackburn whose mum was so concerned about her obsession with football and concerned she didn’t have much interest in finding a boyfriend that she was clearly delighted to wave us off when I picked her up outside the door on Peel Mount about a year later in my battered old mini to go to a Jam gig, our first real date.

The young girl in question is now my wife and mother to our kids, although it was a winding and complicated path true love took and at one point we didn’t see each other for 20 years.

In the interim, as they say, I was in the same relationship for a lot of the time …just with a lot of different women!

We made promotion that season, just 12 months after being relegated to the Third Division for the second time in eight years.

Now, we are on the very cusp of a return to that tier. I honestly can’t see us getting out of this one.

Just as in 1971, we face a second relegation five years after dropping out of the top flight.

If a relationship was failing so repeatedly and spectacularly, one of you would walk away for everyone’s good.

Supporting a football team is the opposite though.

Whatever the ups and downs, highs and lows, however intolerable it seems at times, divorce or a fresh love interest isn’t an option.  At least not for my generation.

If it was, days like Saturday would surely precipitate it.

Another absolute horror show, in full view of the kids too, it would be a tipping point if it was any other kind of human endeavour gone sour.

In actual fact, we are booked to go to our only away game this season at Forest on Friday and even my Mrs, an infrequent attendee at games these days, will be present as we meet up with friends from our spells living in Nottingham and re-visit some favourite old haunts.

But if any hope remained before that Barnsley abomination, I very much feel we blew our last shot at survival by losing so comprehensively to the Tykes.

It’s the hope that kills you, as they say, and for the briefest of periods it seemed the long-overdue change in management might just have come in the nick of time however long Venkys and their latest hatchet man Paul Senior had delayed it.

A decent half at Burton here, a couple of narrow home wins there….it was all so simple. A bit of organisation. Passing, movement, goal threat. All those things you see because all of a sudden you want to see them, you want to identify a quantum leap in performance standards.

But the signs were there and the stats backed them up… the revival was brief, short-lived and built on the flimsiest of evidence. Possibly illusory.

Going a goal behind in seven consecutive games, six of them in the first half, is a trait inherited from Coyle, not an upgrade.

By my reckoning, the last time Rovers scored the first goal in the first half of a home game was against Wolves in October, a truly astonishing and shocking stat for a side with woeful away form (no wins in 11) for whom home wins are paramount.

Every successive Rovers manager talks of the importance of seizing the initiative at Ewood, coming out of the starting blocks at a high tempo, getting on the front foot from the whistle. Nobody can deliver it.

Never has it been more evident than on Saturday when a Barnsley side put together on a modest budget by a manager no more decorated or experienced than Gary Bowyer was at Ewood, played us off the park with smart, thoughtful incisive football.

If Tony Mowbray was, as so many were keen to credit him, responsible for an instant improvement in performances following Owen Coyle’s departure, he surely cannot be fully absolved for the subsequent  dip in standards which culminated in Saturday’s most shockingly abject of capitulations.

I don’t know if he was simply trying to justify being so comprehensively out-thought and out-fought but if he gave Barnsley as big a build-up before the game as the shower of praise he lavished upon them after, no wonder our lot came out looking as afeared and tentative as if they were up against Bayern Munich.

This lot had gone eight without a win, remember, to say Mowbray felt moved to so rhapsodise about the quality of their play and the inevitable threat they carried.

The injuries to Lenihan (unfortunate) and Mulgrew (not exactly impossible to predict) left him with little option in the centre-back positions but though the opening goal was yet another simply-defended set-piece aberration (“at least this bloke knows how to set a defence up,” they were telling me a few weeks ago) and the second a wasteful piece of profligacy in possession by Hoban there were men all around the field with as little to be proud about as the execrable Wes Brown and his partner.

One reader of the column recently suggested (in an excellent and constructive series of comments) that our squad is better than Preston’s given the right management.

I’d argue that Saturday shows it isn’t and illustrates the inevitable outcome of shoddy recruitment while dispensing with your best players – a strategy which heralded both the 1971 and 1979 relegations.

To be dropping (delete where applicable and pick combination of your choice) Conway/Akpan/Feeney/Bennett/ Guthrie/Evans/Gallagher/Graham/Joao and replacing with whoever was last benched out of the same list is like shuffling a 2, 3 and 5 all in different suits at three-card brag.

Discussing who should play and who shouldn’t is all a bit like arguing which was the better drummer in Showaddywaddy or who was the best musician in the Bay City Rollers. One or two might not have been the worst and might conceivably have got a gig in a better outfit but without a miracle worker in the manager’s seat – and Mowbray suddenly looks very unlike one – the whole of Rovers team is currently amounting to rather less than even the sum of the very mediocre parts.

There are ways to lose if you’re going to be defeated. This was reminiscent of previous inexcusable low watermark relegation season defeats offering no hope whatsoever  – Kidd’s “rubber dinghy men” against Forest and Kean’s laughably inept attempts at Spurs and Swansea in which a side desperate to save itself barely mustered a “penalty box incursion.”

