Tag Archives: Danny Graham

Mid-Term Review – Blackburn Rovers


The Christmas period can often define a football teams season – propelling them in to the promotion or title challenge, sinking them towards the dreaded drop zone, or sentencing them to a season of mid-season obscurity. Blackburn Rovers went in to the busy Christmas schedule sat in the League 1 promotion places and handily placed to make a push on the automatic promotion spots on the back of an unbeaten league run stretching back to the 14th October (10 games) – a positive Christmas could well have seen Rovers enter the New Year in the second automatic place.

What followed over the festive period was a frustrating 1-1 draw away at Northampton which saw Marcus Antonsson miss a penalty late on to win the game; a good, although not comfortable, 2-0 win at home to Rochdale; another frustrating draw, this time 2-2 with Scunthorpe at home in a game which Rovers twice led but conceded soft goals and despite pushing could not get a winner; and then a disappointing 1-1 draw away at Rotherham, again conceding late on. This has left Rovers where they started, in third place, but now some 5 points behind second placed Shrewsbury and 7 points behind league leaders Wigan; perhaps more importantly though, we remain 9 points above Rotherham in 7th place, with a game in hand, and the unbeaten run stretched to 14 games in the league.

To have not picked up more points during the festive period, especially considering the number of times we led in games, is disappointing – 2 extra points would make the league table better reading, placing us 3 points behind Shrewsbury who are the next visitors to Ewood, and who Rovers have a superior goal difference against – but to be in 3rd place, in touching distance of the teams above us at just past the half-way stage should be seen as a good thing. You would be hard pushed to find anyone leaving the first home game against Doncaster realistically saying that they would be disappointed with this. Consider this, if we had stuck with Coyle, we would be at the opposite end of the table without doubt. We find ourselves in a good position with games on hand on the teams directly below, and with 21 games to mount a challenge, catch and hopefully surpass the teams above us, well, at least one of them.

With the January transfer window looming and the good form of some of our players – Dack and Mulgrew in particular – there is always a worry that this good unbeaten run could be disturbed by departures, but the initial word from Mowbray is that the aim this season is promotion and we won’t be selling anybody who has the ability to help us achieve this goal, which can only be seen as a positive, combined with the rumours of additional reinforcements coming in with Adam Armstrong, Amari’I Bell, and the much maligned at Ewood Jason Lowe (on a free transfer I can think of worse players to bring in, and his time spent away from Ewood coupled with the performances of those who replaced him should give him a much needed reality check and kick up the backside).

So if Rovers are to push on for automatic promotion, what’s needed? For a start, thankfully Mowbray didn’t take my advice and give up on the Bradley Dack experiment as he has been magnificent since bonfire night!

1 – David Raya Martin – the best passer of a ball we have at the club possibly with the exception of Dack and Mulgrew; has been fantastic between the sticks and has probably got us 6-7 points in the process. Should’ve been in the team ahead of Steele last season well before he was.

13 – Jason Leutwiler – not seen enough of him to pass fair judgement, but thought his indecisiveness from a corner helped Hull get the winner yesterday. That said, he hasn’t had much game time.

2 – Ryan Nyambe – much preferred at right back to Caddis. Has pace and strength and looks like he enjoys getting forward. One of the first names on the team-sheet for me. Also played well at centre-half against Hull which gives us options if needed.

3 – Derrick Williams – I don’t think he’s having a great season this year and it’s frustrating to see him push forward and stop most times rather than taking a man on. I do think he has suffered having to do a lot of Antonsson defensive work for him though which has left him exposed at times.

15 – Elliot Ward – hasn’t played much but has looked vulnerable when he has.

16 – Paul Caddis – steady enough but lacks any real quality to set him apart from a standard run-of-the-mill full-back you might see up at Pleasington on a Sunday morning. He doesn’t really have the pace to get forward or to counter pacey wingers which leaves us exposed at times – much prefer Nyambe in the position.

25 – Paul Downing – perhaps the biggest mystery of the season is why MK Dons let this man go on loan to a club in the same division. He has been a revelation at centre half partnering Mulgrew. No nonsense defender who would be the first piece of business for me in this transfer window signing him up to a permanent deal.

34 – Scott Wharton – I haven’t seen enough of him this season to pass comment but I would have expected to see him get game time in the cup competitions which would suggest Mowbray doesn’t fancy him (yet). Looked assured when he played in the Championship last season and had a good eye for a cross-field ball. On the bench is probably right for him at the minute but I would expect/hope he would see game time ahead of Ward and Nyambe at centre-half if injuries or suspensions dictated a change.

