Tag Archives: Tony Mowbray

False Start or False Dawn

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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

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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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Seven Down Eight To Go

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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!!!!!

 

 

 

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3 Days is a Long Time in Football

article-1192782-02cc1a0800000578-56_468x286There is a saying that a week is a long time in football. Whoever coined that phrase has obviously never been involved with Blackburn Rovers at any time in the last 5 years. Just seven days ago, Blackburn lost 2-1 at Hillsborough in a game were Rovers were controversially denied a point by the officials on no fewer than two instances. Following that, the Championship strugglers took on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United juggernaut in the FA Cup at Ewood Park, narrowly losing 2-1 despite putting in arguably the best performance of the season. Fast-forward less than 48 hours and Owen Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club. Fast-forward less than another 24 hours and Tony Mowbray has been appointed on an 18 month contract. There may not be much to write about on transfer deadline day, but when it comes to the running of the club when changes are a-foot there isn’t time for the ink to dry on the last article when the next breaking news is hitting the headlines. This post was supposed to be a review of the defeat to Manchester United and the frustrations of the performances so often being below the level seen on Sunday. Then it was going to be about Owen Coyle’s departure and the poor timing given the game at Burton this coming Friday. Now it is about all three and what the future holds under Tony Mowbray.

 Leaving Ewood Park on Sunday I had a sense of surprise optimism, that maybe that game would have given the players a kick up the backside or at least the confidence to go in to the final 15 games of the season and get the results needed to stay in the division. In the first half we looked like the Rovers of old – good attacking football by a team battling above its weight; there was an atmosphere at Ewood and there was banter between the Rovers and United fans – it was like a step back in time to 20 years ago. It was good to see the ground with over 20,000 inside – maybe if the support like that had been there all season, we may be higher up the table. Ultimately, efforts where in vain and United won the tie, but it was somewhat gratifying to know that Mourinho had to turn to superstars Pogba and Ibrahimovic to get the win (against a team second to bottom in the division below) (I’m also not going to lie, seeing Ibrahimovic live is one thing ticked off the bucket list!).

 What was frustrating about the game was the effort and intensity of the Rovers team – where has that been all season? Yes, as a Championship team you don’t get to play against the likes of Manchester United every week and against the likes of Zlatan, Pogba, Martial and Mkhitaryan – but surely that any supporter can expect is that the players give 100% every week to try and achieve the clubs goals; whether they be to beat Manchester United in the cup, push for promotion, or battle against relegation. What the defeat on Sunday did show is that the ability, grit and determination, and want to win is there, somewhere. If Mowbray can get Emnes dictating play like that behind Graham for the rest of the season we will score goals. Coupled with that, Mahoney needs to be given more starts – when he came on in the second half, United didn’t know what to do, beating Darmian and even drawing a cynical foul out of Pogba. Mahoney could provide that unknown quantity and spark that not only gets us goals and points, but also gets the crowd behind the team. What is evident is that we can’t defend; we haven’t been able to all season – so maybe the answer is all out attack. Another shining light was the cameo from Tomlinson when he came on – he gives us another option in the middle and deserves more game time.

 So this post was going to be about how we can take so many positives from the United defeat and use them to push us on for the remainder of the season, starting with Burton – then the news broke on Tuesday afternoon that Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club by “mutual agreement”, stating that the decision had been made to “give the club the best possible chance of climbing to a position of safety in the Championship” – starting with Burton away on Friday.

 Now don’t get me wrong, Coyle was never the right man for the job and was never going to get fans on side given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and with SEM, and performances on the pitch had done nothing to change that opinion. However, following arguably the best performance of the season, praise from pundits across the nation, and ahead of the arguably the biggest game in the last 30 years, surely the sensible option would be to ride the crest of that wave and let Coyle at least attempt to get a similar performance out of the players to try and beat Burton? Coyle and his staff left the club on Tuesday – you would expect without taking training – so who took training on Tuesday? If no-body did, even if someone did, surely that is a massive dent in the preparations for Friday crunch game? All the while, Burton where gaining another important point against Derby County. Coyle was never the “outstanding candidate” in any Rovers fans eyes, and his points return has been shocking – to an extent which should have seen him out of a job weeks ago; yes we have lost a lot of games by the odd goal, and haven’t been thumped by anyone, but consistently losing a game by the odd goal in 5 highlights there is a problem somewhere. Coyle should have gone – after the Sheffield Wednesday game, not just before the most important game of the season. If Rovers don’t win the game on Friday, the blame has to lie solely at the door of Paul Senior and his employers.

