Mark Whittle discusses the talking points as Rovers pick up their only point of February with a draw against Coventry City…
Losing streak ends but another disappointing display
One year since we were last able to attend Ewood Park – and how we all would have loved to be inside the ground after five straight defeats to really get behind the lads and push for them to get the three points. The team needed the extra twelfth man going into this one that is for sure.
The pre-match against Coventry was built up to be a pivotal game in Rovers’ season, but for all the wrong reasons. After a promising start to the new year in January when the club were on the brink of the play-off places, optimism was high amongst the Rovers faithful in the hope that we could push to be in contention for a top six finish in the remaining few months of the season. Fast forward a few weeks later and now we are suddenly looking over our shoulders hoping that we are not going to be dragged into a relegation battle. I do not believe we will be, however the season has well and truly fizzled out. What a difference a month makes. February has been a terrible month for everyone involved – one point from a possible 18 on offer.
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The game against Coventry did nothing to suggest we are going to get back to winning ways anytime soon. Much is made of the importance of scoring the first goal in matches, so when Ben Brereton put Rovers ahead after 27 minutes, you would have been forgiven for being confident the side would go on to claim all three points. Rovers did look a good bet to go and complete the double over Coventry this season. However, a very laboured second half was a huge disappointment. There was plenty of time for Rovers to get the winner after Coventry’s equaliser just after half-time, but just as in recent matches, we did not do enough to trouble Coventry and a winner never seemingly looked like it was going to happen – despite the likes of Dack and Dolan being introduced. It all lacked any real urgency. Everything feels very stale right now and that is how things have been for several weeks.
You can almost predict Tony Mowbray’s post-match comments these days. He says the players are still fighting and working hard. I have no doubt that they are, but they also look like a team lost that has completely run out of ideas.
Failure to keep clean sheets
The return of Darragh Lenihan was crucial for the Coventry game. After Wednesday night’s defeat against Watford, the defensive mistakes were there for us all to see and conceding soft goals has been a topic of conversation far too many times in recent years. I was surprised to see Branthwaite start – I think he has been very shaky after a promising opening few games since joining from Everton. I would have personally started Harwood-Bellis ahead of Branthwaite and I think there will be yet another central partnership at Reading on Tuesday night as I believe Mowbray will change it again.
Coventry posed a threat going forward and could have easily taken an early lead in the opening quarter of the match. Once Rovers did go 1-0 in front through Brereton’s strike, I do not think any of us felt one goal would ever be enough to win. Keeping clean sheets is vital at any level of football, but Rovers never do it often enough so if we are not creating as many chances as the manager says we do, we can never rely on us keeping the back door shut either. Whoever the personnel playing, it should not have taken Mowbray four years to build a solid defensive base, still trying to work that formula out.
The next six
As pointed out earlier, the Coventry match was a big chance for Rovers to get back to winning ways. February has been a month to forget and if Rovers continue the run of form, we have been on of late, then I am not sure March will be any better for us. March’s fixtures start with two very tough away games at Reading and Millwall followed by three home games. Normally three straight home matches for Rovers would be a good opportunity to accumulate a good number of points, but with the visits of two of the top four and a Bristol City side inspired with the arrival of Nigel Pearson as manager, not even the most optimistic Rovers supporter will be hopeful of a decent return points total. We end March with a nice away trip to table-toppers Norwich City. Football is a funny game at the best of times though, so I am hoping for the best. Let us see where we are this time next month.
Strap yourselves in as this roller-coaster of a season is far from yet over.
As always, stay safe and thanks for reading.
Featured Image: rovers.co.uk