Likeable Rovers continue their impressive start with victory at Stoke

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Andy Watson gives his verdict as Rovers pick up an impressive victory at Stoke.

Well, anyone getting a nosebleed?

The last time Blackburn Rovers were positioned 4th or higher in the Championship was under the management of ‘he who must not be named’ in October 2012. The peaks and troughs of the tenure of Tony Mowbray have been plentiful, but, on the whole, relatively mild. The high of that promotion season and the low of 0-7 at home aside the worst we’ve had to deal with is uninspired football, a long winless run and highly questionable ticketing strategy.

But this, could this be something? The team, in my opinion, is one of the most easily supportable teams I can remember in my 30 years of supporting the club. The ‘90s were clearly the best, the early 2000s had much going for them as well, but in terms of characters, spirit, fight and commitment there have been many incarnations of Blackburn Rovers teams that engender such feelings of pride.

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The performance against Stoke is a fitting one to this attitude. The quality wasn’t always there, lots of directionless long balls, some simple misplaced passes, but what was always evident was the competitive spirit. It was the non-stop running and nature of the work from all of the players that denied Stoke any rhythm whatsoever. It’s no wonder that Ben Brereton Diaz looked absolutely cooked in the 97th minute of the game.

It should also be said that Rovers were able to work from a solid platform. The 5-2-3 / 5-3-2 system has had it’s share of critics this season, but we haven’t conceded, or really looked like conceding, in the last two fixtures and the way that we were able to shut down the key passing lanes today meant that Stoke had to resort to playing direct. Which was meat and drink for Lenihan, van Hecke and Wharton up against Brown and Campbell.

However, once we have that platform and our defenders are doing their job it still requires us to have a sprinkling of stardust. This is where other departments of our club can be so proud of their work. The recruitment team has done their job excellently on a shoestring. Reda Khadra produced a vital moment of magic in this match but also worked his socks off throughout. His ball carrying is vital when we are asking one fewer player than usual to contribute as much going forwards. If he maintains his fitness he is going to be a key cog of this team all season. Watching Brighton struggle to finish Leeds Utd off tonight makes me think they could’ve done with his directness in their first team as well!

The Academy staff also have made a huge contribution to our current success. The story of John Buckley is well known to us all, but every member of staff through the age groups can be rightly proud of the young footballer, and man, that John has become. His performance against Stoke was probably his best to date, especially in the second half. His every touch was measured, his head cool as ice, his body fit and willing. The way he moves with the ball is so smooth and always assessing the options, more often than not choosing correctly, but most importantly, delivering with the correct weight of pass too. Long may he remain under the radar.

In truth I could wax lyrical about so many individuals at the moment. Travis and Lenihan are showing sensational leadership, Wharton has been perfect since returning, van Hecke was composed and aerially dominant and Brereton, despite his misses, put in a super shift for us. A deserved word on Aynsley Pears as well, he was actually excellent for the U23 side earlier in the week and he produced a good save at the death to preserve the vital three points.

So. 4th place, West Brom and Bournemouth looking a bit dodgy at the moment. Dare we dream? I think that in truth we have to keep our feet on the ground and just continue to look game by game. The next one is huge. Our recent record in local derbies isn’t the best and Preston would just absolutely love to bring us down a peg or two.

Let’s get packed into Ewood, get the BBE rocking and if we can take three points off those pretenders from down the road then we are one step closer to the ultimate aim. 

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