Taking the lead in under a minute of a football match, at home, should not lead to you fighting for a point, no matter what level you are playing or watching at. But for the second time this season, last night Blackburn took the lead very early on, only to concede 3 goals and be fighting for a point at home by the end.
Now before I get going, don’t get me wrong – I think Gary Bowyer is doing an absolutely first class job at Ewood, and without him, I fear we would be light years away from a return to the Premier League, if not completely bust or sat in League 2. What he has done at Ewood should never be over-looked or under-rated. He took a team fighting for their lives in the Championship, kept them up, reduced the wage bill, brought in youngsters, freebies and loan signings, and still almost managed a play-off place in his first full season as a manager. Maybe more importantly, he has got the team playing good attacking football, for most of the time. Gone are the long balls and boos, replaced by flair and optimism. The only problem is, he seems to lack a Plan B, or the courage or know-how to completely change his approach to a game half way through when it isn’t working.
The 3-2 defeat to Derby last night is a perfect example. For the first 10 minutes we absolutely battered a very good Derby side, but when the game settled and Derby were able to get on the ball, we didn’t get a look in, and it seemed they had an extra man on the pitch at all times. I’m not saying that we should have walked the game, but the majority of the crowd could see that after they got a goal back they were completely in control of the game.
Time and time again they were allowed to play the ball out from the back; Grant in goal rolling it out to his centre-half who was then allowed to play it across his backline and keep the ball until something opened up. With just the two forwards from Blackburn pressing, they had the composure to retain the ball, not panic, and wait for an opportunity to present itself – either a man over down the wing, or a ball in to the talented and composed Hughes in centre midfield. From this setup Derby got three goals, creating space to cut inside for the second two, and pick a corner.
If the centre-half’s have the time to play the ball amongst themselves, with only two opposition players pressing, surely someone deeper on the pitch is not picking someone up. It appeared last night that when the Derby backline had the ball, Corey Evans had been told not to push higher to encourage Cairney and the front two to close down in greater numbers, meaning that he was out of position and not picking up whenever they played the ball forwards. In my eyes, what Bowyer needed to do was almost switch to a 4-3-3 with an extra man to press higher up the pitch, maybe not as a striker, but in that number 10 role.
As much as I did not like the style of play Allardyce enforced at Ewood towards the end of his reign – one of his positive attributes was that he wasn’t afraid to make wholesale changes, making 2 or 3 substitutions at once, and/or completely changing the shape or system of a team. The ability to do this mid-game can have massive rewards – it can confuse the opposition and create space where space wasn’t before, and on more than one occasion it rescued a point or 3 when all looked lost.
Perhaps this is an attribute that Bowyer lacks due to his relative inexperience as a manager, or perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have an experienced assistant to talk him through this. However, it does seem to be making the team suffer when the opposition gets into their stride and nullifies Blackburn’s approach. It took until the 80th minute for the team to have a proper go at Derby last night and finally press them high up the pitch and put their defence under pressure, and it almost paid off. But it shouldn’t have been this way. If Bowyer had changed the system at half-time, or even got his players to press higher up the pitch, we wouldn’t have been depending on a last minute equaliser. That said, if he had changed the system at the break they could have been left exposed further whilst they try to arrange themselves and setup under new instructions. I suppose that’s the high pressure situation a manager finds himself in most weeks.
The team did give it a go though, and that is all that you can ask. Compared to the lacklustre efforts of recent years, the approach of the team is a million times better, and Bowyer has to be credited with that.
Other positives that can be taken from the game are the half an hour Tunnicliffe got – he looked composed on the ball, wanted the ball and didn’t look afraid of making a challenge. He looks to be the sort of player Blackburn have been missing – an all-round centre midfielder, with a bit of drive. Unfortunately, he can’t play against his parent club Fulham at the weekend.
On the subject of Fulham – they can’t buy a win, or a point, at the minute, so that usually means they can rely on 3 points against Blackburn (as history shows). I would say this if Felix Magath was still in charge, and I’ll say it with more emphasis now that he isn’t. One things for sure, neither team seems able to keep a clean sheet, so there should be goals a plenty. Let’s hope for once, we come out on top.