Rovers will go in search of their first win at the DW Stadium in ten years, as they travel to Wigan Athletic in one of the standout fixtures of the SkyBet League One season.
You would have to go back to New Year’s Day back in 2007 for the last time Rovers won on Wigan soil. A comprehensive 0-3 win, where Emile Heskey even got on the Rovers’ scoresheet as he put through his own net.
Substitute Matt Derbyshire and a penalty from Benni McCarthy helped the visitors to three points. Since then, the best Rovers have achieved is a series of drab 1-1 draws along with heavy defeats and instantly forgettable DW Stadium afternoons.
Present day and Rovers sit sixth in the last available play-off position after overcoming Portsmouth on a wet and windy afternoon at Ewood Park. Kudos to all that braved the elements of Storm Brian.
Other than an immature mistake by sub Dominic Samuel, it was a positive afternoon which saw more attacking play applauded by all. Dack at the double as he scores two in two and Danny Graham bagging his first at Ewood this season.
How pleasing was it to see the whole team rush to Danny Graham to celebrate his goal and Rovers’ second. True delight by everyone to see the hard work he’s put in pay off and one hopes there’s more to come.
With Samuel’s absence, it seems the majority of Rovers fans will get their latest wish in seeing young Joe Nuttall thrown in to the senior squad with an opportunity to feature this weekend.
Joe’s form has been outstanding so far this season for the Rovers U23’s and did score on his senior debut in the Checkatrade Trophy. Its hard to see how the twenty year old can start given the performances of the attacking trio against Pompey but some involvement could well happen.
The manager, Tony Mowbray has spoken about how they’ve changed up the schedule given the extensive build up to this one. He’s taken the opportunity, with no midweek game to leave no stone unturned when it comes to his players preparation.
It was whispered to the manager on press conference day that if Rovers were to finish above Wigan that would mean the club will go up as champions. He politely nodded in acknowledgement that the Latics look impressive so far this campaign.
There’s no doubt that this is very much a different Wigan side to the one that surrendered themselves so willingly at Ewood Park in the second half of last season. Paul Cook has his men disciplined, well equipped and full of commitment this season.
Wigan have hit the ground running this season. Particularly at home. Dropping points on home turf just once in an ill-fated 1-1 draw against Portsmouth. They’re on a roll, Wigan are unbeaten in seven with five straight home league wins.
They’ll take some stopping and despite the odd defeat on the road, the Latics have managed to bounce back immediately after those disappointments. The early season ill discipline seems to have settled and Paul Cook’s men are well on their way to an immediate return to the Championship.
Its notable, once again, that Mowbray’s men will be backed by another sizeable away following on Saturday. Over 2000 Rovers fans are set to make the short journey over to Wigan and its an opportunity for the players to pay those fans back.
The last two away outings for the supporters have been ones of frustration and annoyance. Last time out losing late on against Oldham Athletic and beforehand drawing 1-1 at leaders Shrewsbury.
Two very different games but equally frustrating. Both afternoons had Rovers fans questioning whether the players were up for the fight and they’ll do more of the same if they don’t see an improvement in Saturday’s performance.
The away backings will dwindle in time if Tony Mowbray doesn’t get his men to take the initiative, be positive and fight for every yard. If this happens, then they’ll receive the vocal backing that matches the performances.
The calibre of opponent is very different from those games. This is an already accomplished side at this level. This won’t be a side who will raise their game for their very own cup final as Rovers roll in to town.
Wigan are a very good team. This is one of few League games were Rovers won’t go in as favourites and expect the win. Wigan are the favourites, their fans will expect a sixth straight home league win and with that comes the pressure.
Rovers have the rare opportunity to play without the pressure of expectancy. Wigan are the side in form and have quality players in all areas that as a collective can be devastating for an opponent that aren’t on their game.
Its important to note that there’s still expectancy on Rovers to give their all. To work hard and making sure that any side who comes out on top against them will have to play out of their skins.
Basically, no repeat of the application or lack there of that the supporters saw against Shrewsbury and Oldham. The players were criticised and thankfully everyone has moved on from then.
Rovers are no weak side themselves. On their day, they can beat anyone. Partnerships are slowly forming in many areas and despite results not always coming off, there have been moments of brilliance recently.
To those supporters that have been writing on social media this week about this game being a must win and only a win will do. You’re wrong. Yes its a big game, yes we can directly close the gap on Wigan. But is it season defining? Absolutely not.
Everyone wants to see a Rovers win, we’re desperate in many ways to get that winning feeling back a little more consistently. But, a measured mindset is needed and if the worst happens its important that any previous overreaction isn’t to be repeated.
Saying that, there’s absolutely no doubt that if Mowbray’s men manage to claim the three points that it would be a monumental victory. A marker put down and a message sent to one of our closest rivals in the best possible way.
We’re in for a fascinating game between two very tactical managers. At times it will be a game of chess. Other times it will be end-to-end and compelling to watch. Two of the league’s best defences put up against each other.
What we will see is a real battle of mindsets. We will see just who has done their homework. A tactical battle which will play out to be a compelling match and one that everyone hopes Rovers are on the winning side of.
To every Rovers supporter traveling on Saturday back your men once again. The away followings down the years at the DW Stadium have been some of the most vocal I’ve ever witnessed. You should all be proud to be representing the football club you love. Let us hope we’re celebrating like its 2007!
Enjoy the game.