6 – Richie Smallwood – I wasn’t sure about him when we signed him and worried he’d be another Hope Akpan who was there but never really contributed much – luckily I was wrong. Very similar to Jason Lowe in many ways but he isn’t afraid to put a tackle in and gets the crowd going; he’s also not afraid to get forward. One of Mowbray’s best acquisitions and another who’s name is one of the first on the team-sheet.

11 – Peter Whittingham – disappointing. I hoped when he signed he would be somewhat of a play-maker in midfield to orchestrate attacks and chip in with a few goals, but he’s yet to get going (probably the reason he’s dropped down a level). At the beginning of the season I thought we’d signed a player who’s legs had gone but I think he is coming to terms with the fact he isn’t the player he once was and is being asked to play in a slightly different role. A good squad player, but others get in before him.

22 – Ben Gladwin – I can’t believe we actually signed him permanently and can’t send him back.

23 – Bradley Dack – I wasn’t too sure about him and where he fit in the side earlier in the season, and wondered whether trying different formations to fit him in was a wise choice but he has made me eat my words and more. We look a far better team with him on the pitch and he offers us a threat every time we go forward. Rightly deserved his nomination for League 1 Player of the Month in October, and will be key to pushing for the automatic spots. To lose him in the window would be a killer.

29 – Corry Evans – he’s struggled with injuries again this season and has been somewhat disappointing when he has played. I’m still not sure what he is – a combatant midfielder to break attacks up, or a creative midfielder. If we received an offer for him in January I’d probably take it as I imagine he’s one of the bigger earners and we have managed without him so far this season. Doesn’t replicate what he does in a Northern Ireland shirt for Rovers.

31 – Elliot Bennett – doesn’t always provide the quality, but his effort and ambition is 100% every week. He would get a starting place for me every week for that alone. He can chip in with the odd goal (usually a belter) but I’m not one hundred percent sure where his best position is – I don’t think he’s a winger, but I also don’t think he’s a central midfielder, somewhere in-between. A good player at this level who will cause team problems and get amongst it.

32 – Craig Conway – see above. Another like Bennett who always gives one hundred percent. He’s struggled to hold down a place in the side so far but when he has played he has provided much needed width and pace, whilst providing defensive cover for Nyambe. Another good player to have in this division.

28 – Willem Tomlinson – there are a few at Ewood who don’t rate him, but I think it is harsh to pass judgement at this stage. In most instances he has been asked to come of the bench and shore up the midfield, not provide that defence splitting pass, and he has done what has been asked. I saw more from him in the FA Cup game against Hull which he started, to suggest that he is capable of more, and is a good squad player.

35 – Lewis Travis – I’ve only seen him once, off the bench against Hull, but he was man of the match for me. Showed lots of enthusiasm and passion and wasn’t afraid to get stuck in, but also was happy asking for the ball and passed well. On that substitute appearance alone he did more for me than Evans, and definitely warrants a place on the bench, if not the starting eleven.

8 – Harry Chapman – showed much promise earlier in the season as a pacey and tricky winger who has unfortunately been lost to injury for the last couple of months. He was a good weapon to have off the bench late on and if we can see him again during the run in he could play a massive part.

9 – Dominic Samuel – started the season with much promise with a run of goals but these have dried up over recent weeks. He puts the effort in but can go overboard at times which has seen him miss games through suspensions. Decent at this level and a good option to have up front.

10 – Danny Graham – I worried about Graham at the start of the season and whether he would accept being a League 1 player, or sulk around for the season, but he can definitely not be accused of that. He has thrown himself in to the promotion fight and although he doesn’t have the little pace he once had, he is a handful up front and always looks likely to score when through on goal. His experience and passion could be key in the run and hopefully he can teach some of the younger players a thing or two (if Nuttall put himself about like Graham he probably wouldn’t be in League 1).

20 – Marcus Antonsson – he hasn’t really played as a striker this season and has been asked to play out-wide which he doesn’t look one hundred percent comfortable with, especially when concerning defensive duties, but you can’t argue with his goalscoring record (7 goals in 19 starts). He offers us some aerial presence and when you start to question whether he should be in the team he usually pops up with a goal. Another who looks good at this level, but I do worry about how the neglect of his defensive duties may impact us in the long run.

 38 – Joe Nuttall – I was so excited when this lad got his chance in the first team and took it, but since then he has definitely gone off the boil. I don’t know if it’s disappointment at being dropped, or because he isn’t happy coming off the bench, but since that early flurry of goals he hasn’t looked interested. We need options in attack and he could play a pivotal part in taking the weight off Graham and Samuel for goals, but he needs to start showing effort to the fans – could learn a thing or two from Graham.