It reminded me more though of a 1979 home defeat to Cardiff, 4-1 on a Wednesday night after which the Evening Telegraph’s pull-no-punches Rovers reporter David Allin compared the side’s survival instinct with that of an extinct animal with the (in)glorious headline: “Oh no! At least the dodo fought for its life”

It was significant that Barnsley were able to bring on two out and out goalgetters in Tom Bradshaw and Adam Armstrong as substitutes late on. At the very juncture when a side away from home ought to be under the cosh and defending a spirited comeback by the home side for dear life, clearing a couple off the line and looking to shore up with an extra defender or defensive midfielder, they were rightly sensing snatching a couple more.

I’ve come off dozens of games a tad disappointed not to have won more comprehensively and I bet a few Barnsley fans felt similar.

Only Mahoney offered any hope and wanted the ball. Yes, his end product was negligible and his decision-making questionable at times but there were others on that field happy to hide and shuffle up and down unnoticed.

If anybody wanted firm evidence of why his career might progress more at Oakwell than Ewood however, this game and Barnsley’s enterprise and excellence presented it starkly.

It’s a sorry state of affairs which the strange inertia of our owners has visited upon us. Nobody can defy the likes of Burnley, PNE and Barnsley the right to self-improve and progress although it hurts that clubs who were not long ago light years behind us are now looking back at us almost sympathetically.

And we are yet to see a single sign that those charged with the stewardship of Rovers can offer any glimpse of a strategy to eventually set us on a course to recovery.

So now me, the girl from the bus stop and our two kids are off to Forest hoping for a turn-up and a twist in the relegation saga but based only on history’s capacity for throwing up unforeseen quirks, not on any empirical evidence.

We lived in Nottingham for a time (Mrs Blue Eyes much longer than me, partly explaining that 20 years  between dates), our youngest was born there, and it will be nice to see some good friends and revisit favourite old haunts. 

The match looked important when we booked it. Not this important though. Lose and the game’s virtually up. 

By the time Bristol City come to Ewood on Monday for what could have been a crucial six-pointer it could be largely academic.

It seems as if young Rovers fans will be boarding buses to Oxford, Peterborough, Walsall and Northampton next year, maybe renewing local rivalries with Rochdale, Oldham and Bury.

If Venkys have a tipping point, maybe the only good to come from relegation could be that this is it, though I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Oh for a boardroom full of Bancrofts, Browns and Fox’s and an inspirational figure such as Howard Kendall, for whom, bleary-eyed and hungover from Friday excesses we packed our butties and beer on Saturday mornings for frills-free travel the length and breadth of England!

Whenever I discuss those days with contemporaries who were there the memories of the camaraderie, togetherness and sheer love and pride for the club cause middle-aged men and women’s eyes to glaze over with happy nostalgia.

I didn’t care who thought we were small time and it’s one of the reasons punks on messageboards and social media won’t convince me to turn my back on my club now.

When Burnley and Preston were down to 2,000 turning up, 1,700 even, I took the mickey uproariously and derided their lack of loyalty.

“See if you turn up if it ever happens to you,” they’d say.

If there’s one thing keeps me going, it’s not having that lot say: “I told you so.”

*Finally we all join in sending our good thoughts and heartfelt best wishes for a full recovery to those injured in and affected by the awful accident outside Ewood on Saturday.

A peaceful and enjoyable Easter to everyone else, however taxing our predicament on the football field.

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

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Tony’s diminishing returns down south make Roses revival a must

Two wins from nine, 12 goals conceded.

That’s the record for Tony Mowbray so far.

Coincidentally, it was also the record of Owen Coyle over his last nine Championship games in charge.

True, Mowbray has eked out five draws where Coyle managed only three but the stats tell you that despite all the optimism and perceived improvement since the managerial switch, we lie just a place higher and still in the relegation places.

We are all very fond of seeing things as we want to see them. Coyle of course “didn’t know how to set a team up to defend”

Mowbray does, and he “speaks very well,” says everyone. He’s a proper football man, you know.

But he has the identical resources at his disposal thus far as Coyle had and while we all saw a seven-game unbeaten run as heralding an upturn in our fortunes, all of a sudden the realisation is dawning that we have won two out of the last 11, none out of siximg_11081 whoever was in charge of which particular game.

That’s relegation form in anyone’s parlance or however you dress a few draws up. Teams in trouble need wins.

When Coyle was sacked we lay two points from safety but with a superior goal difference to the side who stood 21st.

We are now a single point behind Bristol City – another of those lucky clubs with a  wealthy local backer who cares deeply about the club – the likeliest candidates to drop below us, but despite their hammering at Preston on Tuesday while we were losing at Reading, their goal difference remains four better than ours.

They also have four home games from their final six, all of them against teams in the bottom half (albeit starting by entertaining in-form Wolves on Saturday).

As bad as they’ve been, you can do the maths required if, say, they were able to win two or three of those and pick an odd point up besides although getting cuffed five ‘baht in a game you need to scrap for your lives in hardly portends a run of victories.

It’s WD40 to the rear sub-navel aperture time alright.

