Injuries chewing into Rovers' promising start - Interview
Friday, 6th Nov 2020 13:38 by Clive Whittingham
Blackburn had an excellent transfer window, and started with a hail of goals scored, but growing problems with injuries and Covid-19 are undermining Tony Mowbray's side according to BRFCS Podcast host Ian Herbert.
How was last season for you?
It ended up being another season of consolidation but it threatened, albeit fleetingly, just before Christmas and once again right after lockdown, to deliver a play-off finale. Instead, all that was on the matt behind the front door was a red and white docket of doom, indicating that as we were out, our package of opportunity had been left with Swansea.
A place in the play-offs would have been an incredible achievement, especially given the loss of our talisman, Bradley Dack, for more than half a season. But in the end, the combination of a brittle defence and a pair of expensive, goal-shy (wide) strikers resulted in an eleventh-placed finish, four places higher and three points better off than 2019.
As is usual, the final league table rarely lies and in this instance, it would have survived the close scrutiny of an enthusiastic prosecution barrister in a court of law. Rovers were not as good as we had hoped, but not as bad as we had sometimes feared.
Some notable highs, including a 5-0 victory at Hillsborough were balanced out by some extraordinary lows. Kenilworth Road, for the final game of this extended season, proved the point admirably, as Rovers contrived to lose 3-2; despite Luton registering only a single shot on target during the game. Never change Rovers.
Very up and down start to the season for Blackburn, some big wins and defeats, how do you assess it overall?
A look at the nascent league table indicates that those teams we have ruthlessly put to the sword are congregated very much towards the bottom end of the division and so any euphoria from those wins needs to be contextualised. The not inconsiderable benefit of playing ten men for large parts of a couple of those games was seemingly more influential than perhaps initially we wanted to admit. However, we have struggled against sides a man down historically, including the last 20 minutes or so against Cardiff City only last month, so when we do take advantage it rather bucks the trend and warms the heart.
Since returning to the Championship, Rovers have tended to come up short when playing anyone decent, the hope was that our record against the top six especially might improve this season but particularly the dispiriting defeats at home to Forest and Reading and away to Watford and Swansea have sucked the life out of our season after just ten games.
Blackburn league results so far…
I personally thought Blackburn had a better transfer window than almost any club in the league, given relative budgets etc, how do you assess the business done?
The last window was undoubtedly our best for years. At its closure, it seemed that Rovers were serious about promotion after all. Almost all of the holes in the squad seemed to have been filled; new goalkeepers, a left back, a centre back, central midfielder, maverick winger, tricky wide forward, things were looking good. The only doubt was whether the loss of Danny Graham without a like for like replacement would prove to be problematical. Ben Brereton has therefore been ordered to grow a beard and adopt an Alice band and as a consequence the immediate panic has subsided; he even scored a terrific goal against Watford.
Considering that Rovers were allegedly sailing perilously close to the wind of FFP prior to COVID, the backing from the owners, albeit largely on loan signings, was welcome news and lifted spirits across the fanbase quite dramatically. At the time of writing however, upon checking the table, we don’t yet appear to have been awarded any points for “winning the window”.
Ins>> Thomas Kaminski, 27, GK, Gent, £450k >>> Aynsley Pears, 22, GK< Middlesbrough, £400k >>> Antonis Stergiakis, 21, GK, Slavia Sofia, Free >>> Thyrys Dolan, 18, RW, PNE, Free >>> Daniel Ayala, 29, CB, Middlesbrough, Free >>> Tom Trybull, 27, CM, Norwich, Loan >>> Harvey Elliott, 17, RW, Liverpool, Loan >>> Barry Douglas, 31, LB, Leeds, Loan
Outs >>> Richard Smallwood, 29, CM, Hull, Free >>> Dominic Samuel, 26, CF, Gillingham, Free >>> Danny Graham, 34, CF, Sunderland, Free >>> Sam Hart, 23, LB, Released >>> Jayson Leutwiler, 31, GK, Fleetwood, Free >>> Charlie Mulgrew, 34, CB, Fleetwood, Loan
No sooner had I Tweeted that, than Rovers lost to Forest at home, and have now lost four out of six and conceded ten in the process, what’s gone wrong of late other than me opening my big mouth?
Many and various factors are at play I suspect, combining to rip out the heart of Tony Mowbray’s cunning plans. These include adopting a vibrant new (Liverpool-influenced) formation (no, really), integrating so many players into the side at once, the impacts of COVID, a lengthening injury list and loss of form of a couple of key players (Lenihan & Nyambe). Following the extraordinary goalless game against Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening in which Rovers defending was a footballing tribute to the defence of the Alamo, Rovers now genuinely have a complete XI unavailable, of which you would reasonably say six or seven would normally start (Thomas Kaminski, Elliott Bennett, Daniel Ayala, Derrick Williams, Amari’i Bell, Barry Douglas, Lewis Travis, Bradley Dack, Adam Armstrong, Tom Trybull, Bradley Johnson and Stewart Downing).
No manager can reasonably be expected to accommodate such absences without an adverse impact in all fairness. Whether we should have coped better than we have in practice is a point for debate.
Latest temperature check on the general mood towards Tony Mowbray?
Whilst we haven’t crossed the Rubicon just now, we are in the coach en route & can see the roadsigns counting down the distance. The additions to the squad, especially Thomas Kaminski in goal, Barry Douglas at left back and Daniel Ayala at centre back addressed the biggest pre-season issues in the team; the addition of the exciting Liverpool youngster Harvey Elliott on loan promises much and the early-season form of Adam Armstrong all pointed to increased (realistic) aspirations.
A genuine attempt to reach the play-offs seemed eminently reasonable in terms of expectations but the disruptions mentioned above seemed to have de-railed our efforts no sooner has our promotion train left the station.
Mowbray’s tenure is not under any immediate threat it appears. The owners seem content to let him continue, but this season already is taking on the mantle of make or break - if not with the owners, with the supporters, many of whom struggle to point to a substantive progression.
For what it’s worth, my view is that he has been given the tools to do the job this season and it’s not wholly unreasonable to expect to see some meaningful progress.
Where is the team strong and where is it weak?
At the moment, we are weak in all areas due to the injury/Covid-19 crises noted above, just putting out a team and a full complement on the bench would be a triumph of sorts. We are down to ‘Arry Redknapp style bare bones and so anticipating what First XI can be selected on Saturday is a fool’s errand right now.
With everyone fit and ready, Lewis Travis, Bradley Dack, Adam Armstrong and Harvey Elliott would ordinarily worry most opponents in the Championship but only Elliott played on Tuesday and Armstrong is by no means certain to return at the weekend.
With a second choice keeper, a makeshift defence, a rag-tag midfield and a pair of strikers who cost £12m boasting two goals from 18 appearances so far the season likely to feature on Saturday, we are there frankly for the taking.
What are your expectations for the season now you’ve seen the team and the rest of the division?
Before our successful window I was predicting fifteenth; I re-calibrated that to “a serious play-off push” after reviewing the array of incoming talent but having seen via iFollow how it’s all falling apart then matching last season’s eleventh feels like a challenge.
“When everyone comes back we will be fine..” is something to hang our hats on but experience tells me that no club ever has a full complement of players fit, firing and raring to go, there are always injuries, suspensions and this time, Covid-19 to contend with.
Rovers would do well to grind out a few more ugly results to keep us “above the fold” if at all possible by Christmas, then we can re-group, re-assess and “Go Again” in the second half of the season.
The Twitter @ianherbert, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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