Andy Watson provides his verdict as Rovers return to winning ways against Hull City…
I spent a good three hours of my day today watching Blackburn Rovers play football. After missing Saturday’s draw with Luton due to being mesmerised by Derren Brown I used today to hopefully be equally astounded with our quality. It is fair to say that the show was a touch more amazing than the Rovers’ performances.
However, that is not to say that I am disappointed with Blackburn Rovers, quite the opposite. From noises made in the press, it was pretty clear that Tony Mowbray was targeting six points from these two home fixtures. Both Luton & Hull are clubs that probably run on a smaller budget than us and have been promoted since we have become a solid Championship club so that target is understandable. But we know how many times Rovers have come unstuck against those types of teams before, so four points is a decent enough haul.
But oh, if we could’ve just held on last Saturday. Fourteen points from seven would hit Ryan Hildred’s often talked about two points a game ratio and put us just a point behind the leaders West Brom and Bournemouth at this stage.
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In all honesty, that would be a flattering position given the overall performances. I actually think that Saturday was a better performance than Tuesday against Hull. I know that it feels worse because of the outcome, but across the 90 minutes, I did think there was more structure and substance to our performance. Tonight was a real struggle in the first 50 minutes especially.
I was fairly positive about the prospects of Brereton Diaz up front with the likes of Dolan, Rothwell, Buckley & Clarkson buzzing around in behind. However, that supporting cast was unable to really grasp the ball in the attacking half of the pitch and at times when Rothwell or Dolan dribbled forward with the ball their final decision or execution let them down. Buckley is the only one at the moment who can see a picture in the final third, but often it’s a very difficult pass because the options aren’t there.
It all changed after 54 minutes because Mowbray removed Buckley and Clarkson for Reda Khadra (on debut) and Dan Butterworth. Immediately, there was more directness and thrust to the Rovers attacks. The number of players that could carry the ball threateningly had doubled and that left the Hull defence floundering.
Brereton Diaz thrived on the extra support centrally that Butterworth was able to provide. The birthday boy (22 today) created chances for Dolan and Brereton before Tyhrys Dolan did superbly to win a corner kick with clever movement and terrier-like attitude. Ayala’s leap and power in a standing start was remarkable and again he was excellent all night.
I feel like Mowbray is going to get it in the neck if Butterworth doesn’t start against Barnsley. Part of me thinks he should too because of what he has provided this season. But I also saw glimpses of perhaps why he doesn’t start. A few too many times I saw him walking around in that #10 position, allowing the game to pass him by from a defensive perspective. He also kinda looked tired. Perhaps he is better suited to making an impact later on against more tired defences for now.
Khadra, though, when he achieves full fitness, could be a starter. His impact was exciting. Clearly enjoys a dribble, can shoot, can use both feet. One of his deliveries was a beautiful dangerous pacy ball in so he has that in his locker too. With Poveda to return as well, we do have a crop of technically gifted footballers to play around with in those attacking slots.
The most promising aspect of all of this is that we sit on the shoulder of the play-offs (again) but having had to play with a thin squad. I’d say there’s only one or two that could come in and strengthen the actual first XI, namely Joe Rankin-Costello and Bradley Dack. Bradley Johnson could potentially perform the holding role and allow Lewis Travis more freedom to affect the game as well. Either way, it would be great to bulk up that bench and give the manager more options.
Finally, it was fabulous to keep a clean sheet for the first time this season. They were by no means solid, but Kaminski deserves a clean sheet for his performances generally. But I just wanted to touch on Daniel Ayala and Harry Pickering. Two signings that have been doubted by many, Ayala is clearly a key performer for this side. He and Lenihan are both communicators, he has great experience and having been given a free role defending set-pieces, he is the man charged with heading the ball away, and he so often does.
Pixie seemed to take a little while to get up to speed in this league, which is understandable, but I do think he’s already showing signs of improvement. Tough assignment tonight against Mallik Wilks but he did well I thought, and now he is showing us more of his attacking skill as well.
If we can take this form to a struggling Barnsley side, then I’m confident that we could walk away from Oakwell with all three points. I don’t think it’s a particularly happy hunting ground for us, certainly not recently, but this team has a bit more fight about it than before. Let’s go for it and actually get into that top six for a change!
Thanks for reading.