Play-off talk on hold as Rovers hit the buffers
BLUE-EYED BOY’S BLACKBURN VIEW
THE column is written pre-Boxing Day this week so you will either be buoyed by a great or decent result at Elland Road or deflated postfestivities by another disappointment.
So much of my focus is on the Norwich game in which we competed vigorously and gamely, had chances – but not nearly enough in a home game – and were eventually unpicked by the confident and slick promotion seekers with a smartly-constructed goal which looked more and more inevitable and predictable as the clock wound down.
It was the classic kind of away performance a team high on confidence, self-belief and a little bit of luck to go with steely resilience regularly reels off as they steadily stack up points.
The kind we churned out regularly a year ago and once or twice this season but which seems to have dropped off our set-list of late.
But before the tough double at Leeds and Brammall Lane we have gone five away games without a win, taking just two points on the road, and won one of our last four home games, below par even with our overall Ewood record of four wins in 12.
Put simply, we’ve hit the wall a bit after the exuberance of postpromotion carried over into the Autumn. Play-off talk is on hold and with games thick and fast, the little three/four point gap to the bottom 10 isn’t looking as cavernous.
If our big three of Mulgrew, Dack and Graham don’t deliver it’s sometimes hard to imagine where goals will come from. None of our three full-backs has one, Lenihan has one, eternally-preferred midfield duo Evans and Smallwood have failed to trouble the scorers (Bennett and Conway neither) and Armstrong has delivered just two in half a campaign, a poor return from someone who looked a natural finisher in League One but has struggled at this level before.
Palmer has shown an eye for an opportunity but his incessant pratting about on the ball in areas in which we can ill afford to surrender possession is beginning to irritate the most patient fans and giving some indication why previous loan fosterers Huddersfield and Derby utilised him sparingly.
And with £7m or a good proportion thereof due to Forest in January, the elephant in the room that is Ben Brereton’s worrying form – and on Saturday he gave his most bewilderingly poor cameo thus far – cannot be ignored.
It smacked of an odd deal from day one and despite some slight mitigation in the roles he has been asked to briefly perform, not to mention his youth, it seems no less odd now.
Put it this way. If the lad was another kid on loan from, say, a Premier League club, most would surely be saying he needs to go back and we need to find someone who can better impact games. If a £7m bid was mentioned, quite frankly, you’d want someone sectioned.
With seemingly no intention of giving him Under-23 game time, he has to be, however young, considered a first team squad member. But he has shown no likelihood of contributing. Yes he’s plonked out wide but, listen, this is what a truly precocious young footballer (which I take it he is considered to be at the price) would do: he’d find a goal, a run inside and shot, a header from a set piece, an innate dash into the box to anticipate a falling ball – Graham laid on one such header late on Saturday, nobody near – and show something.
Youngsters of yesteryear like Garner, Duff, Dunn, Patterson all gave off some kind of premonitionary air that though they were boys they weren’t out of place, with a touch of that kind of swagger and impudence Rooney and Shearer showed as kids, and it was obvious seeing their early games that they would soon be men in men’s football . Paul Round, aged 18 scored on his debut.
Nobody’s expecting a Rooney or Shearer. But a hint of a Garner would be nice. A division down, he’s shown less so far than lads like James Beattie, Ben Burgess and James Thomas showed in the Premier League.
I’d argue currently that we couldn’t get less off the bench from Joe Nuttall who has according to those who watch Damien Johnson’s side rediscovered his hunger and goal touch after a period of drifting followed by stern words from Mowbray. We know he has an odd goal in him. Brereton obviously had at one point in his fledgling Forest development but he looks psychologically affected by the weight of expectation now.
Were he our player from the juniors, it would be unthinkable that we weren’t looking to loan him out to a league one club.
All that of course, will be dated hogwash should he have popped a winner in at Leeds but I suspect he needs taking out of the firing line for his own good for a time, at least in the form of a more experienced striker in January. Sam Gallagher at 23 on loan with 100 senior games under his belt would do for me despite his modest goal record. We once took another lad from Saints with about one in five from 120 games and he didn’t do so badly.
I see Rovers are offering stay-aways-from-Ewood who’ve been to an away game this season a free ticket for a home game if they fill in a survey and say whether they don’t like Venkys or the concourse beer or why ever they choose not to as a rule.
I’m greatly looking forward to hearing what they’ll be doing as reward for those who have renewed season tickets repeatedly in the aftermath of Kean, Coyle, relegation and, most recently, significant price increases. Can’t believe they don’t have something nice planned for those loyal supporters.
A couple of freebies for an away game and coach travel would be nice, Rovers? I’ll look forward to hearing.
A Happy 2019 to one and all.