I can’t say for sure it’s never happened in the interim, but the last time before Sunday I recall witnessing Rovers squander a three-goal lead was in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia in October 2002.
Three up after an hour or so before a hostile and vociferous home crowd hugely displeased to see an end full of Lancastrians celebrating wildly – apart from the two tired and emotional lads from Oswaldtwistle who steadfastly remained fast asleep throughout proceedings – Graeme Souness’s side failed to convert one of the most incredibly unchallenged attacks (I reckon we had 6 on 2 including the skilful likes of Duff, Dunn, Cole and Gillespie) I’ve seen since late schoolday nights on Feniscowles Rec to score a fourth.
Rovers thereafter switched off for the night and allowed CSKA to level and go close to winning it before the home side’s desperation spilt over into a series of brutal challenges and one sending-off which would have had Sunday’s ref brandishing more reds than the fibre optic Santa overlooking Manchester Christmas Markets…
I’d been so concerned by the growing hostility of the Bulgarian crowd, I’d made my way from the press box to join my then-girlfriend, now wife, in the body of Rovers fans. I needn’t have worried, she was having a proper football away day with my pals. Any girl who’s been on a coach with 17 on to The Den who all got a personal policeman and dog to escort them in can cope with anything.
The Guardian report on that night, on which we scraped through 4-4 on away goals, began: “Blackburn did everything in their power to add another disaster story to their woeful record in Europe” and the near-capitulation to Crewe rivalled it in the self-destruction stakes, hopefully with a similar “no ultimate harm done” outcome if, that is, you consider two suspensions, an unwanted midweek December replay and maybe another home cup engagement and a possible league postponement as nothing to worry about.
Rovers certainly did everything in their power to put a blemish on a distinguished FA Cup record. Crewe were the last team to knock us out in the early rounds 44 years ago this weekend and have proved troublesome opponents on several occasions since (we managed to score just once in four Championship meetings from 1999 to 2001) and had FA Cup ties been settled in the same way that last season’s Ewood League Cup clash was, with extra time and penalties, our nine men may not have been so fortunate as our full complement was in edging that after a 3-3 in 90 minutes.
You could say that Rovers actually did well not to lose it with a two-man disadvantage for most of the second half but that would be to excuse the two lapses in concentration at corners which allowed a pair of lads with Blackburn connections free headers.
It was all completely unimaginable after an opening 20 minutes during which Rovers were so dominant the club’s record FA Cup margin of victory, 11-0 over Rossendale United, looked in peril. A six-on-two raid wouldn’t have shocked anyone.
Graham and Samuel, third and fourth choice strikers a week or two ago, were far too smart and slick as Rovers moved the ball about far too crisply and penetratively for a Crewe defence which would have shamed a Sunday pub outfit playing their second fixture of the day in the afternoon after a few lunchtime scoops in order to ease a fixture pile-up.
But a moment of misplaced insouciance from Rakeem Harper – admittedly given a pretty poor pass by keeper Leutwiler – turned what looked like being a canter into an ordeal.
I’ve seen nothing from Harper that’s impressed so far and the sight of him laughing sarcastically at the perfectly correct decision to send him off did nothing to endear. Well, not to me anyway. Unbelievably, some supporters feel it appropriate to applaud a player off who’s just handed the opposition a lifeline and can’t even be bothered to look too upset about it.
I’d lose no sleep if he was despatched back to West Brom after that. Pogba of France, Man United and Juventus you certainly ain’t yet, son.
If there is slight mitigation in the Albion player’s youth, for the captain and tweet-cheerleader Elliot Bennett to further plunge us into danger was simply inexcusable.
If Harper’s bizarre moment left us feeling anything but groovy, Bennett’s foolishness provided a gritty Northern drama laying bare many of the characters’ frailties.
Yes, Crewe’s Walker could well have been sent off and Ng was a particularly irritating opponent who might well have had a sly dig in the pivotal incident first but I clearly saw Bennett kick out on the ground and I heavily suspect Rovers did too on one camera angle ….I don’t buy the “inconclusive evidence” flim-flam of an excuse for not appealing. You don’t appeal when you know you’re caught red-handed.
From that point on even a side as limited as Crewe, whose fans had sung: “You don’t know what you’re doing,” and enthusiastically brandished a large inflatable willy at manager Dave Artell halfway through the opening half, were largely in charge and it was with some gratitude that we lived to fight another day as former QEGS lad Chris Porter and ex-Rover Eddie Nolan’s unchallenged headers were the only additions to Porter’s earlier penalty.
Paul Caddis later said Rovers’ game management wasn’t quite what it might have been, a bit like Al Capone admitting his mob might have been more forthcoming handing weapons in when a firearms amnesty was declared.
It will be interesting to see how Mowbray approaches the replay. Certainly, his rather nonchalant second-half body language, reminiscent of an occasion I witnessed when his Hibs side were four down to rivals Hearts in a Scottish Cup semi-final, suggested a certain je ne can be arsed pas.
Personally, I’d like to go through with Hull at home the carrot if for nothing else to see how Rovers price the tickets after announcing Rochdale on Boxing Day and Scunthorpe at home four days later at Category A and B prices respectively.
If Bennett’s absence is a problem, and it certainly isn’t to me (I often regard “he works tirelessly” as shorthand for “he doesn’t produce much”) at least it seems Craig Conway is nearing a return. It was good to see Lewis Travis handed some first team minutes too, albeit in difficult circumstances.
Far more important than the replay, of course, is the trip to London Road on Saturday. Peterborough are one of those sides that might be there or thereabouts for a play-off spot and as crazily cavalier and unpredictable as they were in 2012-13 when we hammered them 4-1 at their place on a false dawn day for Henning Berg and lost 3-2 at Ewood on an afternoon Michael Appleton’s world caved in.
From believing we were on the upward surge after Rochina and Rhodes blitzed Darren Ferguson’s side, we were in deep peril by the time the return fixture unfolded in jaw-droppingly horrendous fashion, Bradley Orr et al.
On a historic note, Peterborough actually did the double over us, 1-0 both if memory serves me well, in our first ever Third Tier promotion season of 1974-75. The Ewood game when Posh clinched the double will forever be remembered for a brutal tackle which virtually ended winger Jimmy Mullen’s Rovers career.
I’d be very surprised if it was a goalless draw on Saturday and hopefully, I’ll make it there after attending an 11am wedding at Leicester registry office. Hopefully, I’ll get away from London Road a bit quicker than I did on my last visit. After volunteering to cover a Posh v Notts County midweek game when we lived in the East Midlands, I ended up in Barry Fry’s office till gone 11.30pm interviewing players, directors and officials and filing copy after the Notts County gaffer resigned on the bus to the game or some such! I’d only gone to do a running report with a ten-minute 250 words to file on the whistle.
I’m not too popular to start with Mrs Blue Eyes for dashing off from the reception to the match so it would brighten my day considerably if Mowbray and the boys can see this one out without any Sofia/Crewe type farragos.
The Crewe replay follows on Tuesday and while it is an unwanted fixture for some, for those who follow the Under-23s (home to Reading on Monday) and the Youth team (home to Stoke at Ewood on Wednesday) it’s a great week for avoiding late-night Christmas shopping or the enforced bonhomie of office dos.