Mark Whittle pens his thoughts on Rovers’ opening pre-season fixture as they narrowly defeat National League North side AFC Fylde…
This was the first time I had seen a Rovers team play live since February 2020 and it felt great. Although it was only a pre-season friendly, the buzz of going to a live football match was finally back.
The match itself was not one to remember. This was simply a case of getting minutes in the legs for the players. It was a very youthful squad that Rovers had taken to Fylde, and it showed the lack of depth within the current Rovers squad. With the five loanees from last season returning to parent clubs, plus the six out of contract players who have departed this summer, the squad looks light on numbers- with most of the squad at Mill Farm made up of U23 players.
It has not helped with the fact the club have only just had their transfer embargo lifted, which has prevented Tony Mowbray from being able to conduct any early transfer business, meaning a slow start to activity at Ewood this summer. With only four weeks until the start of the 2021-22 Championship season, Rovers will certainly need to bring in a host of new players to be able to compete in what is already a challenging league.
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Two separate XIs were fielded as expected. There were a few absentees through injury with the likes of Sam Gallagher and Tyrhys Dolan missing out, whilst Ben Brereton was absent due to a fantastic summer representing Chile in the Copa America that has had all us Rovers fans gripped with excitement. It was a shame not to see Thomas Kaminski in live action for the first time. The most notable absentee was that of Adam Armstrong, with Mowbray stating after the match that he did not play due to him not being fit and ‘a bit stiff’ after the work he had put in whilst in Stirling, Scotland this past week. Personally, I will be surprised if we see Adam Armstrong in a Rovers shirt again.
In the first half, we did get the chance to see our new signing made in January, Harry Pickering. I thought he looked lively, showed lots of nice touches, and got forward at every opportunity. Dan Pike at right-back also showed glimpses of what he can do on the other side.
Harry Chapman returning to Rovers this summer after an impressive loan spell at Shrewsbury last season was Harry Chapman. He signed a new one-year deal with Rovers a few weeks ago so it was good to see him back in action, being one of the brightest players on the pitch after seeing plenty of the ball during the first half. Chances were few and far between.
The second half saw a completely changed team with Dan Butterworth the one who stood out more than anyone. As the match seemingly was ending with a goalless draw with neither team creating too many chances, Connor McBride stepped up to curl a good finish onto the far corner on 74 minutes – and 1-0 is how it remained.
Regardless of the match, the winner on the day was the fans, finally able to be back watching the Rovers again. It was great to see so many familiar faces amongst the crowd, speaking to fellow supporters who I had not seen for almost 18 months.
Roll on the 2021-22 season!