Fine start could get even bet­ter

Accrington Observer - - MOTORS -

BLUE-EYED BOY’S BLACK­BURN VIEW

BY the time you’re read­ing this Rovers will have played Sh­effield United and the 2018-19 sea­son, in­cred­i­bly, will be al­most a quar­ter through.

Not­with­stand­ing how Rovers did against the Blades, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine Tony Mow­bray’s team hav­ing ac­quit­ted them­selves any bet­ter over the open­ing 10 league games: it is, how­ever easy to imag­ine us in a more el­e­vated stand­ing in the ta­ble.

Those late equalis­ers for Ip­swich and Villa were added to in the litany of hard luck sto­ries by For­est’s flimsy penalty, although that did in fair­ness change the na­ture of the clos­ing min­utes to the ex­tent that we were quite re­lieved to hang onto the point against a team who do look the like­li­est I’ve seen thus far to be a pro­mo­tion con­tender.

But the very fact that Wed­nes­day’s re­sult could have seen us lie any­where be­tween fifth and four­teenth in the ta­ble il­lus­trates that few teams can take any­thing de­fin­i­tive from the first 25 per cent of an­other re­lent­less sea­son in the Cham­pi­onship. The ta­ble is for now in a glo­ri­ously com­pelling state of flux with 16th and 17th within four points of the top six.

As more and more teams come down from the Premier League with buck­ets of para­chute cash and wealthy own­ers chuck their own money at seek­ing pro­mo­tion, the se­cond tier of English foot­ball is as­sum­ing more of a fiercely com­pet­i­tive look top-to-bot­tom that the top tier can­not pos­si­bly match with its three­d­i­vi­sions-in-one sub­struc­ture. The old chest­nut about any­one be­ing able to beat any­one at our level has never looked truer.

Even in our part of the word, Sat­ur­day’s op­po­nents Bolton are com­pet­ing well on a pal­try bud­get and Pre­ston’s spir­ited come­back against As­ton Villa in mid­week demon­strated the worth of the kind of val­ues Tony Mow­bray has in­stilled at Ewood.

Those traits were man­i­fest on Sat­ur­day and not just on the field. The way the fans stayed be­hind the team af­ter the early se­cond-half set­back and vis­i­bly lifted the play­ers as they first clawed their way back into the con­test then ran For­est ragged for a time was heart­en­ing.

The mid­field looks revi- talised with Har­ri­son Reed prov­ing a splen­did ac­qui­si­tion. While a hand­ful of Mow­bray’s ad­di­tions haven’t come off, Reed has brought some­thing new and vi­brant and ex­cit­ing to the party, Sign­ing prom­ise is one thing but as the likes of Grimes, Byrne and Sa­muelsen have shown we don’t re­ally have the lux­ury of be­ing able to walk young play­ers from PL clubs through baby steps.

Reed has come in and given our play an­other di­men­sion from the off. Dack and Gra­ham are reap­ing the ben­e­fit of a wolf­pack in the en­gine sec­tion of the side which is har­ry­ing and wor­ry­ing ta­lented op­po­nents who not many months ago might have found far more free­dom against us.

No-one can pos­si­bly com­plain about the en­ter­tain­ment served up at home this sea­son ei­ther and the team re­ally do de­serve more than the loyal 12,000 or so home fans who turn up week in week out.

It’s surely time for Rovers to re-imag­ine their match­day pric­ing. As a no­to­ri­ous meanie, I know by heart that my £349 sea­son ticket works out at just over £15 a game and I do be­grudge any scheme which REG­U­LARLY un­der­cuts the amount peo­ple have stumped up in good faith in ad­vance.

But to charge East Lan­cashire folk who make a late de­ci­sion to go on £30 with the lam­en­ta­ble £3 in­crease af­ter noon on match­days seems al­most cal­cu­lated to dis­suade walk-ons from both­er­ing.

These are the months when matches at Pleas­ing­ton and Highams used to get called off and pro­vide Rovers with a few dozen more walk-ups. These days you’d prob­a­bly be more tempted to go in the pub at £27 and £30 a time.

What we do need to im­prove to tempt a few back, a stat I al­ways keep my eye on, is the home wins ra­tio, which any suc­cess­ful cam­paign has its foun­da­tions in. One vic­tory from the open­ing five home league games was a pal­try re­turn for how de­cently we’ve played, a record hope­fully im­proved con­sid­er­ably by the time you read this.

The next home game, af­ter the in­ter­na­tional break, will see an­other of the fan­cied sides, Leeds, backed by a packed Dar­wen End but in the run-up to Christ­mas our next four vis­i­tors to Ewood will be QPR, Rother­ham, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day and Birm­ing­ham - just the kind of home games Mow­bray must tar­get with the ruth­less­ness with which Al­lardyce would pri­ori­tise games against the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The three away der­bies at Bolton, Wi­gan and Pre­ston also come thick and fast be­fore the end of Novem­ber (when will we get a big derby game at home be­fore Christ­mas? Can you re­mem­ber the last one?) and all three of those should see large, con­fi­dent away contin­gents if we con­tinue to per­form to our best abil­ity.

Sat­ur­day will be the first time for a few weeks I’ve ac­tu­ally ex­pected to win.

What I’ve seen of us so far con­vinces me that, in­juries not­with­stand­ing, de­spite all our re­cent woes at the Macron/Reebok, we have the per­son­nel to do Bolton dam­age.

Again, it’s a pity that the pric­ing and tea-time kick­off (not to men­tion lack of trains) will re­duce the crowd for what I still con­sider a proper red-blood Lan­cashire derby. You’ll be lucky if there’s 14,000 on when re­ally there should be 20,000 min­i­mum for these games.

If we end up in or not far off the top six on Sat­ur­day night it will be a mer­i­to­ri­ous first two months of what’s de­vel­op­ing as an in­trigu­ing sea­son.

Nick Potts

Sam Vokes and Joe Hart cel­e­brate vic­tory against Cardiff at the week­end

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