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Mowbray's Rovers all over the map - Interview
Friday, 4th Oct 2019 16:08 by Clive Whittingham

Blackburn’s results have been all over the place this season so to try and make sense of things ahead of their annual win at Loftus Road we spoke to Ian Herbert from the BRFCS podcast and the guys at Rovers Chat.

Last season looked par for the course as a newly promoted team, what did you make of it?

IH: Well initially we over-delivered, turning in some pretty good performances “early doors” as Big Ron would say and that inevitably raised expectations. A period of looking at the league table “above the fold” meant calculations of how many more wins were needed to reach the play offs reached their apotheosis after 10 minutes away at Brentford in early February when we had raced into a two-goal lead and frankly, besting the Championship at that precise point looked a mere formality. However, eighty-odd minutes later, Brentford’s five goals without reply had given both the team and the fans a chastening dose of harsh reality and forced an urgent reappraisal. Those cancellable bookings for the play-off final hotels looked a tad optimistic. Our season then collapsed like the post-referendum pound and soon we were very much “below the fold” and wondering if the sting in the tale was to be a relegation, whence we came. A late-season recovery, aided and abetted by three points at Loftus Road (thanks once again...) ended with a fifteenth place finish, which I would have happily signed up to back in August 2018. All in all, “Tony ultimately came through, but at times his concentration wandered and his performance dipped. B+, could do better”.

RC: I was happy with it overall, considering the prediction I made was 17th and we finished slightly higher than that. There was a hint of frustration though as when it come to the end of January, Rovers looked in a very decent position to make a play-off push, sitting just a point or two outside the top six. However, despite going 2-0 up in seven minutes at Brentford, we then capitulated and conceded five, and the downfall started from there. We won one in eleven and the dream died, and suddenly turned into a bit of worrying about relegation. However, we turned it around and won four in a row – including the 2-1 win at Loftus Road in April – and finished the season strongly. We could have had a play-off dream, but I was satisfied.

What business was done over the summer and was the squad stronger or weaker by the end?

IH We lost keeper David Raya to the aforementioned Brentford fairly early on in the window, defender Paul Downing had been effectively released in January, flat-track bully Jack Rodwell fell down a crack in the space/time continuum, from which he is yet to emerge, much-loved, stalwart winger and part-time barber Craig Conway was freed and Ben Gladwin...yes him...also departed Ewood; his most memorable contribution being missing a sitter at home to Plymouth in the promotion season and never being seen again.
Inbound moves saw Christian Walton come in on loan from Brighton to replace Raya, Stewart Downing came in to maintain the Rovers “Downing quota” at a solid one and ensure Mowbray was surrounded by a Teesside burr as often as possible. Bradley Johnson joined from Derby on a free to increase our “Bradley” quota to two, but the big money signing of the summer brought back Sam Gallagher; a previous loanee, to add options to our attack and reduce our dependency on the ageing or is that “ageless” Danny Graham. Overall, you would have to say stronger but perhaps not in the areas most needed (the defence Tony...the bloody defence...) and not by a sufficient margin to really excite the fans.

RC: I’d say we’re definitely stronger by the end of the window. We brought in defenders Tosin Adarabioyo (on loan from Man City) and Greg Cunningham (on loan from Cardiff) which were much needed and, despite losing captain Charlie Mulgrew to Wigan, we have looked better at the back. Experienced heads in Bradley Johnson (Derby) and Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough) came in on free deals and they both look like good pieces of business, especially the latter who has arguably been our player of the season so far. Sam Gallagher joined the club from Southampton for around £5m but he’s not hit the ground running and is yet to hit the ground running. We sold our number one ‘keeper David Raya, and replaced him with Christian Walton on loan from Brighton, and it’s been a definite improvement. Our new keeper looks better in the air and gives me much more confidence. Earlier this month, we also brought former Tottenham midfielder Lewis Holtby into the team on a free and has impressed off the bench over the last three matches. He could get his first start this weekend against you guys.

