Last week, I wrote about the Rovers players and how it’s their ‘time to stand up and be counted’. They certainly did not!
Tony Mowbray has to take a lot of responsibility for the result on Saturday to Doncaster Rovers. I have never seen such a defensive formation for the first game of the season. Whether it was 5-4-1 or even 3-6-1, it wasn’t right and it certainly wasn’t good. But it showed a massive frailty with the absence of only one player, Darragh Lenihan.
Now let’s get this straight from the start, Darragh Lenihan is not a world beater. He will not grab a game by the scruff of the neck on his own, and he certainly won’t win a game on his own. He is a very good Championship/League 1 centre half, and that is maybe his level.
But the fact that he is missing from the Rovers line-up shows a massive fraility, and this causes huge headaches for Mowbray. By missing this one player, it means that the manager cannot play a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. Ward and Mulgrew do not have the pace to play as a two at the back. It also means that without Lenihan, he has to use Ryan Nyambe as a 3rd centre half, something he is most certainly not. This showed in the last pre-season friendly against Carlisle, a real warning for the first two games of the season that Mowbray completely ignored.
So, he is therefore weaker in defence playing a 3-5-2 formation, a quandary that needs to be addressed immediately. How can one player, a relative rookie, have such an influence on the way that the team plays.
Lenihan brings pace to the backline playing in a two with Mulgrew, their positioning and ability to play as a partnership has brought the best out of them both. With both of them comfortable on the ball, it pushes the midfield further up the field and the Blues automatically become a more attacking team. Too many times against Doncaster were Smallwood and Evans taking the ball deep from the centre halves. This should not be needed with three at the back. As a three, Ward looks more comfortable knowing he has Lenihan next to him to sweep up any mistakes and his obvious lack of pace, and Ward can pass left or right knowing that neither will struggle in possession. With the Irish man out of the team they look all at sea.
With this in mind, the fact that he is out with a ‘niggling injury’ rings alarm bells. Is this the same niggling injury that Philipe Coutinho, Ross Barkley and a whole host of Premier League players hankering for move have. The speculation coming out of Ewood is that he wants to leave to play in the Championship, but Mowbray has said to him that he is better to stay at Rovers and play every week. All very well but if watched the 3-1 drubbing to Doncaster, this might have helped make his decision.
The absence of Scott Wharton is also baffling. Again a niggling injury comes with rumours that he is one more first team game away from a payrise which the heirarchy are not happy with. With all this in mind, what do the club do? If they lose Lenihan to the Championship, they are in need of two centre halves. Serious doubts about Elliot Ward have to be raised. The second goal was him being caught out of position, and less said about the first goal the better.
Rovers are in desperate need of pace all over the pitch, which is remarkable to think that before the season the fans were looking at the squad and salivating. Now they are wondering what is the best team and formation.
For me Lenihan has to stay, and let him build a partnership we know he can with Mulgrew in a two. This frees up the more attacking players in the team, as well as puts square pegs in square holes. But it remains to be seen if this will happen. If he happens to be sold before 31st August, this could be a dangerous situation for Mowbray, and puts him under more pressure.