There is room for improvement and additions in January are always welcome, so long as they don’t disrupt what looks to be a harmonious squad. I think another attacker/striker would give us more options and I think Armstrong from Newcastle would be a good addition at this level. We are somewhat light at full-back and I don’t think Hart has proved he is good enough even as a deputy, so someone who can play at both right and left full-back would be a good addition. A decent winger to cover until Chapman is back would give us options and if we could get someone from the higher divisions on loan until the end of the season that would give us options. Not forgetting, Darragh Lenihan is still to come back and he provides options at centre half and central midfield.

 All in all I’m content with the team and optimistic about the rest of the season. The ultimate goal has to be automatic promotion, but it would be somewhat unthinkable to not even make the play-offs given the run we have been on, and we should have the quality to overcome any of the sides which may come up in the play-offs – but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!

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It’s Nutt-all bad for Rovers


As the last international break of 2017 draws to a close with a series of games won, for the most part, by the odd goal, I found myself laughing somewhat in disbelief at how far Blackburn Rovers have fallen in the few years. Yes, I have laughed ironically at the state which we find ourselves in: marooned in League 1, the third tier of English football, with increasing debt, a local rival thriving in the top division, and competing in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in three decades; but possibly for the first time this season, the true delicacy of our situation was brought home when a work colleague asked me who we had last weekend – I had to laugh as I uttered a phrase I never thought I would say (and I mean no disrespect to Walsall fans with this): “We haven’t got a game this weekend mate, no not because we have too many internationals, but because Walsall have too many internationals”. To be fair to the work colleague, he was a Manchester United fan, so I imagine he was welcoming of a week of international football when Jose’s bus could be parked up, valeted and given new tyres ahead of the Christmas run in.

This time 5 years ago, Blackburn Rovers were returning from the international break to play Peterborough United (to be fair we will be playing them this year as well) in a game shown live on Sky, on a Saturday. Incidentally, Henning Berg’s only win in charge of Blackburn, and a game when Jordan Rhodes bagged himself a hat-trick. That season, international breaks were routine as we were in the Championship where all football comes to a halt, but looking at the squad we would have had the likes of Martin Olsson (Sweden), Jordan Rhodes (Scotland), Morten Gamst Pedersen (Norway), Marcus Olsson (Sweden), Josh King (Norway), Adam Henley (Wales) and Colin Kazim-Richards (Turkey) all jetting off to World Cup qualifiers. This time around we had Corry Evans joining up with Northern Ireland for a World Cup Play-Off, and Charlie Mulgrew joining up with Scotland to play the Netherlands – that is it. A sign of how far we have come in such a short space of time.

As domestic football returns for Blackburn this weekend we find ourselves 7th in the table, just 1 point behind Rotherham United in the 6th place and on the same points as the aforementioned Peterborough United, 12 points off first place, and 11 points off the automatic places; but with 2 games in hand (thanks to international breaks) on the teams directly above us, and a game in hand on those occupying the top two places. That said, I would rather have points on the board, than games in hand. What seems to have been a regular occurrence over this season and the last few, is the bad timing to which the break arrives – unbeaten in five in the league and FA Cup (I don’t count the EFL Trophy), and a young and upcoming striker coming in to the team and scoring goals for fun. Especially when you consider that for all the chances we have created and the performances we have put in, the inability to get a second goal and finish teams off means we are were we are in the table – turn two of those draws (say against Fleetwood and Plymouth) in to wins that puts us on 31 points in third place with a game in hand – both games we should realistically have won both on paper and in reality.

I’m of the opinion that we are a big fish in this league and the majority of teams will setup with a game plan to stop us playing and winning, rather than preparing in a way which takes the game to us, and we have not taken advantage of this. Each game I have been to this season we have started off on the front foot and really taken the game to teams – for the first 10 minutes, and then we have reverted back to passing it sideways and backwards without ever really creating anything. The shining lights have been the creativity provided by Bradley Dack and the wing-play provided by Harry Chapman, whilst not forgetting the excitement that Joe Nuttall has brought back to the stands in the form of a youngster given a chance and taking it in the first team. The problem is Chapman has been resigned to twenty minutes from the bench most weeks; Mowbray seemed to have something against putting Nuttall even on the bench despite his goalscoring exploits in the Under 23s side; and to accommodate Dack Mowbray seems to need to change the formation of the team to fit him in. At this level, at home at least, we should be playing two strikers. The 4-2-3-1 we have played with Graham up front on his own doesn’t work in my opinion – as good a finisher Danny Graham is, he is no longer going to chase balls down and hassle defenders for 90 minutes; if he is challenging for the ball is more often than not our furthest man forward, so if he wins the knock down, he then has to get himself in a decent position. Although to be fair, he usually wins the ball and then it takes us that long to do anything with it, he has two or three defenders on him by the time we even think of getting the ball to him. We don’t play attacking enough football – yes it might be too open and we might concede, but lets have a go and play with two front men and two wingers. The emergence of Nuttall and Samuel this season show we have the options up front in addition to Graham and Antonsson;and although Chapman looks to be ruled out through injury for at least a couple of months, we still have the likes of Conway, Bennett, Harper, Dack and Gladwin who could do a job out wide. Leaving Smallwood to break things up in the middle of the park, and Evans to pick the ball up and get things going. I don’t have a problem with passing sideways and backwards and keeping the ball, as long as it results in creating something. At the minute we seem to get to the half-way line and then go sideways or backwards and in most example then resort to lumping it, when the opposition has got men back to defend. Blackburn Rovers fans would grumble and moan if we played like Barcelona because it’s too slow. Most Blackburn Fans would tell you the best football they have seen at Ewood was with Wilcox and Ripley out wide, or with Duff creating from the wing. It looks to me as though Nyambe and Williams want to get forward to support but I don’t know whether it is the formation or instructions, they rarely get past the winger to provide another option.