Ins: Sam Gallagher, 23, CF, Southampton, £5m >>> Stewart Downing, 34, LM, Free >>> Bradley Johnson, 32, CM, Derby, Free >>> Tom White, 22, CM, Gateshead, Undisclosed >>> Lewis Holtby, 29, AM, Unattached, Free >>> Christian Walton, 23, GK, Brighton, Loan >>> Greg Cunningham, 28, LB, Cardiff, Loan >>> Tosin Adarabioyo, 21, CB, Man City, Loan

Outs: David Raya, 23, GK, Brentford, £3m >>> Paul Downing, 27, CB, Portsmouth, Free >>> Charlie Albinson, 22, GK, Southport, Free >>> Jack Rodwell, 28, DM, Released >>> Craig Conway, 34, LW, Released >>> Ben Gladwin, 27, CM, Released >>> Scott Wharton, 21, CB, Northampton, Loan >>> Charlie Mulgrew, 33, LB, Wigan, Loan

How would you assess your start to the season, results are all over the map really?

IH: Rovers are absolutely determined to be consistent in their inconsistency. We must be an archetypal cup team as on our day, we are capable of beating anyone or being beaten by anyone. We are currently mid-table, I expect us to finish mid-table, but the route we choose to arrive at that destination will be circuitous I suspect and not without its moments of triumph and disaster, which will not be treated both the same.

RC: A bit like the second half of last season, frustrating. We’ve lost four matches and two of them have been very frustrating. I accepted we’d be lucky to get anything away to Fulham and West Brom, but to lose two home games against newly promoted sides in Charlton and Luton leaves a sour taste in my mouth. We’ve picked two wins on the road at Hull and Reading – and we looked very good at the latter – plus two at home. To sit just in the top half with the fixture list we’ve had is about where I’d have put us to have been, but it could’ve been more considering the manner we lost those two home matches.

League Results So Far:
Blackburn 1-2 Charlton (Phillips og 54 – Purrington 43, Taylor 77)
Fulham 2-0 Blackburn (Cairney 34, Mitrovic 81)
Blackburn 1-0 Middlesbrough (Graham pen 25)
Hull 0-1 Blackburn (Williams 62)
Blackburn 0-0 Cardiff
West Brom 3-2 Blackburn (Phillips 22, Livermore 31, Diangana 40 – Dack 1, Johnson 45)
Blackburn 2-0 Millwall (Williams 18, Dack 74)
Reading 1-2 Blackburn (Swift b57 – Armstrong 8, Dack 48)
Blackburn 1-2 Luton (Travis 37 – Collins 17, Pearson 57)
Blackburn 1-1 Forest (Armstrong 63 – Lolley 65)

Tony Mowbray presumably has credit in the bank from the promotion still, but how’s he doing?

IH: In my eyes, yes. He’s a decent man doing a decent job with what he has available to him. I struggle to see him ever taking us back to the Premier League in all honesty, but equally, we are a lot more organised and competitive than under all of his predecessors back to Allardyce. Solid, unspectacular, faithful, generally likeable; much like a Teesside Labrador really.

RC: He’s still the man for the job. He’s clearly worked on the defence as he said he would, so I’m still behind him and will be for the foreseeable. The only real negative I have for Mowbray is the way he’s spent the money he’s had available to him. Don’t get me wrong, getting the likes of Johnson and Downing on a free was top business, but spending circa £12m on Brereton and Gallagher hasn’t brought its rewards. That’s not too much of a problem for me though if we get the results.

Stand out players and weak links in the side?

IH: It used to be all about Bradley Dack but he’s found it to be tougher going in recent months as opponents have latched onto his threat and largely nullified it. It used to be Danny Graham but having spent £5m on Gallagher, Mowbray has to try and find a niche for his new signing and Graham has often been sacrificed. The recent addition of Lewis Holtby is an intriguing one, he could just turn out to be a master stroke. Another Lewis, namely Travis of this parish is probably the next player to leave for a pastures new for a large fee. Liverpool let him go, they may just regret that. He oozes potential.

Weak links ? The defence, especially after a couple of clean sheets when they think they’ve cracked it.

