Friday 21st of September, Blackburn Rovers sit atop of the Premier League but have just been defeated by Middlesbrough, their first defeat of the season.
Saturday 17th of November, Blackburn Rovers sit outside the play-offs and have won only one game in four.
To the normal everyday football fan who has no connection with Blackburn Rovers, the exit of Steve Kean, much wanted by the fans back in September after the Middlesbrough game, will see this as a bad decision, as the team have slipped down the table and struggled to find form. However, the majority, near 100% of the Ewood faithful would say that the club is in a much better position.
Interestingly, the two fixtures above provide reference points, both were live on Sky. The first game, when Blackburn topped the table, many wondered why fans where still against Kean, Rovers where awful in a home game which arguably should have been a case of going through the motions – but the game showed why the Rovers fans where still unhappy – there was not much in front of goal, the passing was sideways, and there was no spark: both on the pitch or in the stands.
Fast-forward to Peterborough away on the 17th November and the football is fluid, there is attacking intent, whenever the balls goes near the opposition box you feel there is a chance that a goal could be on. The midfield is probing, and there is a link between the middle two and the front man. Possibly more importantly, the fans are back behind the team, and even more paramount, the manager, Henning Berg. The protests and the boycotts appear a distant memory as ‘Henning Berg’s blue and white army’ rings around London Road.
Ask most Rovers fans and they would happily take being sixth in the league but with the type of performances they are now witnessing. They are now being entertained – something that has been missing from Ewood Park since the days of Mark Hughes. A common correlation is usually the better you play the more points you win and the higher up the table you move – one can only hope this rings true.
Many questioned the appointment of Henning Berg and whether he was a) up to the challenge, and b) not just here for a payday and to get the fans on side. From the last month, it appears his love for the club is as strong as ever and his only goal is to be succesful.
Berg’s biggest factor in the change from a mediocre ‘flat’ side is the introduction of Ruben Rochina, giving him the license to rove between Etuhu/Murphy and Rhodes, providing that link and creating a spark – I’ve said it before, given the chance he will rip this league to shreds. Secondly, he is playing a settled team with the same 11 starting the previous 3 games, in which we have avoided defeat in each.
Another player to benefit is Adam Henley. Henley came in to the side when we short on players last season and coped well, but disappeared when Bradley Orr arrived. Since then Orr cemented his place under Kean and was widely seen as ‘One of Kean’s men’ infamously defending the Scotsman on the night Rovers were relegated. Since Berg has come in he has hardly featured and as a result has been sent out on loan to Ipswich, playing in a defence that shipped 6 on his debut – possibly removing a disruptive personality from a dressing room where harmony is needed. In saying that, however, Henley has deserved to keep his place on merit – he has been reliable at right back and has provided an attacking threat supporting Mauro Formica, and at 18 the young Welsh defender appears to have a bright future as a pacey full back who can do the defensive duties as well.
Berg has to take credit for the way Blackburn are playing at the minute, but Eric Black also deserves credit. I was quick to criticise Black for his Kean connection and his previous record with Sunderland, but he steadied the ship, and made sure we didn’t drift to far away for the top six before Berg came in. Under Black we shored up defensively and only conceded three goals in 6 games, and helped Rovers to a points haul of 9 from a possible 18 – not a bad return for a club ‘in crisis’. Perhaps his value and work has not gone unrecognised, with Berg keeping him for the time being as a first team coach/assistant.
With only 14 days until the all important Burnley game, Berg needs to continue his attacking philosophy and get the points on the board, while increasing the confidence and experience of the players – and important keeping Jordan Rhodes fit and firing (and hoping Charlie Austin is injured/suspended) for the game at Turf Moor on the 2nd December.