All is not lost though – we are a third of the way through the season and we are one point off the Play-Offs with 2 games in hand and 93 points to play for. If we were in the bottom half of the table and playing badly I would be worried, but we’re not. I’m confident that Wigan and Shrewsbury will drop off at some stage, we just have to stay in the conversation, be consistent, and put a run together in the last third of the season – we have no-one saving themselves for the World Cup so we should be able to give it a good go. It’s all about momentum after the turn of the year. If I’m being honest, I’ll take second in the league on goal difference; it would be nice to be the beneficiary of goal difference for a change after last year.

Looking to the long term and how we get back to the Premier League? The only way I can see this happening at the minute – and this is what I call the dream – is back to back promotions, riding the crest of the wave from promotion from League 1 to take us from the Championship (how many sides do you see make the play-offs the season after promotion? See Preston and Bristol City in recent-ish years). Get in the Premier League, don’t spend big and then take the prize money. If that means immediate relegation, so be it, the prize money should put us back on level terms financially and secure the immediate future of the club. How we best achieve that on a shoestring is through a blend of experience and youth, finding the likes of Nuttall and other youngsters who are on the up before they are deemed of high value, and using their rise to move up the leagues, without breaking the already broken bank.

Easy enough right? Let’s get to work…..

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International Breaking in League One

Dom Sam

For as long as I can remember, Blackburn Rovers have always had good strikers leading the line, scoring the goals. I have been somewhat privileged by some of the goalscorers I have seen grace the turf at Ewood in Blue & White – Shearer, Sutton and Jansen as a starter for ten.

As the season takes a break for Blackburn Rovers for the International fixtures over the weekend (Rovers have retained some sense of pride whilst being in the third tier by at least still having enough players on international duty to warrant the postponement of fixtures – 3, the bare minimum), it is a good time to reflect on the first month of the season and to provide an update on my previous post “False Start or False Dawn” which questioned whether the poor start to the season (two defeats in two) was a reflection of how the season was going to be yet another disappointment or whether it was a slow start owing to new faces and systems not having settled yet.

Four games in and the table looks a whole lot healthier for Rovers. After defeats to Southend and Doncaster in the first two fixtures, the following two saw them beat Bradford City on their own turf with a narrow 1-0 win, and then a first home win of the season beating MK Dons 4-1 – we’ll not mention the League Cup defeat to them down the road, our season does not need a cup run!

Although performances haven’t necessarily been fantastic, it does seem that some of the simple mistakes have been cut out and we have a degree of creativity – at the end of the day, the sole purpose of this season is to get out of the division. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to be effective. If it takes another 42 1-0 wins with balls bouncing off backsides to go in, I’ll take it now, yes please sir.

With the International break came the end of the Summer Transfer Window – the end of the biggest period of spending in English Football history, and the end of the madness; just how can Kyle Walker command a transfer fee of £50m when Leonardo Bonucci cost a seemingly resurgent AC Milan just £37m?! At the end of the last season I thought there would be an exodus at Ewood with the likes of Graham, Mulgrew, Lenihan, Lowe, Akpan, Bennett, Mahoney, Guthrie and Stokes all leaving the club. There needed to be exits to balance the books given the decrease in TV money for the League 1 season, but Mowbray needed to keep us competitive. The fact the majority of players leaving the club were those out of contract, and that we have managed to retain the services of the likes of Graham, Mulgrew and Bennett, whilst adding to the squad (even spending some money we must’ve found down the back of the sofa at Brockhall) is a good sign for the season to come, and also a sign that Mowbray’s wishes are being heard by the Venkys – it would have been easy to sell our best assets to balance the books and leave us struggling for the season.

One of those players brought in during the Summer window was Dominic Samuel, purchased from Reading for an undisclosed fee. In the opening 6 games of the season (4 league games and 2 cup games) he has found the net 3 times, and is managing to keep the experienced Danny Graham out of the side. I’ve said in previous blogs that I thought our style of play at times so far this season hadn’t suited Graham, but what hasn’t suited Graham has definitely worked for Samuel – he has looked sharp off the ball, put himself about, and has taken his chances. At this moment in time, he has to be our first choice striker.

