Defensive quality, an organised midfield and strong attacking outlet

With positivity in the air and fans optimistic for the season ahead, @talkofewood looks at the upcoming season.

TOE

After probably one of the most positive relegation battle in football history, Rovers are set to take stride into the English 3rd division for the first time in 37 years… and everyone is raring to go. Bookies’ favourite and everyone’s ‘cup final’, here’s my views on what’s likely to be a positive season for the famous Lancashire club.

In the logical order, let’s start with the defensive structure Tony Mowbray’s boys look to use. In my opinion, the role of Mowbray’s Rovers defence is greater than any other. He uses his ‘defenders’ up front, in midfield and of course at the back. After struggling to find a reliable full back for a period of time, Mowbray’s team is now blessed with quality in the defensively wide areas; Nyambe (fresh from a new contract), Jack Doyle, Paul Caddis and 2016-17 player of the season, Derrick Williams. Due to the newly adopted free flowing formation brought to the club by ‘Moggy’, the fullbacks aren’t your ordinary, defensive, somewhat boring fullbacks. Mowbray;s right and left backs track up and down the line from the first minute to the last, providing a strong attacking outlet as well as a solid defensive structure – offering the Lancashire side a unique outlet as the wingers come inside and support Danny Graham up front. This gives an extra outlet for Rovers to throw at teams when three points are required, which will prove pivotal in the upcoming season.

Then, comes the midfield. A fresh, well organised, higher class midfield developed by some shrewd business, “adding Soldiers and Artists” to the heart of the team. What seems the best deal of them all, Peter Whittingham on a free. In my opinion, Whittingham’s role will be as important as any other, someone to pick the ball up, calm play down and pick a pass. Ultimately, something Rovers have lacked for years, filling the gap almost perfectly. For every Artist, you need a Soldier. And that’s where Richard Smallwood comes in to play. Touch tackler, endless worker and a passionate player, Richard Smallwood’s style compliments Whittingham to a high level, which has proven true as they have began a formidable partnership during pre season. In front of the two come the crowd pleasers; Elliott Bennett, Craig Conway, Liam Feeney, Ben Gladwin and star signing Bradley Dack. The 3 of these 5 players chosen in the starting 11 operate a free flowing front three in behind Danny Graham, running at defenders and winning the ball in offensive areas, pressing for the full 90 minutes which offers Rovers more opportunities to get goals, especially with the lethal Graham up front. 19 goals in a injury hit season and a half in the Championship. Not bad for a now League One striker. Danny Graham offers almost every element to attack – strength, movement, leadership, hold up play,ice cool finishing, heading and composure – apart from pace… However that’s where the new signings Joe Nuttall (predominately U23’s) and Dominic Samuel who have been brought in this summer, adding pace and power to the attacking ranks, most likely off the bench.

However with the season fastly approaching, it’s felt as if another striker is needed to fill the gap left by the Anthony Stokes departure, which will further add to the attacking quality we possess. No games will be easy to start off with, especially as the majority of teams will be aware when the once superior Blackburn Rovers are in town. In the most humble way possible, we are everyone’s cup final. A similar scenario to Newcastle last season, in who we did the double over. However with Mowbray at the helm, I can’t see us rolling over and getting away with it. We have quality within the squad and if someone doesn’t perform to their best ability, they could easily be warming the bench next time out. Positivity and Ewood Park have been far from related in recent years, however since Mowbray’s arrival, almost every seat in the house is fulfilled with a positive outlook on the Rovers scene galvanising the supporters once more.

Fans can be the difference of 1 point to 3, from relegation to mid table, mid table to play offs, play offs to automatic and automatic to champions, and alongside Portsmouth and Bradford, I would say Rovers have the best set of fans in the league, which in my opinion can take us that extra yard when the going gets tough.

Overall, I am expecting a slow season that will seem to drag, however a season that will be a fresh start, something to smile about, and hopefully a season of silverware. My prediction for Player of the Year is Ben Gladwin. I think Mowbray will refill his confidence and get him back to his full ability after impressing in Pre Season, a real powerhouse.

Key moment – January Transfer Window. If all goes to plan, Rovers will be at the top of the table winning the majority of games and challenging for promotion. It sounds perfect, however, that’s when the transfer window gets interesting. Our top players will be scouted, enquired for and most likely bid for, it’s up to Mowbray to fight off them bids and keep the bulk of the squad together, ensuring we don’t lose track of a promotion push. Strengthening may be key also if we find weaknesses about us in our new division.

Now for some brief thoughts from :

My predictions for the coming season are that we will be Champions come the end of the season, I think Graham will be top goal scorer, however, if I had to predict a player of the year I would have to say Elliott Bennett as I think his goals/assists will be a big factor and his ability to be a game changer with his long range shots will help us win those tight games. It’s hard to predict a key moment as it hasn’t happened yet but the most obvious are the games against the likes of Wigan, Portsmouth and Bradford – all of which are tipped to be up there, which are therefore must win games if we want to be challenging for the title. Other key players in my eyes will obviously be Graham and Bennett as mentioned previously, but also Dack and Mulgrew. I think if Dack can recreate his form from 2 seasons ago, he will be unstoppable. Regarding Mulgrew, as we saw against Carlisle recently, when he isn’t on the pitch it is very noticeable.

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