Performance sent out right message
BLUE-EYED BOY’S BLACKBURN VIEW
TONY Mowbray and his Rovers team provided just the right riposte to the doubters- me included – with a fine display to bury a disappointing Portsmouth on Saturday.
Though you still get the nagging feeling this side has to take one step backward and another sideways before advancing, while the manager almost seems to hit on a winning selection and system by accident on occasion.
But the result and performance sent out all the right messages and signals with a week to recuperate from a demanding afternoon making light of Storm Bryan to reclaim a top six spot ahead of what could be the most important four days of the season to date.
Much has been attached to Rovers’ two games in hand which could be instrumental in advancing the cause, points tally and league position still further but there is another towerring challenge before the first of those (Fleetwood at home on Tuesday) in the shape of a regular nemesis in a visit to second-placed Wigan Athletic tomorrow.
A defeat on Saturday would open a huge gap between ourselves and Latics and should Shrewsbury win at Peterborough, a top two spot would already be looking reliant on the kind of run of form which, if you’re lucky, come once or twice a decade like Don Mackay’s 21-match unbeaten run, Kendall’s 14 wins out of 15 or the dozen undefeated which Kenny’s Alan Shearerfuelled juggernaut racked up in the 1995 title season.
So it was mightily encouraging to see Rovers, with Harry Chapman finally unleashed, set about their business against Pompey in such positive fashion. From the instant Richie Smallwood had a stunning piledriver tipped over the bar, the boys looked bang at it in a way we never saw in the meek surrender at Oldham or the gormless failure at home to Pompey.
Kenny Jackett’s team ought, on paper, to have caused us more problems than Argyle but they were simply never allowed to settle and pass the ball as a markedly improved home team took command.
From Downing’s unfussy composure at the back we looked improved all round and went after the opposition with, if not murderous intent, a clear plan to do the visitors a mischief or two.
Should-he-start-or-be- an-impact-sub debate about Chapman will continue to rage but after a quiet opening personally he made his mark after a number of opportunities had been scorned.
To see him and Bradley Dack maraud from the centre of the park and advance past the nominal front men is quite a revelation after years of watching timid, cautious midfielders stodge up the centre of the park.
I’m not sure to be honest what a “number 10” is but Dack looks to me a good old-fashioned, clinical goalscoring midfielder, a species I’ve always enjoyed watching whether vicariously (Ball, Wark, McDermott, Lampard etc) or in our colours (Knighton, Oates, Atkins, Barker, Sherwood).
He strides into parts of the pitch other players fear to enter and we are beginning to see the makings of a doublefigures-plus operator about his business.
If you were a centreforward worth your salt you’d surely be excited at the prospect of benefting from a duo with such creativity in their boots and while Danny Graham has been written off in some quarters, I have always believed that our best chance of doing well this season is if players like him and Whittingham, seasoned practitioners of their arts, can impose their personality on the team and division.
Whittingham is slowly emerging from his early-season testimonialpace chrysalis but Graham’s last two starts have encouraged dreams that he could yet look as good at this level as he did in the Championship in his first weeks at Ewood Park.
I hope Graham did a bit of soul-searching during his time on the subs’ bench and if so I hope the conversation with himself went a little like this.
“What exactly am I, Danny Graham, with hundreds of appearances and goals higher up, doing stuck on a middling Third Division outfit’s bench watching, with respect, kids like Samuel and Antonnson start games?
“Is this how I want to be remembered, drawing a big wage for fading away undignified, or am I going to shape myself and provide the goals and assists to justify my salary and help the club climb the table?”
Graham was given a rather unexpected guarantee of continued selection by Samuel’s act of foolishness in getting himself sent off late on to earn a three-game ban. Nuttall from the Under- 21s could also benefit from that aberration.
Wigan has been a scene of many a Rovers horror how down the years but the occasional victories there have been memorable for the right reasons and there would be no better time to chalk up another.
Defeat could theoretically leave us respectively 16 and 15 points behind the top two and while some have portrayed it as a must win, a point would do for me.
It would, it goes without saying, be absolutely imperative to beat Fleetwood in the first ever league meeting between the sides at Ewood on Tuesday however we’ve done at Wigan.
You can wring your hands all you want about how it shows the extent of our fall from grace playing the Cod Army in the first place but that does their phenomenal ascent a disservice.
We are where we both are and credit to them for doing so well whilst hoping we put them summarily in their place.
I’ll be absent from both games this week on a trip to Hungary and Slovakia but I hope everyone enjoys a couple of cracking Lancashire derbies.
See you at the Barnet game after missing the really exciting stuff!