Three goals in six games is not a bad strike rate for forward at any level (maybe with the exception of Ronaldo and Messi), but having decent forwards has always been a strong point for Rovers – over the past few seasons with the likes of Rhodes and Gestede leading the line, with a better – or more consistent – defence, we could potentially have pushed harder for promotion. After the defeat to Doncaster after the first home of the season a friend said to me that we didn’t have a commanding centre forward to dominate the opposition; someone who when the ball came in to the box would kill if it meant he got his head to the ball first. Samuel isn’t the finished article yet, but he has the attributes and the desire to become that one day. What also helps, is that he puts himself about, chases down lost hopes, pressures goalkeepers – all things that get the crowd going, something that has been lacking from Ewood in recent seasons – Richie Smallwood must also get a mention here as another who gets the crowd going by pressuring the man on the ball and putting a tackle in. He doesn’t do much different to the much maligned Jason Lowe, but instead of standing off the opposition, he puts a foot in and rushes them in to playing the ball, pressuring the pass, forcing mistakes. 

I’m not getting carried away, but Samuel is heading the right way towards becoming a fan favourite at Ewood – especially if he can keep getting the goals and propel the sifde towards promotion. Looking at former strikers to have graced the turf like Speedie, Shearer, Jansen and McCarthy, he has plenty of good examples to follow if he wants to reach that goal.


Image source: http://www.rovers.co.uk 


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False Start or False Dawn


Two weeks ago, on the dawn of the new season, for the first time since probably when we had just been relegated from the Premier League, I had a sense of optimism about the season ahead. Given the signings we had made, the players and manager we had kept hold of, I was relatively confident that we would be finishing in the play-off spots at least, hopefully in the automatic places. I had turned my nose up at the naysayer pundits who thought we would face another season of struggling and I put my money were my mouth was and backed Rovers to win the Division.

An opening game away at Southend is not the ideal start for a team faced with the task of escaping the third tier of English football for the first time in almost three decades; it is probably the further journey and not a glamorous ground to say the least; and in Phil Brown they have a good experienced manager, and with players like Michael Kightly in their ranks, they undoubtedly have some quality. Before every game for the last couple of seasons, when asked how I thought Rovers would do at the weekend I have invariably responded “I’ll take a point”, and that was my response ahead of the Southend game – except, knowing that these are the sort of games we should be looking to win to get out of the division; saying “I’ll take point” for the next 46 games will only get us 46 points and that is nowhere near enough to mount a promotion charge. But in this instance, given the context, I was confident it would turn out to be a point gained rather than two dropped.

I was not surprised when we conceded first, and I wasn’t surprised that it was a moment of brilliance from Charlie Mulgrew that drew us level, and given recent history, especially in away games, it was no surprise when we went behind again and ended up losing. An opening day defeat away against a team who would be pushing for the play off’s was not the end of the world I thought, hopefully it would be the kick up the backside the players needed. On to game two, the first home game of the season.

The first home game of the season, the match football fans look forward to all summer, and what better way to kick off at Ewood than to face newly promoted Doncaster Rovers – a team who only a few months earlier where two divisions below Rovers. Surely this was what was needed to get us off the mark and some points on the board. Again, I was that confident I put us in my accumulator (for the record I also had Chelsea in that accumulator). Unlike the Southend game, this was a game against a newly promoted team, at home. Regardless of who you are playing, if you are looking for promotion you should be looking to win all your home games. Last season my optimism for the season lasted just 12 minutes against Norwich at home, I suppose I should just be happy that the optimism lasted in to the second half of the second game this season.

I think what is most disappointing about the start we have made is that it is the same old story – in fact not even the same old story, at least towards the end of last season we were taking the game to the opposition. Judging by Saturdays performance, teams view us as a big fish in this league and are happy to set up for a point with men behind the ball, and hit us on the counter-attack, something Doncaster did brilliantly on Saturday. The problem with this is that we are far too happy to pass the ball across the back four (three or five depending what stage of the game it was on Saturday) and wait for something to open up – which on most occasions it doesn’t because Tugay retired over 8 years ago and we are still looking for someone to provide that spark and creativity. What this does is put us under pressure and gets the fans frustrated (I am happy for us to keep the ball if it leads to something, but I am fairly confident that Barcelona would get booed off Ewood for “not getting it forward”) – with Ward and Mulgrew at the back it only takes one bad touch or misplaced pass and anyone with a bit of pace is away and in (see Mulgrew chasing back and conceding the penalty for Doncaster for reference). The only bright spark from the game – other than the final whistle – was the introduction of Bradley Dack who looked like he wanted the ball and looked like he wanted to go forward and create.

