Rovers are back in league action on Saturday in one of the most eagerly anticipated league fixtures in many a year, as second-placed Shrewsbury visit Ewood Park.
Rovers exited the FA Cup last week at the third round stage. Mowbray made some changes to the starting eleven in a game which Hull City ran out 0-1 winners. Rovers fought hard towards the end but came up short in front of goal.
Hull’s second half winner pointed to more concern of the Rovers’ defensive inability to defend set pieces. Another corner and another headed goal conceded means there’s work to do between then and now.
It’s more of a worrying point as I watched Match of the Day Live last Sunday and found myself feeling incredibly nervous as Shrewsbury attacked West Ham United with high hanging balls in to the box. I couldn’t help myself but think that will be their main form of attack next Saturday.
What Shrewsbury did show is that as much as they like to mix it up and put a few tackles in. They most certainly can play football in the most artistic of ways. One first half move including fifteen passes as they went close to taking the lead.
All credit to the Shrews so far this season. A relegation candidate back in August, Paul Hurst has turned a hard working side in to a real force of determination and belief. Unfortunately for Rovers, this is a side who haven’t give up their promotion spot for some time.
The work Mowbray’s men have put in since our September meeting at the New Meadow has to be commended. An unbeaten run not far after that 1-1 draw has seen Rovers make considerable ground on second place Shrewsbury and a once tall order could look very realistic with a win on Saturday.
The game back in September was one of real frustration for manager Tony Mowbray who shockingly came out and refused to defend his squad of players. Describing the performance as unacceptable and one of the worst he’s seen since becoming Rovers boss.
Things didn’t get much better for Rovers a run of inconsistent results peaking with defeat at a rejuvenated Oldham Athletic. That was the last time Rovers tasted defeat in the league and the only side to string a longer unbeaten record together are the plucky Shrewsbury Town.
Which brings me to a landmark. Tony Mowbray will take charge of his fiftieth Rovers match on Saturday. Despite suffering relegation last May, Mowbray’s track record is rather good. 23 wins, 16 draws and just ten defeats boast a turnaround in fortunes for not just him but the football club as a whole.
The supporters have taken to him and despite a slow start to life on the pitch this season, Mowbray’s recruitment and no nonsense approach to management is one to be admired. In turn I think Mowbray loves working at the football club. He loves the infrastructure in place, the training ground.
The biggest thing for him is he loves interacting and working with the people at the football club. From the media team to the ground staff, from the catering staff to the tealady. Mowbray is a tradition man and loves that aspect of our football club.
Back to Saturday and the football club are doing everything to big this game up. The supporters will have their part to play in the be loud, be proud atmosphere. Turn it up for the lads is the motto from the club and I’m sure you’ll do no less.
I think it’s important to point out that this is obviously a crucial game as we head in to the second half of the season. But, by no means is this season defining. As a group of supporters, we do tend to overreact somewhat and I think it’s important that we rally around this squad of players.
If the Salopians get their much desired victory, it will look extremely daunting in terms of the league table and an element of playing catchup will ensue for Rovers. However, there’s four or five months of football still to be played. We’ll drop points as will Shrewsbury – which makes my point all the clearer about Saturday not being season defining.
However, a win for Rovers on Saturday will be seen as so much more than just three points on Shrewsbury. It will be seen as a real feather in our cap. A direct hit on the side we’ve been wanting to catch for months. An end to The Shrews impressive unbeaten run. Regained momentum and an element of “we’re coming for you!”
Tony Mowbray will have to shuffle the pack and might have to blood youth come Saturday. Corry Evans is struggling, Peter Whittingham is out for a month and Marcus Antonsson is out for a few more weeks. Not that blooding youth makes us weaker, far from it.
Lewis Travis looked very much at home in the centre of Rovers midfield, Matty Platt has been rewarded with a new deal and we’ve witnessed some rise to form with forward Joe Nuttall. So reasons to be cheerful when it comes to replacing senior players.
A word also to welcome new signing Adam Armstrong to the club. A player who looked fabulous at this level under the manager in his Coventry days but, has struggled for form over the last eighteen months of football. It will be fascinating to see what kind of form he can produce.
It’s also fantastic to see Paul Downing sign a permanent deal in what must have been the most ‘straight forward deal of Rovers modern day history! A bit of a different reaction to the centre half signing on the dotted line this time around! An unknown who has become a rock alongside the captain at the back.
Rovers have been performing at the level that is expected. Recently, the team have had to dig deep for points but we haven’t been far away from claiming all three. The qualities that individuals have shown as well as the collective effort of the team is very different from when the two sides met last September.
Shrewsbury have been the most consistent but only just and they will argue they’ve found versatile ways of winning games and therefore have become a better side. I’d be surprised if Paul Hurst’s men will come to Ewood to play out for a bore draw. They will see this as a real opportunity to take control of their destiny.
For Mowbray’s men it’s a must not lose but also a great one to win. We’ve seen what this team are capable of and this is the type of game to produce a performance and result to show what we are made of this season.
The final word is very much with the supporters. It’s over to you, the Rovers faithful. Create an atmosphere that is a throwback to years gone by. Get Ewood rocking, make those players feel like they’ve an extra man, roar on the Rovers to victory and make it an afternoon to remember!
Enjoy the game.