RC: The aforementioned Stewart Downing has definitely a standout. He has so much composure on the ball and has an impressive passing range, and he has been a much welcomed addition to the team Lewis Travis has been brilliant as well. He’s come on a lot since his debut at the end of 2018. Travis is a tough tackler and is another one who is really composed with the ball at his feet. It won’t be long before he leaves us for the Premier League. If you’d have asked me 12 months ago, I’d probably have the attack as a strength and the rest as weaknesses.

Is Ben Brereton being written off despite the outlay? Precious little return so far…

IH: He’s injured. When he’s not injured he’s played out of position. When he plays out of position he looks lost. Frankly, when he plays in a Rovers shirt at all he looks lost. I feel sorry for the kid, the fee isn’t his fault but the sooner we all recognise that it’s £7m that simply needs to be written off “for tax purposes”, the better we will all feel about it and as such, we can then all move on. He seems highly unlikely to ever be a regular first teamer at Rovers let alone goal score and Mowbray’s use of the cheque book with Brereton and Gallagher especially may well ultimately define his reign. These two signings are presently under-performing luxuries we simply cannot afford. The ghosts of Kevin Davies and Ciccio Grabbi appear to haunt Ewood to this very day.

RC: It’s not looking great for him really. He’s had limited game time but when he has been on the pitch, he looks so shot of confidence and hasn’t really had a good game that comes to memory. His chance of regular first team football was wasted in the cup versus Oldham Athletic, where he missed some easy chances. He’s now had knee surgery and won’t feature until November, but I don’t honestly see where he fits in.

Another big money signing this summer in Sam Gallagher, who you’ve had before of course, how’s that gone?

IH: Well as per Brereton above, when Mowbray has been given the password for the club internet banking account, it doesn’t seem to end well. Gallagher did a job for us originally, when on loan, albeit without ever ripping up any trees and frankly, doesn’t seem to have progressed all that much since we last had him. We can’t afford to splash the cash very often these days and on the two recent occasions where we have, we appear to have been scammed by the Championship equivalents of Nigerian princes offering untold wealth for “a small administration fee” and access to your current account. Mowbray henceforth should only be allowed to sign players costing £750k or less based on the Dack precedent.

RC: Not as we hoped really. He’s been used out wide mainly and has struggled to make that much of an impact. Gallagher hasn’t scored in the league yet and has been poor in the last two matches as well. I hope he does come good because he showed he can score goals during his last loan spell at the club. He just needs a goal and he’ll get going again (I hope).

What are the ambitions for this season and have they changed since the summer?

IH: The more realistic Rovers supporter would say consolidate, improve a few places on last season, have a cup run perhaps...all good. The more ardent Rovers supporter, of which we have a few, proclaimed the signings of Gallagher, Downing and Johnson to be the combination to unlock promotion...not really feasible IMHO. Progress is the watchword. Finishing at least say, three places higher than last season would be a solid (if unspectacular) season. Anything more than that would be a handy bonus. Finishing lower than last season would be hugely disappointing. This squad has potential but no matter how many we sign, we always seem to be two short. Was it ever thus ?
RC: It’s still to get in the play-offs, as it has been since August.We’ve built up a decent team and with the likes of Bradley Dack, Lewis Travis and Darragh Lenihan, we have a squad capable of reaching the top six in my eyes. I feel we need to get a few wins under our belt on the bounce and then we can hopefully go from there. I get the feeling we may fall just a little short unfortunately.

Links >>> Official website >>> Lancashire Telegraph – Local Paper >>> BRFCS message board and podcast >>> Rovers Chat – Blog >>> Our reciprocal interview with Rovers Chat

The Twitter @rovers_chat, @ianherbert, @brfcsdotcom, @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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Myke added 22:48 - Oct 4
Charity Park Rangers should guarantee that Gallagher gets up and running tomorrow

TacticalR added 13:28 - Oct 5
Thanks to Ian and Rovers Chat.

It sounds like Rovers have some decent players even if the more expensive ones haven't worked out.

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