This brings me on to the formation and line-up on Saturday. We played with a formation that Mowbray will claim is a 3-4-3 with wing backs which enables us to get players forward when we have the ball, but which reverts to a 5-4-1 when we don’t. Call me a purist but at home in the third tier of English football what is wrong with 4-4-2? In a 4-4-2 system everyone knows their job and at home it puts at least two people up front to either deliver the ball to in the box, or to get the ball to for one to win and flick on. The problem with the 3-4-3 was that to often Danny Graham was isolated at the top of the pitch having to win the ball, hold it up and then try and do something with it – at his age and condition he should be in the 18 yard box waiting for the cross or the flick on to tap in the goal. This isn’t helped by the players tasked with getting forward to support him being Peter Whittingham and Elliot Bennett. Bennett has the pace and the legs to do this, albeit everything he tried on Saturday failed. On the other hand, Whittingham is coming towards the end of his career – lets face it, not many years ago he was touted as the best player in the Championship, if he was still of this calibre he wouldn’t be being released and dropping down a division. On Saturday I thought it was a case of his legs having gone and that he had fallen off the edge of the cliff with this being one season too many, but looking back now, I don’t think he has played as a winger for a number of years, and it was a similar role he was being asked to perform on Saturday. He is no longer a player who is going to get the ball on the halfway line and run at defenders, if he ever was. Surely his best position is in the centre of midfield orchestrating things. I was really impressed with signing him in the Summer – I only hope this isn’t a repeat of the Danny Murphy saga which promised so much and delivered so little.

What was evident on Saturday is that we struggle to break teams down when they retreat and often this leads to us creating opportunities for the opposition. To sections of the fans it looked as though the team didn’t care, but so early on in a season with many new faces and new formation which changed multiple times throughout the 90 minutes, it must be difficult for the players, who are also coming to terms with the league they find themselves in. Before the season started I thought that our best chance of getting out of this league was to leave the negativity around the owners on the other side of the turnstile and get behind the team 100%, and that with a good start the negativity would stay outside and allow for momentum and confidence to build. To resort to chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” after 70 minutes of the second game of the season helps no-one, no matter how poor the players performed I hope to think it hurt them too. Many of them have reputations which are dwindling by the season – they need to get out of this division for themselves as much as for the club and the fans. I will get absolute pelter’s for this but I was not, and am still not, disappointed that Big Sam got the sack. At the time we were a Premier League team who took to the pitch every week in the hope of a long throw, a corner or a free kick to give us a chance to get the ball in the box for the ‘big lads’ to cause trouble and get it in the net. At Premier League level you pay your money (and lots of it) to be entertained, not to cheer winning a set-piece or subjecting world class players to being roughed up. Even now when we are in League 1 I stick by this opinion. However, we are in League 1 now. Don’t get me wrong, there are players of real quality in this division, and I hope as the season goes on we see that many of these are in fact wearing the blue and white halves, but there comes a time when the ball has to stick up top to give you a chance of winning football games. I’m not saying “lets play the statistics and keep putting the ball long and in to the mixer until it drops for us and we score”, I like all other football fans, like to see good skilful, free flowing football – but when you are trailing to a recently promoted team by 2 goals with 20 minutes, or when you are struggling to create anything, there is always an argument for putting another striker on and just getting the ball forward. It’s a last resort, but it always has to be remembered as a resort.

So where does this leave us? From the above it may sound like we are in a relegation battle already, but we are only 2 league games in of a new season with a lot of new players still to gel and find their place. If we are still playing this bad come Bonfire Night then yes, we have a problem – but I don’t think it will come to that. I was sceptical about Mowbray when he was appointed, but in the end he was Sam-Gallagher-taking-the ball-in-the-corner away from keeping us up, so we have to keep faith with him; any calls for his exit are misplaced (if he did go, who exactly are we going to turn to with any experience of getting out of this league). We have Bradford away up next which is by no means the perfect tonic to get over the defeat – they are decent side who themselves will be looking at promotion this season; but this could be to our advantage. The fact they are looking up the table and already have two league wins under their belt, and are at home, will mean that unlike Doncaster, they will look to create rather than sit behind the ball, and that could work in our favour, as could the fact that we have not had a midweek game so Mowbray has had another 7 days to work on formations and tactics. The least we need out of the game is a draw and a positive performance, especially with them Dingles down the road coming up. In an ideal world, we would be 4 games (including the EFL Cup) and 4 wins in to the season, brimming with confidence, looking forward to facing them with al the pressure on them. In true Rovers style, it hasn’t played out that way and we have somehow managed to put more pressure on ourselves, playing a team which, it pains me to say, are two divisions above us in the football pyramid.

