In a special guest article, the editor of the infamous Rovers fanzine 4,000 Holes, Scott Sumner, discusses the similarity of this season and the 1999-2000 season.
After two very disappointing results in the space of four days, cracks are clearly starting to appear in Tony Mowbray’s regime as the season passes its quarter-point already.
While most supporters presently do not want the upheaval of a managerial change, growing impatience is reflected in the Rovers Chat polls after the last two matches with the number of fans wanting Mowbray out rising sharply from 19% to 27% (at the time of writing).
Perhaps more tellingly, ominous signs from a dire campaign 18 years ago are starting to surface. Most notably these include:
- A managerial “saviour” who was lauded for doing his best in fixing the failings of his predecessor – before succumbing to relegation anyway
- Confidence in said manager starting to wane the following season after a string of poor performances and results
- A highly-paid underachieving squad who were originally touted as clear favourites to win the league
- Frustrating home matches against smaller clubs seeing it as their biggest game of the season
- Misfiring strikers
After a disastrous start to 1998-99, Brian Kidd was poached from Manchester United to save the season and after a bright unbeaten start lasting seven matches (identical to Mowbray), Rovers eventually got dragged back into the relegation zone and went down.
After relegation from the Premier League, Kidd was still regarded as the best man to take Rovers straight back up – much like Mowbray during this pre-season – and in both cases Rovers were immediately installed as hot favourites to runaway with the title.
But a regular theme of both seasons is an inability to break down and score goals at home against smaller teams coming to Ewood, who often nick a goal before frustrating Rovers with time-wasting and defensive tactics.
Despite concerns about frailities at the back this season, especially with the loss of Darragh Lenihan, Rovers actually have one of the best defensive records in the league (albeit having played two games less than most other teams).
The real problem has been a failure to find a winning formula in attack with only 16 goals from 12 matches telling a similar story to 4 shots on target from 25 attempts on Tuesday. This uncannily compares to a statistic from 1999-2000 when Rovers had the worst shooting accuracy in the whole division.
So this season we have Marcus Antonsson playing the Scandinavian part of Egil Østenstad, Danny Graham as Ashley Ward, Dominic Samuel in the role of Nathan Blake, and very loosely Joe Nuttall playing Matt Jansen as the wonderkid yet to sparkle in the first team (although Nuttall hasn’t been given the chance yet – much to people’s frustration).
While Rovers are not yet in the dire straits they were when Brian Kidd left in November 1999 – 19th in the old Division One – it feels as though we are similarly distant from winning the league. The current points per match being gained would still see Rovers end the season on 77 points and a probable play-off place, but a loss at Wigan might mean automatic promotion is already out of reach.
The home games against Portsmouth and Fleetwood Town are perhaps more significant in burying the ghosts of the past. Given the trigger-happy nature of recent years, further slip-ups will maybe mean Mowbray gets the chop – just like Kidd – at the start of November.
Strangely enough after Kidd’s sacking, caretaker manager Tony Parkes’ first match was against Ipswich Town at Ewood when none other than Mowbray scored a spectacular 90th minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw. 1999-2000 was a write-off and ended in an embarrassing 4-1 defeat as Manchester City enjoyed promotion on our patch.
But that day signalled a turning point in Rovers fortunes as new manager Graeme Souness gave the players a grilling in the dressing room, had a clear out over summer and pressed on with a successful promotion campaign in 2000-01.
Unless Mowbray can turn his team’s failings around very soon, it might well take a Souness-type manager to come in before promotion is realistic. The next three games are crucial.
Issue 88 of the 4,000 Holes fanzine is out on Saturday 21st October (This Saturday when we play Portsmouth) and will be on sale around the ground, as well as on-line. You can buy the previous issue (Issue 87) by clicking here!