Talking Points: Branthwaite shows promise on debut

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Andy Watson discusses the talking points from Rovers’ home draw with Stoke.

With every passing match, there seems to be more questions than answers around this Blackburn Rovers team.

Whilst a draw against a tough and experienced Stoke City side is far from a disaster, the performance of the team for an hour was one of the worst this season.

As a result, there are many talking points to be drawn from the 90 minutes.

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First Half No Shows

For the eighth occasion in nine matches Blackburn Rovers conceded the first goal.

The early season enthusiasm for pressing and taking the game to the opposition from the start appears to have dissipated and what we get now is an apparently “patient” approach.

In practice, this manifests itself into passing slowly in our own half and allowing the opposition to settle into the match. The lack of a coherent plan was obvious right from kick-off as the ball was played back to Lenihan and he had no idea what to do with it and ended up shovelling it back to Kaminski to hump upfield.

With the format of our forward line in this game, there was no way that long balls pumped up to them were going to stick either, so Rovers were automatically giving themselves a really tough ask to progress the ball.

Once again, it feels as though Mowbray was out-planned pre-match by his opponent, Michael O’Neill’s side used their physicality and retained their shape perfectly for an hour to deny Rovers any goalscoring opportunities (apart from the offside goal!)

Branthwaite’s Quality

One benefit to playing it around the back was the chance to see our new boy in action.

Early on, he was under pressure but didn’t panic and used good skill to weave his way out.

In general, he was neat and tidy on the ball and sound defensively. It was a debut of promise and he looks like he is going to be a big player for us in the second half of the season (in more ways than one).

Formation & Tactical Worries

Central defence may have received an upgrade, but all around the rest of the pitch there are concerns.

We were told that things would improve when Dack & Travis returned, but both appeared way off the pace against Stoke. The formation was changed to allow them both to play a central part in the team but, in their current condition, it just wasn’t effective. 

It is a longer-term problem that even when they are physically back to their best how does Dack, in particular, fit into the system we want to play, we are no nearer to knowing the answer to that.

If he doesn’t fit, do we adapt everything just for him? He has just signed a new contract so we do need to make him part of the team. That’s the challenge now for Mowbray.

Squad Depth A Real Positive

There were many who said that the first XI played on Saturday was the highest quality team Mowbray has played with yet. 

So, the fact that we were able to change the game from the bench is a ringing endorsement of the depth of quality in the squad. Davenport and Holtby made big improvements to the midfield and Ben Brereton made a couple of good contributions as Rovers turned the screw late in the second half.

However, it was the much maligned John Buckley who popped up with the equaliser. Laptops and mobiles were threatened with the wall when Mowbray brought the Rovers Academy graduate after 75 minutes but in his time on the field he looked as though he was playing on a different surface.

The half-sand, half-mud bobble fest that had been used for the other players didn’t seem to affect Buckley and whilst it won’t be enough in isolation to rid him of the nonsensical doom merchants his goal and performance should at least give him some confidence moving forwards.

Speaking of moving forward, it’s Swansea City who come to Ewood Beach on Tuesday night. Fresh from another impressive away win and clean sheet against Barnsley, it is going to be a very tough ask for Rovers. A massive raise in performance level needs to be seen if we are to get our first win against sides above us in the league.

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