Image from http://www.bbc.co.uk

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Uncle Jack’s Legacy could be our Saviour


As the dust settles on Blackburn Rovers relegation from the SkyBet Championship to League 1, the enormity of the situation becomes greater almost with each passing day – not just the task of getting back to the Championship first, and then the Premier League; but also just balancing the books and remaining in existence.

Rovers relegation on the the final day of the season at Griffin Park made them the first former Premier League Champions to be relegated to the third tier of English football and the first time the Lancashire club had been in the old third division since 1979, when Rovers finished bottom of the old second division. In 1979, the hiatus from the second tier lasted only one season, with Rovers promoted at the first attempt, finished second in the division to Grimsby.

The landscape has changed somewhat since the last visit to the depths of the Third Division; not only is it now regarded as League 1, but the financial gap has never been greater. Back in 1979, a footballers wage would have more akin to the regular man’s and in the third division many players would probably have a second job to supplement the income from football, a trade they would more than likely continue at the end of their playing career. In 1979 Peter Shilton became the highest paid player by signing a new contract with Nottingham Forest for £1,200 a week – putting this in perspective, the majority of the Blackburn side relegated at Brentford would have been on at least that, and that is playing for a second tier side. The Clubs themselves were worth a lot less financially then than they are now, and there was no lucrative TV deal to support clubs – they relied on gate receipts, sponsorships and generous owners; but the days of Jack Walker’s investment were still some 12 long years away. In the same year, the first million pound transfer took place with Trevor Francis moving from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest for £1m – in 2012, Championship club Leicester City paid £1m for non-league Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy.

Fast-forward 38 years and Blackburn Rovers find themselves back in the third division staring at a completely different prospect to that which would have been seen by then player-manager Howard Kendall and his team consisting of Jim Arnold, Stuart Parker and Kevin Stonehouse. For a start, the club are already in dire straits financially with debt already spiralling before the relegation (at the beginning of the 1978-79 relegation season, Rovers reported a profit of over £110,000 enabling the club to reduce its debts by about a third) – the impact of relegation financially will most importantly mean they will only receive £1m in television money for the 2017-18, compared to the £6m they would have received in the Championship. Even if Rovers could get 10,000 through the gate at Ewood every week, this would only make up £3m of the difference, and it is likely this money has already been allocated elsewhere – so it is safe to assume the £5m shortfall will have to be made up elsewhere. Most likely this will be wages and transfers (the club only spent £250,000 the previous summer).

The problem Rovers have is that the goal for the season has to be promotion at the first attempt, the cost of failing to achieve this could be catastrophic. But the books also need to be balanced. In 2012 when the club were relegated from the Premier League to the Championship a massive gamble was taken using the parachute money to bring in the likes of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Leon Best and Nuno Gomes to name a few, all on high wages for the division – the gamble did not pay off and is, in my opinion, why we are in the football and financial situation we currently find ourselves in. Obviously the transfer budget is not there this time around for a spending spree (probably for the best), so the club need to be careful with wages. The wages paid in the Championship are going to be too high to sustain, especially for a club on the edge of the financial precipice already – so the club need to balance the release of those on high wages at the end of their contracts, with the retaining of the quality of those who remain under contract with, whilst also bringing in funds from the sale of assets to help to continue to balance the books. Mowbray has said the same since relegation, that we need to ensure we are competitive both on the field and financially. It truly is a massive balancing act.

The first action came the day after relegation with Paul Senior resigning from his role as Director of Football and Operations – he was the man thought to be responsible for bringing Tony Mowbray in, but given the lack of funds, is there much need for the role at League 1 level when you are hamstrung in the market looking only at loanees and free transfers. My opinion is that I would rather his wage be spent on someone who can improve out chances of promotion, ie a striker.

 Ten days later, news was announced of who was being retained and released by the club at the end of the season (those who are out of contract and either being offered a contract or not). The list of those released: Jason Lowe, Adam Henley, Hope Akpan, Danny Guthrie, Gordon Greer, Wes Brown, Joshua Askew and Ramirez Howarth. Those who were offered a new deal were just Connor Mahoney and Lewis Travis – it is worth pointing out that although they have been re-engaged, it does not mean they have to sign for the club. In addition to the above list, a number of the scholars at the club (8 to be precise) have also not been retained. It is also worth pointing out that according to the Clubs website we do not currently have a goalkeeping coach.  So were does this leave the squad?

