Today saw the third consecutive draw for Blackburn Rovers and the third time they had come from behind to grab a point – added to the win at Huddersfield preceding these games and that takes Blackburn to four unbeaten, 52 points, 12th place in the table and you would imagine, safety at least for this year, with an outside chance of making the play-offs, a very outside chance.
Looking back over the last three draws, the desire to remain in games must be seen – in contrast 12 months ago, and longer, had the team gone behind, the crowd would have turned, heads would have dropped and you could pretty much have written off any chances of getting anything from the game. At times, the crowd at Ewood, and to a lesser extent, the crowd at away games, were looking for reasons to get first on Steve Kean’s back, and then on the back of the owners. It is difficult to deny that such actions had a negative impact on the players on the pitch. At times last season I saw that it was hurting the players, particularly as they tumbled towards potential relegation. Last year there was a good likelihood that a poor run would result in a sacking for the manager – this year Gary Bowyer has been given time to put things right.
The job Gary Bowyer has had to undertake must not be underestimated. He has had to slash the wage bill to make the continued running of the club feasible, whilst maintaining a squad that can stay up as a minimum, and meet the expectations of the fans to push for promotion – all this, whilst contending with injuries and off-the-field issues around a number of players. Yet, as the end of March has arrived, the club are only 8 points off 6th place, with a game in hand – credit has to go to Bowyer and his staff for this.
Having said that, credit also has to go to the Venkys. They have let him get on with his job; not dragged him to India every two weeks; not had a ‘Global Advisor’ giving their two-pence every two minutes when things aren’t going right; and they have tried to bring stability back to the club they dissected it from. To add to this, they have continued to provide the funds to recruit players and pay the wages –albeit at a significantly reduced amount, but this is what the club needed. I think this reinforces the thoughts of some, that they were very poorly advised when they purchased the club and the information they were given was equally as poor.
Looking back, the sacking of Sam Allardyce is still seen by many as a very poor decision – but I disagree. Yes he would likely have kept us up that season, and the season after, and probably the season after that. But people forget that the football was appalling – playing for set pieces so that the ball could be pumped into the box and hope that it dropped for someone. Under Allardyce we would never have seen the creativity of the likes of Cairney, or the pace that Hoilett brought us, or the steady passing football from players composed on the ball, that we see at the minute. Look at West Ham – they won mid-week and yet still they were booed off the pitch as the standard of football was so poor. Sacking Allardyce wasn’t a bad decision by the Venkys, a worse decision was the man they chose to appoint replacement. Again though, I think they may have been poorly advised. What the club needed was someone with knowledge of the Premier League and how to get points on the board, but whilst also playing the game properly – look at the Premier League now and there are a number of teams in that mid-table bracket who will not go down, but who also like to get the ball down and play it. Route one isn’t the only option available to stay in the division.
This season there has been no sign at Ewood of Mr Shebby Singh and I think his removal by the Venkys is a good move, and has clearly let Gary Bowyer run his part of the club as he sees fit, and let the people upstairs do their job as well – without the fear of an outburst or bizarre comment in the press from the Malaysian (type Shebby Singh in to google and the second most searched item is “Shebby Singh funny comment” – says it all really).
Rather than a circus, the club is being run like a football club again – and being done so without any pretence of having to achieve promotion at all cost, and without the thought that we can spend our way back to the Premiership.
In my opinion, too much has been left to do to make the play-offs this year, and I don’t think promotion would be good for the club in the long term – the team is some way off Premier League standard – but the foundations are there. I would happily take 7th place and a season of stability and steady progress right now. If Bowyer can keep the current group together and make a few sensible additions (a permanent right back, cover at centre half, a creative midfielder), and move certain players on and off the wage bill, it will stand us in good stead for next season. I think giving Bowyer some spending money in the summer would also be a good idea – looking at the business he did in January (Gestede, Conway and Cairney) definitely shows he has an eye for a player and knows how he wants to play. Add to that a sprinkling of youth and I think we are very much on the right lines.
Given that the play-offs are most likely out of the question for this season, is there any harm in reviewing and ending some of the loans currently at the club and replacing them with some game-time for the youngsters coming through? Similarly, look down the road at Blackpool, and given a chance Goodwillie seems to have remembered were the net is – if he could be brought back in on goal scoring form, he could be like a brand-new signing.
So, credit where credit is due. When they first came in and for the 18-24 months following their arrival, the Venkys were subject to ridicule and criticism from all angles, but given that they have now let Bowyer and his team, and the people upstairs, get on with their jobs without interference, they deserve credit. They made a business investment and it went south and they tried looking for simple and quick solutions to get them back in the big league and get their money back – the only problem is that those decisions forced the club further in to the mire. However, it seems they have this season realised the error of their ways, and perhaps stop listening to the poor advice they received previously, and let those at the club get on with it. Hopefully, this will last and this new approach can spell good times ahead for Blackburn Rovers.