 So, Tony Mowbray. He probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, and to be honest I’d forgotten he was even around. A quick Google-search shows he was last at Coventry City in 2016, a role which he resigned from after 18 months in charge, after spells at Middlesbrough, Celtic and his most successful and well known spell as a manager at West Bromwich Albion in 2006-2009. He has a win percentage of 41.98% (and a loss rate of 35.3%).

 When the market was first available the usual names where mentioned: Sherwood and Dunn; in addition to recent job seekers Warburton and Rowett. My own thought’s were “god knows who we’ll get” and I had expected the option of Dunn as caretaker until the end of the season, and then the position to be reviewed depending what division we were in. If I’m being totally honest, I would have loved Rowett or Warburton. When the appointment was announced around lunch today, I was disappointed, maybe even annoyed. We had yet again gone for the cheap option – someone with a CV which had no recent success, but did have a shining light in the past that we could point to (think Coyle with Burnley; Lambert with Norwich; Berg with, oh wait…). I turned the notifications off on my phone as I awaited the onslaught of fellow football fan friend taking the mick.

 By the time I looked back at my phone and on-line I had come to my senses a little. Is it really a bad appointment? Mowbray has something to prove and this is his way back in to a division which he knows; as a minimum he may bring tighten up the defence and stop us leaking goals – that would be a start. Blackburn announced the current debt as being £106m today – and having almost halved their wage bill, there is evidently no money available for a big name, or to attract someone on a short term basis for big money, with the lure of further investment should they keep the club afloat. Looking back at those other choices: David Dunn is a club legend I have no doubt that if he keeps learning at the club he will one day be in the hot-seat, but the time is not now, now we need experience and know-how; Gary Rowett has proved he can work on a shoestring at Burton and Birmingham but he has always been looking for something bigger and better and with that in mind, is his heart set on a relegation? Mark Warburton is for me the more suitable candidate having worked a moneyball method at Brentford with success – I have said on this blog before that given our financial situation, moneyball may be the answer – but at Brentford he had owners and a board who were also invested in that theory and willing to let Warburton play it out (in the end he was too successful for his own good); at Ewood, if we get relegated I fear he would have been the first out of the door, either by sacking or by jumping at another offer. The only other candidate I could put in the frame was Mike Phelan – but even he has no experience of getting a side out of a relegation battle and the, optimistically, promoted.  

 So, the more I think about it, the more Mowbray looks like he good be a good fit. The proof will be in the pudding, and that pudding is due to be served Friday night at the Pirelli Stadium – if we lose that game, that could spell the end of Blackburn’s reign in the top two flights of English football for the first time since 1980 – if we go down this year I fear it will not be as short-lived as back then.

 On a slightly separate note, the release of the current financial situation at Blackburn today do not make for good reading. A pre-tax loss of £1.5m (a reduction of £15.8m on the previous year) but still with a net liability of over £106m show just how in the mire the club is. The wage bill has been almost halved since relegation from the top flight in 2012 when it stood at around £50m/year – it now stands at just over £25m/year. The sales of Gestede, Rhodes and Hanley have no doubt helped reduce the losses off the field, but their absences have been evident in the losses on the pitch. The team which was relegated in 2012 had some established stars on presumably big wages, such as Formica, Petrovic, N’Zonzi, Dann, Rochina, Yakubu, Vukcevic and Samba. In comparison, the current squad has been assembled with loans and free transfers and bolstered with youth team players – I would expect this to be less than 50% of that squad which was relegated. The reason for the current dire straits lies at the door of bad decisions made when we were relegated – the signings we made were not bad signings, the problem was the man picking the team. I stand by my point, that had Kean been sacked in that summer before the season started, and a more experienced manager brought in, we would have bounced right back. The announcement again shows that the Venkys have put Blackburn Rovers in a Catch 22 situation: without them, we go bust and probably drop out of existence; with them, we drop down the divisions due to their poor management and understanding of the club and game of football. The Venky’s won’t leave until they have seen a return on their investment (including the loans etc they have pumped in to the club) and the only way that will happen is if the club gets back to the Premiership and manages to survive for a few seasons – in the current light, this is a long way off happening, so don’t expect the Venkys to be leaving anytime soon.

 For now, let’s get behind Mowbray and the players, lets give them a fresh start to deliver results for the next 15 games……

https://youtu.be/PtVZkimfxso

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