Fine start could get even better
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.
Sam Vokes and Joe Hart celebrate victory against Cardiff at the weekend