 The remaining playing squad consists of:

Goalkeepers: Jason Steele, David Raya, Andy Fisher (3) 

Defenders: Derrick Williams, Charlie Mulgrew, Elliot Ward, Ryan Nyambe, Scott Wharton, Jack Doyle, Lewis Travis, Matthew Platt, Lewis Hardcastle (9) 

Midfielder: Liam Feeny, Darragh Lenihan, Willem Tomlinson, Connor Mahoney, Corey Evans, Elliot Bennett, Craig Conway, Connor Thomson, Joe Grayson, Joe Rankin-Costello, Tyler Magloire (11)

Forwards: Anthony Stokes, Danny Graham, Lewis Mansell (3)

On paper this is not a bad squad, but I would expect there to be further departures – before the start of the season I would expect the club to receive offers for the likes of Graham, Mulgrew, Evans, Bennett and maybe Conway. It will be interesting to see how the club responds to these offers, as I would imagine these will also be the highest earners at the club. Do they sell and save the money, or do they try and keep hold of them in the hope they can get promoted at the first attempt? In many ways, these decisions could mould the future of the club – do they take another massive financial hit for the year and gamble on an immediate promotion? Or do they cut their losses and almost start from scratch, putting trust in the academy and youth development players? If history is anything to go by, the latter may be the more sensible option. The fans won’t be happy with this as they will want to see a team that runs away with the division, but in the long term this decision is more sensible financially, and could secure the long term future of the club.

One way to look at it is if Rovers had stayed up on the final day of the season, yes they would have received more money, and yes they have a good experienced manager in Mowbray, but would that additional money be spent on keeping the club competitive in the division or to pay off existing debts? Neither of which is a long term solution – like putting a plaster on and amputated arm. Would it not make more sense to take the hit and get relegated; accept that financially we can’t compete and ‘start again’. Release those players who the club have no obligation to retain freeing up money from wages; wait and see what offers come in for those players who have a saleable value (and as such also the higher wages) and bring funds in from their sale, and save money from their wages; and then promote from within, utilising the youth development squad complimented with sensible free transfers and loanees to provide the experience?

When Jack Walker bought the club back in 1991 he wanted to make it self-financing in the long term, developing youth who could go on to play in the first team, reducing the amount of money which would have to be spent on transfers. In 1996 an official youth structure was put in place and in 2001 Brockhall Village Academy – during and since this period, the Blackburn Rovers youth teams have been one of the most successful in the country, and players who have emerged from it have included the likes of Neil Danns, Joe Garner, Paul Gallagher, Alan Judge and Phil Jones. Others have come through the Academy and been sold or released and have gone on to have successful careers. The academy at Brockhall is still widely regarded as one of the best in the Country.

academy4x3195-495529_478x359Upon relegation a lot of media outlets jumped on the band-wagon of “Jack Walker turning in his grave” at what the Venkys have done to his football club; and they would not be wrong. However, at this eleventh hour, Jack Walker could once again provide the saviour and hero of the club. His foresight to build the academy back in 1990’s may have produced some talented gems over the years who the club have reaped the rewards of financially and on the pitch, but in the clubs darkest hour, the Academy could be the shining light that not only rescues the club financially, but allows them a second chance on the pitch. What is clear is that under absolutely no circumstances should the idea of selling the academy and/or the land it is built on be considered. During the last campaign the likes of Mahoney, Raya, Wharton and Tomlinson all made appearences for the first team and none of them looked out of their depth – yes they are only a small percentage of the players available, but it is a sign that even without the ‘big names’ we could still be competitive in League 1. Like all Rovers fans, I want a quick return to the Championship (and hopefully eventually the Premier League) but not at the cost of the club going out of business. If it takes a few years, but it means we are on a level footing financially as a result, I’d take that.

You never know, financial stability may make the club more attractive to local businesses who want to invest and tempt the Venkys to part with the club, I’m not a marketing guru but I can’t imagine they will get much positivity publicity globally from owning a club in the old third division.


Final Thought – similarities between 1979 and 2017:

The 1978-79 season started disastrously and there was unrest from the supporters and local press, and despite signings, the manager Jim Iley was sacked at the end of September after only 172 days. The club was by now embroiled in a relegation battle and Caretaker-Manager John Pickering was appointed, and then given the job until the end of the season in February 1979. A number of players where signed and this brought an upturn in results, but the damage had already been done and the club where relegated, but there was support for Pickering who had done a good job in his time at the helm – not too dissimilar to the support shown for Mowbray in 2017. Back in 1979 however the board decided not to renew Pickering’s contract and instead brought in Howard Kendall as a player-manager, despite him never having managed before. Despite his inexperience, Kendall’s Rovers finished second in the league which largely owed to an unbeaten 15 game run which consisted of 14 victories and draw. If Mowbray was to leave Ewood during the summer, could there be some symmetry with what Kendall achieved in his first role, and what David Dunn could potentially achieve if given the nod?


Note: Facts and content from the 1978-79 season taken form the book “Blackburn Rovers: The Complete Record” by Mike Jackman – well worth a read for any Rovers fan.

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