Questions asked of Mowbray after Blackburn’s alarming dip - Interview
Thursday, 18th Apr 2019 09:29 by Clive Whittingham
Blackburn’s season has mirrored our own, with an alarming drop off in 2019 after a promising winter, so what’s their excuse? We asked Ian Herbert from the BRFCS podcast and the guys at Rovers Chat for their input.
How would you assess Blackburn's season overall?
RC: In one word, rollercoaster. We started the season strongly after promotion last season with confidence high and we went unbeaten through August. A 4-1 defeat at Bristol City at the start of September surprised supporters but we got back to picking up points again with draws at Derby and at home to Nottingham Forest, and an eventful (to say the least) win at Stoke. November didn’t go well, losing two North-West derbies and conceding seven goals in the process, and it didn’t get better in December. Just one win and two draws from seven games saw us slip down the table, although we did face three of the top four in the space of seven days so it was expected.
We came into 2018 expecting the season to just drag out with relegation or promotion unlikely, but it was a great month for the club. Four wins out of four, three clean sheets and a positive vibe around the fanbase meant we was all dreaming of the play-offs. We travelled to Brentford at the start of February with dreams of a trip to Wembley in May and we went two ahead in ten minutes, moving one point off the play-off spots in the live table. However, a collapse saw us concede five goals and lose 5-2. This kicked off a terrible run where we won just one in the next ten matches, going from a potential play-off push to looking over our shoulders at relegation. Two good results last week – beating Derby at home and Forest away – have seen us mathematically safe and now it’s a matter of playing for pride and blooding in some of the youngsters.
IH: Back in August finishing comfortably outside the relegation zone with five games yet to play would definitely have constituted success. The lingering frustration is that a fabulous run in January that propelled the club to the fringes of the play offs, combined with rumours of imminent inbound transfers whetted the appetite but wasn’t ultimately exploited. The mooted transfers of the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Charlie Austin and Sam Gallagher never materialised; form slipped away like a thief in the night and a dreadful run through February and March had us casting anxious glances towards the run ins of Rotherham and Wigan. Two wins out of two over clubs at either end of the A52 last week delivered safety and by any measure, for a newly promoted club, that must be considered to be satisfactory at the very least.
We had a great spell before Christmas and then fell off a cliff in 2019, and there's a lot of reasons for that. You've done the same pretty much, with a long run of defeats through February and March - what caused yours?
RC: In my eyes, it’s the lack of incomings in January that have seen us drop off. Mowbray brought just one player in – young winger Harry Chapman from Middlesbrough – and said he was going to trust those who did the job for us last season to do it again this year. We’ve seen that some of those players aren’t going to be good enough for our future plans and we’ll see them leave in the summer. Personally, with the position we was in come deadline day in January, I’d have love to have seen us go for those play-off spots a little more and bring people in. Mowbray said himself that there was money available to spend in January, but opted against spending the cash in the hope that the other players would step up, but it didn’t work.
IH: That is one of the great mysteries of our season. We have routinely been susceptible to a good old fashioned spanking on the road this season (thanks Bristol City, Preston, Brentford...to name but three) but we have usually showed some resilience and bounced back straight away. The Brentford caning was different. Two up in seven minutes...then...abject surrender....for two months. It was as if the players had decided they all had done enough and were taking to the field in flip flops carrying sun tan lotion with a cocktail menu under their arms. The malaise seemed to spread across the whole squad; every player seemed to lose at least 10% of their ability and the net result was a series of extremely gutless and guileless performances littered with unfathomable individual errors. Mowbray must take a sizeable portion of the blame for shoe-horning his favourite players into the team irrespective of performance levels, playing many out of position, even when form had long since deserted them and for ignoring the claims of some of our talented youngsters. The players really ought to be held to account though as well. The manager is not to blame for misplaced ten yard passes, not tracking your runner, not blocking off a cross and so on...
Has that run affected Tony Mowbray's standing at all? Looks like he's done a great job to an outsider, but what 's the general consensus locally?
RC: The run did affect his position amongst the supporters, with some calling for him to leave the club. The run was concerning – of course it was – but we’re in a long-term project currently. It’s not a quick fix at Ewood. He came into the club with the supporters and players on bad terms, the feeling around Ewood was dreadful and it felt like we’d lost the club. We had no scouting setup, and we were in a big mess. He’s worked tirelessly to get the players playing for the club and the badge which is showing now. We might not be the best footballing wise, but we always put the effort in and always fight. He’s been building the scouting setup and we’re looking into the foreign markets now. If you compare the club from February 2017 to now, it’s a massive difference and now with the scouting setup, we’re built for when Mowbray does leave. The two recent wins have meant that the “Mowbray Out” people have quietened down a bit and focus is on next season under Tony.
