A change in formation, defensively stronger and Samuel’s impact – 3 things we learnt from Bradford

Rovers travelled to the Valley Parade, home of fellow League One side Bradford City, and picked up their first win of the season and put their first points on the board with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Bantams. @jamesdixonbrfc looks at 3 things we learnt after Rovers’ first win of the season.

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Mowbray moved away from the wing-backs formation he looked to be adopting, and Rovers picked up their first win of the season.

A change in formation

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Williams looked more composed in the Rovers’ back 4 alongside Caddis, Ward and captain Mulgrew.

Many fans have criticised Tony Mowbray’s team selection and formations early in the season. Rovers played both 3 and 5 at the back in the first two games of the season respectively, with both games ending in defeat for Rovers. In a 5 at the back formation, Rovers were criticised for being too slow going forward and not having any real attacking force. In a 3 at the back, Rovers’ defensive performances were simply not good enough, with players such as Ryan Nyambe and Elliot Ward being particularly blamed for many defensive errors. Also, Rovers simply did not have enough fit centre backs to play 3 of them, with Scott Wharton and Darragh Lenihan both being injured – meaning we need to bring in cover, which is most likely to be a Premier League loanee. This meant Ryan Nyambe had to play out of his natural position, which causes problems.

However, Tony Mowbray changed things up and played a formation with 4 defenders, which pleased many Rovers fans – including myself – who had been crying out for a change in our formation. The 4 at the back allowed us to play with a larger attacking presence, whilst also maintaining a defensive structure. Young Ryan Nyambe was left out of the squad because of injury, and he was no longer played out of his natural position – something that a 3 or 5 at the back required due to our lack of fit centre backs. The formation change seemed to work, as Rovers recorded our first win in the new season. The hope for most Rovers fans now, will be that Mowbray sticks to this 4 at the back formation, as it worked much better than a 3 or 5 at the back.

Defensively stronger

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Smallwood also gives Rovers a secure defensive line when playing as a defensive midfielder.

Rovers had conceded 5 goals in our first 2 games, losing both games along the way. Against Doncaster, Rovers gifted Doncaster all of their goal – with Elliot Ward missing a pass giving them a free run at goal, Raya heading the ball straight into the path of an oncoming Doncaster player, and one goal from a penalty situation. It’s safe to say the defending early this season had been awful, and the future was looking bleak if these were the kind of defensive performances we could be expecting out of Rovers. 19 year old Ryan Nyambe was playing out of position and did not show the same promise he was showing last season at right back. Elliot Ward was giving away goals left, right and centre. Mulgrew wasn’t playing as well as we saw him play last season, and our wing/full backs (when played) made little impact in the game.

So it seemed very strange when Rovers held a 1-0 lead on for the entire second half of the match. Bradford, who hadn’t lost at home in the league since March 2016, seemed unable to get through our defence, and the chances they had materialised into nothing. Ryan Nyambe missed out through injury, and the formation change was made to incorporate a back 4, with Paul Caddis coming in at right back. The change worked well, as Caddis made key interceptions throughout the game. The entire team worked hard on keeping it tight and making sure they rewarded the fans with a clean sheet, and all 3 points.

Samuel’s impact

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Samuel scored just after the half-time break, taking his goal tally up to 3 goals in 4 games.

Striker Dominic Samuel arrived from Reading in mid-July for a fee believed to be around £500,000. When he first signed, many fans were excited by the arrival of a new, young striker on a permanent deal. Samuel, who signed a three-year deal with the club, scored his first goal in Rovers for the club in our 3-1 Carabao Cup win over Coventry City.

Fans were happy to see their new striker get his first goal for the club, which would boost his confidence in games to come. The former England Under-19 international scored his second goal in blue and white, and his first in the league, against Doncaster Rovers, when Blackburn lost 3-1 at home. Many fans were dissatisfied that Samuel was not starting in the game against Doncaster, as he had scored the previous Tuesday. However, I believe that everyone was surprised to see that Danny Graham, Rovers ‘star striker’ was dropped to the bench, with the young man Dominic Samuel taking his place.

Samuel made his impact on the game, of course, scoring Rovers’ winning goal and putting in a great performance along the way. He got into great positions yesterday and won the game for us with his headed goal past the Bradford keeper. His influence on the game and the way we played was a big factor in why we were able to beat a Bradford team that hadn’t been beaten at home for the entire 2016/17 season in the league. His pace allows him to play as the lone striker Mowbray needed for the formation we used. This begs the question – can Dominic Samuel keep Danny Graham out of the Rovers starting XI? His recent performances and influences on our games would suggest he will have a big role to play in the season to come, and we may well have an answer to that question in the coming weeks.

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