Fast flowing, attacking football resulting in goals from all over the pitch – from striker, to right winger, to central midfielder and to right back. It’s the sort of football, Blackburn fans have wanted for a number of years now. The only down-side – it was against a side with ten men, who sat near the bottom of the table. Well, you can’t have everything.
The season started so brightly for Blackburn at Derby, were they bossed the opening exchanges, then disaster struck. An injury to the brightest player on the pitch, Blackburn’s spark: Ruben Rochina. It was almost as though the wind was knocked out of their sails, and there was a feeling of “what do we do now?” amongst the team. In the meantime, Derby grew in confidence and stupid decisions led to the first goal of the game. After getting in at half time only one goal down the troops rallied and pushed for an equaliser, which they got at the death, but I think most Blackburn fans would argue that it was two points dropped rather than a positive away point. That was the optimism of the first weekend of the season – a stark contrast to disappointing performances against Ipswich and Wolves in previous seasons; could this be the optimism which could help the club rise from the ashes and mayhem of the last 24 months?
If the game at Derby was viewed as two points dropped – with minutes to go in the first home game of the season against Nottingham, those same Rovers fans would argue that a point at home would be a bonus as Nottingham Forest had been much the more dominant team. But football is a cruel game and one mistake from Jake Kean led to a late winner for the visitors – a disappointment given the effort and battle the team had put in over the game to grind out a draw. On to new boys Doncaster, an away game on a Friday – not because of Sky but because of the jet-ski world Championship over the same weekend (has a football ever been moved for such an event before?).
What many would see as a formality was anything but, as Blackburn were left in the wake of Paul Dickov’s side – Bowyer argued that the first goal was offside and the second a fluke – but you have to take the game to them and win it before you lose it if you take that approach.
Sandwiched in between these four games was a disappointing Capital One Cup defeat on penalties to Carlisle, in a game were Blackburn came from behind to lead twice yet lose on penalties – surely the old confidence ghosts hadn’t returned? For a two week period, it definitely looked as though they had.
In fact, up until about the 14th minute against Barnsley it looked as though the ghosts had returned. After again starting the brighter, a relatively tame long range effort trickled in at the far post. It was reminiscent of the season Blackburn got relegated: starting brightly but failing to capitalise and ultimately suffering the sucker punch. The crowd, again, got agitated, and it looked as though this could transfer to the pitch. But in the nick of time, step forward Jean-Yves M’voto to bring down Jordan Rhodes as he was clean through on the edge of the box – and like that fortunes can change.
The referee adjudged him to be the last man and sent him off (if the fixture had been at Barnsley and without the home crowd, I don’t think a yellow would have been a surprise), with Blackburn scoring from the resulting free-kick. From here they pushed on and led a comfortable 4-1 at the break, finally finishing at 5-2. The quick equaliser was crucial, as without this Barnsley could have sat back and defended their lead with ten men back behind the ball. One player who did shine in the deficit was Josh King who seemed to find a confidence which had been lacking since he signed last year, and time after time he got the better of his man and got a ball in to the danger area, capping the performance off with a goal.
At times the football was brilliant, and Blackburn attacked well and with a purpose, but you have to remember this was against a ten man team rooted to the foot of the table. I’m not saying this to put a dampener on the result or the performance – in fact, if anything, I think this should be used as a positive.
The team should take the positives from the game: Rhodes got a brace; King his first for a long time; and first goals for Kane and Cairney. But further to this, they should take the positives of how much they dominated and where able to make the extra man count, how it let them express themselves, and show the talent that players in the squad have.
The result against ten men also demonstrated something else – Blackburn are struggling to concentrate at the back, and even against a ten man team 4-1 down they still managed to concede. Towards the end of last season, the defence played really well and became very hard to score past, but that mentality seems to have gone and it does look as though Blackburn could ship a goal at any time (conceding a combined seven to Carlisle, Barnsley and Doncaster demonstrates this clearly). So what is the answer? You can’t commit the opposition to getting a man sent off every week, so there has to be a more sustainable plan B.
The solution may seem very gung ho, but it has worked time and time again in both this division and world football. In Jordan Rhodes Blackburn have one of the brightest and best finishers in the business; in David Dunn they have an experienced professional with flair and creativity; in Josh King they have a pacey winger who is full off tricks and can beat his man 95% of the time; and in Todd Kane and Tommy Spurr they have full backs who like to get forward and support the attack. Combine this with a central midfield of Lowe and Cairney and/or Marrow which many have argued is too flat and too defensive and surely you have a good mixture of defence and attack to allow the attacking players to express themselves and not worry too much about the defensive side of their game. If you don’t score goals you don’t win games. Too often in the last two years Blackburn have been guilty of not losing before they win – you can’t get promoted from a division with 46 draws, you have go out and win games. Blackburn definitely have the players to take the game to the opposition, and arguably they have the players to do the dirty defensive work to allow them to play this way – so why not give it a go? So far this season Blackburn have yet to go in front and defend a lead, I think if put in this situation, the defence would perform much better with something to defend, as opposed to the men at back almost feeling a responsibility to help push on and get the goals.
It’s just a theory but it has worked for Brazil for decades by scoring more than the opposition – why not give it a try and see what happens. It is a no-lose situation. The club expects to be in and around the play-offs come May next year, if you finish 7th, you may as well finish 17th, but at least the fans will be entertained and we will have given ourselves a fighting chance of escaping this division (whether we are good enough to compete in the Premier League at this current time is a different question entirely!).