In the first instalment of his weekly blog for Rovers Chat, @andrewneilblog discusses Rovers’ week.
The first half at home against Rotherham on Tuesday night finally brought the sort of football that Rovers fans have been waiting for at Ewood Park this season.
Solid in defence, competitive in midfield and posing an attacking threat up front and this against a team who were only second to Manchester City in the goal scoring charts, from the 92 league clubs, this season.
The performance of Elliot Ward at Shrewsbury left many fans wondering how he has continued to deputise for the injured Darragh Lenihan, who hasn’t featured since playing on with an injury in the opening day defeat at Southend and therefore it was little surprise that Mowbray opted to bring in the on-loan Paul Downing for his home debut, after what I’m told was a reassured performance in the 3-0 win at Rochdale earlier in the month.
It is always a dangerous thing, judging a player from one game, however Downing certainly seemed more assured at centre-back and didn’t have the laissez-faire attitude often seemingly adopted by Ward in virtually every game I’ve seen him in this season.
Personally, I think 2-0 slightly flattered Rotherham as I felt the Rovers could, and probably should, have won by more.
Although, if the ‘goal’ chalked off for Rotherham had been allowed to stand, then who knows how the match would have panned out. The persistence shown by Chapman for this goal showed the sort of desire which has often been lacking in the players over recent seasons, and although he is far from the finished article, he could be the sort of player needed to unlock the defence of a team who decide that two banks of 4/5 players is the best way to get a point at Ewood this season.
So, onto Gillingham, who presented a different challenge to Rotherham, the later prepared to come and play an open, expansive game while Gillingham are struggling at the wrong end of the table. The Gills appointed the experienced and much travelled Peter Taylor as caretaker manager, and hoped to build on their creditable draw against Scunthorpe midweek.
A fourth league goal of the season from Dominic Samuel sealed a hard fought 1-0 against a team who showed dogged determination and resilience and, if not for a point blank save from David Raya, could easily have drawn level and who knows how the game would have gone from there.
However, following ‘welcome to the league‘ defeats against Southend and Doncaster – Rovers have gone on to W6 D1 L1 of the next eight games which is promotion form in any division, and any season, and has seen Rovers move into the play-off positions with a game in hand.
So, ten games in and despite the start that not many predicted, defeats away at Southend and home to Doncaster have largely been forgotten with 19 points from the next 8 games and – apart from a 3-0 win at Rochdale – it’s been a steady accumulation of wins by the odd goal or two.
Even at this stage of the season, injuries have no doubt lead to Tony Mowbray not being able to play his strongest and/or first choice XI each game. However, I’m still to be convinced he is 100% settled on his favoured team.
Although not surprised by the standard of opposition at this level, what Rovers must do is firstly learn how to break teams down who will come to Ewood Park and defend for a point.
Whilst Bradley Dack was probably brought in to fulfil that role, it seems that Mowbray may, by either good luck or good fortune, have stumbled across the required player in Harry Chapman – who over the past few games has shown flashes of the required burst of speed, guile and tenacity.
Secondly, they need to learn how to ‘put teams away’ and aside from the previously mentioned win at Rochdale, it’s something they have struggled with so far with Danny Graham seemingly now playing second fiddle to Dominic Samuel – who I thought looked uninterested and unlikely to fit in during pre-season, but who seems to have become the first choice lone striker.
With four winnable games next month, plus the stand out fixture of Wigan (A), I would like to think that Rovers will have pushed up the table a little more and hopefully with Shrewsbury and Wigan dropping a few points along the way, this will close the gap of 10 points between Rovers and the surprise league leaders by the end of October.
So, next up in the league in two weeks is Oldham Athletic (A) and I would imagine another bumper away day following against a team who have been in this division since being relegated from what is now the Championship in 1996/97.
It was reported this week that Oldham had interviewed the legendary Clarence Seedorf who graced the world stage of football for 20 years and can include Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan amongst his clubs along with nearly 90 caps for Holland for a vacancy at Boundary Park – culture shock or what!
A satisfactory start to life in the Third Division and given back to back home wins, hopefully the start of something good?
Thanks for reading this piece, and you can follow me on Twitter at @AndyNeilBlog.