I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t overly enamoured at the appointment of Tony Mowbray 3 weeks ago but as I said in my last post, he may be the best we could hope for and maybe a sensible choice given our predicament. Seven unbeaten games later and we have a fighting chance.
I had previously said that if we didn’t win at Burton in Mowbray’s first game we would almost definitely go down. However, the way we played in the first half of that game was enough to give me hope we had a chance, and having seen Burton hit the inside of both posts and the ball fall in to Steele’s hands in the last minute, I thought “you know what, we might have half a chance”. We absolutely battered Burton in that first half, keeping and passing the ball well, and unlikely to go in only one in front at half time. I wasn’t sure whether we had been really good, or they had been really bad. The second half was less of a walkover and in the end, a point was probably a fair result for both teams.
What was telling that night at the Pirelli was not only the performance of the eleven men on the pitch, but also the reaction of the crowd to the change in manager. From well before the game started, the Rovers at the Pirelli Stadium were in full voice, behind the team and the manager – something that has not been seen often this season with Owen Coyle at the helm. From the day of his appointment it would be very difficult to argue that Coyle had the full backing of the Rovers supporters given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and his recent track record. It was seen as yet another a stupid Venkys decision. Whenever the team went behind or conceded late on, the fans would turn on Coyle. Given Rovers predicament at the bottom of the table and the lack of anything to suggest Coyle could turn things around, things were only going to get more negative from the crowd which would not have a positive impact upon the players, their performances and the results on the pitch. A telling moment was that all through the warm up and the first half the singing and chanting had been positive about the team, players and manager; then, just before the half time whistle, one fan tried to start a chorus of “Venkys Out” – it was met with moans and groans from the rest of the crowd and never got off the ground, and has not been heard since. I don’t think it is coincidence that since the negative “Venkys Out” chants disappeared and were replaced with positivity the results have picked up and the team have either held on to wins or draws late on, or managed to get a goal to equalise late on. Yes, it is not just down to that fact, but the knock on effects of removing one negative from the club (Coyle) and replacing him with someone in no-way related to the Venkys or previous villains at the club, has had a massive positive difference. The fans realise now is not the time to moan about the owners and voice opinions and protests at them, what is more important is that the club avoids relegation and the doom which comes with it. What should be said though, is that whoever made the call on sacking Coyle may just potentially have saved the club.
Looking back, the timing of the sacking of Coyle may have been pivotal. I had previously said that he should have been kept on to try and use the positivity of the performance against Manchester United to try and get the 3 points against Burton; however, in hindsight, the timing may have been perfect: we had previously lost to Sheffield Wednesday and drawn to almost relegated Rotherham; the game against United was a freebie, it would have been stupid to appoint Mowbray to lose his first game, an almost impossible task against United, whereas, sacking Coyle after the United game and giving Mowbray a clean slate against Burton, Derby and Wigan for starters gives him a chance to have immediate impact – something he has done and continues to do.
Mowbray’s appointment has been followed with 7 games unbeaten (2 wins and 5 draws) resulting in ten more points on the board – at the time of writing Rovers sit in the final relegation place (22nd) just one point off safety with the three teams above on just 41 points. We are well in truly in the think of it now with a fighting chance. It’s a fair assumption to make that under Coyle we would not have beaten the likes of Derby and even Wigan, and picked up late points against Cardiff and Fulham.
The game against Preston at the weekend saw an attendance of 18,435 (albeit 6000 PNE fans) and although it was for the most local derby of the season, it was also one of the first times Rovers supporters came to Ewood with a sense of realistic optimism that we might just win and secure another 3 points.
On the face of it, a draw against a local rival flying high in the upper echelons of the league and on a good run should be seen as a positive results; especially for a team in the relegation zone. However, I can’t help but wonder whether the two points dropped may come back to haunt us come May. We started the game poorly and probably deserved to be a goal down, but the team rallied (something they would not have done under Coyle) and managed to get an equaliser before half time, and then take the lead just after half time – and few could argue that it was deserved. As has been the problem on so many occasions this year, a one goal lead is not enough to guarantee all three points (or even a point in some scenarios). Throughout the second half we were the better team and should have doubled our lead on numerous occasions; Preston where offering nothing in response. But the third goal never came, and that gives the opposition hope that if they can get one opportunity and take it, they can get something out of the game. The frustrating this is that we gifted them the opportunity. In classic Matt Derbyshire style, as the clocked ticked down past the 90 minute mark and towards the magical 95 allocated for injuries, substitutions and goals etc, Gallagher took the ball to the corner of the Blackburn End and Walkers Steel stand, and with the occupants of the home end screaming to keep it in the corner, he crossed it. A low and hard speculative drive towards the penalty spot; the only problem was, the rest of the Rovers team were behind him ready to support keeping the ball in the corner. Football is a cruel game – Preston took the ball almost immediately down the other end and equalised. Gallagher knew what he had done, but that doesn’t make it any easier to digest. The decision to cross the ball was without doubt the worst one he could’ve made. Had he played for a corner or a throw, if we had won it, we could run the clock down some more; if we had lost it we could have got back in to shape and position and re-organised. He could even have kicked it out for a goal kick and it would have been a better option, at least then it would waste some time whilst the ball was retrieved and give us chance to get back in to position. Young Sam Gallagher will most definitely learn from his mistake, but it may be to the detriment of the survival of Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.
Rovers away form this season has been dreadful – picking up just 12 points all season, meaning that if we stay up it will almost certainly be down to our form at Ewood Park, which although hasn’t been all too impressive, we have picked up an additional 28 points on home turf. Looking ahead to upcoming fixtures, it is again evident that we can’t rely on picking up points away from home – our next two away games: Brighton and Reading. Those two points dropped are looking massive already.
After the March international break (during which Charlie Mulgrew will no doubt pick up a knock whilst playing for Scotland) Rovers fixtures read as follows: Brighton (A); Reading (A); Barnsley (H); Nottingham Forest (A); Bristol City (H); Wolves (A); Aston Villa (H) and Brentford (A). Picking up not just points, but wins, at home is going to be crucial; with any points picked up away from Ewood a bonus.
Our fate is in our own hands though. Bristol City, Wolves and Nottingham Forest are all in this relegation battle and these are key games where a win is massive. If we can somehow muster wins in these 3 games, it is almost like getting 6 points for the victory as it stops them pulling away and brings us closer to them. A point from the games against Brighton and Reading would be a great return, and I like to think that we would have enough to beat Barnsley on our own patch, and if it came to it, enough to beat Brentford away on the last day of the season. Villa are a bit of a bogey side for us at home, so I’ve written off us getting anything from that game.
Usually, a points tally of mid-40s would be enough to see you home and dry in the Championship (last season Rotherham stayed up with 49 points, but Charlton who occupied the last relegation spot, where relegated with 40; the year before 42 points would have meant safety), but with only one team (Rotherham) being cut adrift this season, and the sides currently in positions 22nd to 15th only being covered by 5 points, arguably you could hit the 50 point mark and still get relegated. So those three home wins between now and the end of the season look even more important, and the 2 dropped against Preston even more costly.
If we were still under the leadership of Coyle, we would not have the points we have and the fighting chance we have – we would be more like Wigan who are being cut-a-drift in 23rd on 34 points. At least Mowbray has come in and got us fighting for points and given us a chance. We may have dropped 2 points in the last minute last weekend, but we were probably due it considering the late goals we have scored. We have 7 cup finals between now and the end of the season – let’s give it a go and get behind the team.
Tony Mowbray’s Blue and White Army!!!!!