IH: It has. The fan base has stayed broadly loyal but an increasing minority became increasingly more vocal and results acted as an effective recruiting beacon for the disaffected. Mowbray has a mixed record in the transfer market to put it mildly, his summer acquisitions have not worked out; with the exception of Southampton loanee Harrison Reed, who despite his iconic status appears to have decided that is future is back on the south coast. A fan campaign to keep the Ginger Ninja sadly seems to have failed, at least for now. Tactics and team selections are routinely cautious, especially away from home where we have too often demonstrated spectacular ineptitude. It’s a big summer, a lot of the League 1 stalwarts need to be replaced; doubts remain as to whether Tony is the man for the job, but I believe he deserves the chance. He’s a decent man with credit in the bank.
Player of the season candidates?
RC: There’s only one real winner for me, and that’s Danny Graham - 14 goals for the 33-year-old is a good return, but he offers much more than those goals. All the play comes through Graham’s hold up play and we really are lost without him. Young midfielder Lewis Travis would be in the running with the way he has played, but he only started playing right at the end of 2018. He’s such a tough tackler and the way he can drive forward with the ball makes him one of the first players on the teamsheet in my eyes. Bradley Dack will probably come second in the voting, but he doesn’t deserve to win in my eyes. Thirteen goals has been a good return but he’s gone missing in too many games. Dack is, undoubtedly, a very good player and he’ll get better next season. Graham has to win it for me.
IH: The old boy Danny Graham continues to defy the passing years and keeps turning in centre forward displays showing a delightful mix of cunning, strength, deft touch and positional savvy that marks him out as unique in our squad. Lewis Travis in midfield has emerged from the academy side to seize his opportunity and in so doing has possibly saved us a good few million. That Mowbray took so long to be convinced is one of the legitimate criticisms of his judgement.
Weak links in the side?
RC: Now, I don’t like singling players out really but… David Raya is a weird one to call a weak link. He’s a brilliant shot stopper but he flaps when the ball is in the air a lot and he’s cost us a few times this season with his shooting. Our full-backs do seem to get caught out often, especially when Bennett stands in at right-back. I don’t think we have too many weak links as mentioned earlier, but it’s our lapses in concentration that see us concede goals and drop points.
IH: The defence....in fairness if you believe (as I do) that defending starts from the front, this is a team shortcoming. Opposition players are all too often ushered through the centre of our midfield with as warm a welcome as might be granted to Bruce Springsteen playing a homecoming gig in New Jersey. Full backs that don’t block crosses, centre backs that “play football” but don’t win tackles or headers and a keeper who is a tremendous shot stopper but all too often conjures up a howler have undermined our performances all too often.
The FFP rules are a mess, but look particularly challenging for clubs on our sorts of income, reliant on money being put in by owners to fund losses. What shape are Rovers in to comply with this in the years to come, particularly as you spent big on Brereton and that doesn't seem to have been a good signing?
RC: I’d admit before we start, I’m not the best with the confusing FFP rules, but I’m sure I saw somewhere that we’d be fine with FFP for the coming years. Brereton was a big money signing for us, and it came as a shock considering our record money ever spent on a player has only ever been £8m but I’m sure the full fee is only when potential is fulfilled. He’s not hit the ground running. He has missed some big chances but he’s rarely had a proper run out for us. We often use him in ten or twenty minute substitute appearances so he’s not had a run in the starting XI. I still believe he’ll come good for the club though.
IH: Brereton is seemingly the latest in a long line of Rovers centre forwards that arrive with a reputation, a price tag and struggle to live up to the hype. (We had some notable exceptions to this rule in the 90s including of course one Roy Wegerle, so perhaps this is karma ?). He’s a kid and his best days lie in front of him (hopefully) but he’s struggled to make any sort of impression. If he had come through the ranks, sympathy might be more plentiful, but he’s forever saddled with that fee and it does him no favours.
The issue of course is that £7m for a side no longer receiving parachute payments, is a colossal sum of money and the seemingly indecent haste to spend that we demonstrated in the last days of the summer window raised many a sceptical eyebrow and many fans sought to clarify which agents represented Brereton. Our gates and ancillary commercial income levels are relatively low so FFP is tantamount to a ball and chain on our lofty aspirations. Sadly, even if they wanted to, Venky’s can’t put that much more in without risking another transfer embargo and the “get out of (FFP) jail card” of selling Bradley Dack for £20m to WBA has had to be put on hold as his form dipped and Albion sacked their manager. Losses of £300k per week doesn’t get you much these days it seems. Let’s hope Dack recovers his form before we hit the losses threshold...that or we discover an oil field in the Blackburn End car park.
The Twitter @rovers_chat, @ianherbert, @brfcsdotcom, @loftforwords
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