Talking Points: Where would Rovers have been with a fully fit Ayala last season?

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Adrian Spencer discusses three talking points from Rovers’ midweek victory over Hull City…

Impressive subs changed the game

I think it’s fair to say that substitutes Danny Butterworth and Reda Khadra deservedly receive the ‘super subs’ title for today. Both were outstanding in different ways and turned the table for Rovers from the moment they came on. 

Reda Khadra had what was objectively a bright debut in a Rovers shirt. His quick feet, awareness and creativity quickly dismantled Hull’s calmness in defence and spurred Rovers to push forward and create chances.

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The Brighton loanee settled right into Rovers’ system and rapidly changed the pace of the game. Good first touches, intensity playing forward and the vision to open up spaces to attack brightened up what was a dull, scrappy affair up until then. 

Danny Butterworth contributed just as much to Rovers’ late push for three points. He was both calm in possession and quick to find players to pass the ball to. He even managed to have an attempt or two on goal, which added to the pressure Rovers were putting on Hull late on.

Butterworth, another product of Rovers’ academy, shined under the lights as a substitute in a midweek game just like Lewis Travis did not long ago when he stormed into the first team in a matter of months. He has a bright future ahead of him and must receive more game time this season to prove his potential.  

Both of these subs made an instant impact on the pitch: the sudden burst of quality and energy urged the fans’ roar and the team’s push to turn a bad game into important points,

Dire first half turned into a satisfactory win

Given the bad and frankly disappointing first half performance from Rovers, fans had low expectations as usual for the next 45 minutes. Quite often it seems like the Blues play without tactics, encouraged only by Tony’s team talks and, scarcely, the fans’ dismay. 

Yet, like many other times, Rovers seemed to pull off a miraculous late push for the win with twenty minutes to go. This time it was the introduction of energetic substitutes which triggered this reaction, instead of proper late-game tactics as we expect.

It’s that uncertainty that comes with this team that makes matches so unnerving. We’re never sure if Tony has a plan for winning what seem like certain draws, or if the players will be up for the final push. Furthermore, this produces a lack of encouragement in fans that is so necessary for players at times.

The gaffer’s lack of a clear game plan proves to be very frustrating given the quality of the players he has to work with, especially when the game is a tasteless draw or ends in a heartbreaking equaliser. The lack of motivation, of ambition, is what prevents this club from moving forward in this division under our current manager. 

Perhaps this is what we should expect for this season, thought to be Tony’s last in charge of Rovers: no clear tactics, varying lineups and relying on substitutes or late equalisers/winners to pick up points. None of which don’t sound familiar to any Rovers fan at this point. 

Signs of improvement

Watching Rovers so far this season it’s easy to realise certain players are improving by the game and growing into the team. Ben Brereton, Tyhrys Dolan, and Daniel Ayala are the three players I think have had a big improvement over last season.

Let’s start with Tyhrys Dolan. The youngster came from Preston as a young talent with the ambition to learn and grow under Mowbray in the first team. He quickly broke into the first team and showed glimpses of his quality, but didn’t manage to find a consistency that would benefit him.

This season, however, Dolan has managed to improve significantly: his composure after enormous bursts of energy is starting to progress, his awareness is better and he makes fewer mistakes than previously under pressure. 

Armstrong’s departure has left a gap to fill in attack which Tyhrys Dolan, next to Ben Brereton and Sam Gallagher, have started to exploit. This brings us to probably the most improved player since his arrival to Rovers: Ben Brereton.

The Chilean international has thrived so far this season, providing the goals and attacking vision that Adam used to do last season. The boost he has received from his international ventures with La Roja and the fans’ support has massively impacted his playing style and approach.

Finally, Spanish defender Daniel Ayala deserves a good mention. His arrival from Middlesbrough last season generated expectations that weren’t met at the time, but that progressively began materialising the more game time he received.

The defender has managed to become a solid wall in Rovers’ defence, as well as a big presence in set pieces. Adding to this is his spirit to encourage the team in difficult situations and his passion when his teammates do well. Rovers’ number five is now an indisputable rock-solid addition to this squad.

Thanks for reading.

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