The only positive from a pair of undistinguished displays against admittedly high-flying Southern promotion contenders has been that there wasn’t too much collateral damage in the way of other teams around the bottom three picking points up, Burton with their creditable win at Huddersfield excepted.

One nervily awaits news of Charlie Mulgrew’s injury (and hopes that Tom Hoban’s ring-rustiness being thrown into the fray and being comprehensively beaten to two goal-bound headers was just that) although the Scottish international was himself partly culpable for Brighton’s winner, wrongly deciding to let the onside Glen Murray dart in front of him.

Mulgrew has been otherwise largely admirable when fit and the side without him lacks the degree of composure he exudes and brings to others via his calmness on the ball.

 Mowbray went for some decidedly odd changes at Madejski Stadium in midweek – what he felt Feeney and Akpan might bring to the party is unclear – with Emnes., Joao amd Guthrie joining Mahoney on the bench.

That’s quite a lot of weaponry and creativity to have the option of bringing on but sometimes I look at fellas and think what is it that the manager sees when he looks you in the eye that makes him think you can’t be trusted to start game after game?

I like blokes whose performances say: “You can pick who you want but you’ll get some stick if you think about leaving me out of the starting XI!” Too many of ours are content with an odd decent game here, a sub cameo there.

Much criticism has been hurled at Jason Steele, never entirely convincing in goal since arriving from Middlesbrough a  couple of years ago.

Many of those who feel Steele has been too often weak and easily-beaten will for the first time begin to seriously question the manager’s judgement if Raya is left on the bench much longer.

I must admit I have no firm conviction on this. I don’t know enough about Raya (how can you? He never plays a game) to be adamant that he would be an improvement. Do you chuck him in at this cataclysmic stage?

And I am certain that goalkeeping standards have dropped so alarmingly over decades that I don’t really know that you can expect much of anyone employed in that capacity in the lower half of the current second tier.

Gone, for sure, are the days when you could find a (Sir) Roger Jones in Division Three or pluck a Jim Arnold from non-league.

If Saturday’s game against Barnsley isn’t a must-win I don’t know what is. The Tykes are themselves without  a win in eight and must be despatched if we are to give ourselves a chance of surviving. A draw or defeat is unthinkable at the time of writing.

Rovers have baulked recent trends in announcing season ticket prices early and they are initially available at frozen prices, possibly to be regarded as a bargain or at least a  decent offer if we stay up.

We’ll doubtless renew ours but I fully sympathise with anyone not bothering. The Riverside staying open is a mild, pleasant surprise to me.

With our divisional whereabouts as yet uncertain I note there is no “promotion pledge” included!

Charging the same for League One football (without any incentive based on performance) will not have quite the same appeal however and with two cut-off dates during the summer after each of which the prices do actually go up, one wonders who on earth will be prepared to commit to paying more to watch a recently relegated team?

A great deal of hot air has been expended on Mike Cheston’s revelation at one of those tedious, staged supporter consultation PR abominations that the amount anticipated for season ticket sales has already been mortgaged.

It’s a mildly embarrassing admission but no more, it happens at many clubs. Likewise short-term loans.

As many will know from painful experience it’s a problem if you need short-term loans. It’s a bigger one if you can’t pay them back.

Certainly not to my reckoning worth getting the knickers in a twist about at this stage, although a select few will insist on doing so as they speculate feverishly about whether Suhail Pasha’ exists, who or what he is/does and his eligibility to work in the UK (who in the firmament cares?), the absence of verbatim Hansard-type stenographed minutes of the above-mentioned gathering of grunts and greens and sundry other periphery barely worthy of momentary attention, let alone forensic scrutiny.

I prefer to focus for the moment on what Tony Mowbray will be focusing on, the next game and the urgent need to win it.

Anything else can wait.

Hopefully there’ll be a good crowd on backing the home team to the hilt, although despite the recent multi-game packages I feel Rovers have shot themselves in the foot charging Category A for the potentially crucial Villa home game.

Then again, it should be no surprise from a club whose marketing is so clumsy I was forced this week to listen to an on-hold Rovers Ticketline recorded message about what grand Christmas presents half-season tickets would make – during the school Easter holidays!

Enjoy your weekend!

BLUE-EYED BOY

*Many thanks for your many messages of support following my revelations of harassment and unpleasant behaviour both on the phone and social media last week.

They really lift the spirits.

Some of the nonsense continued into the weekend with one bloke advising me to take down a tweet on which it was possible to ascertain my (now previous) address as it may be used for nefarious purposes!

He added: “Even worse if you’ve moved, the next occupiers could be targetted.”

A little detective quiz for you all.

If someone subsequently made mischief at your current or previous address, who would the authorities look to make inquiries with first other than someone who had effectively foretold it?

Another individual then effectively confirmed it was him who’d been misusing and circulating a family phone number by circulating one that I’d given in a tweet to an old reporter colleague to provide him with a tribute to the death of an old cricketing pal last year – no, there’s no depth these people won’t plumb.

If you hadn’t been misusing that particular number, why would you subsequently highlight it?

As my old mate Ronnie used to say: “too daft to blow balloons up.”

 

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