Blackburn approach the dotted line once more - Interview
Friday, 5th Feb 2021 15:36 by Clive Whittingham
Blackburn signed better than most in the summer transfer window, but continue to struggle to cross the dotted line below sixth spot. We asked our Ewood regular Ian Herbert from the BRFCS.com podcast why.
How has the season gone for Blackburn?
Not as well as many had hoped, not as badly as some feared; somehow, we remain within tantalising reach of the play-offs, albeit we are yet to break the glass ceiling that is that infamous dotted line in the league table.
The summer transfer window seemed to have delivered solutions to the most obvious squad deficiencies and consequently, the autumn optimism levels reached fever pitch after a couple of handsome early-season victories.
A combination of injuries, suspensions and brittle form combined to puncture our optimism bubble and regression to the mean dragged Rovers back down to mid-table.
We seem to be the ultimate tease, creeping up to just outside the top six, only to wave at the incumbents, blow them kisses; then disappear in a cloud of dust when the opportunity to break through presents itself.
Blackburn league results so far…
I rated your summer transfers just about the best in the league, was I wrong or are you underachieving?
We were pleased at the time; a heady combination of shrewd European signings, smart loan acquisitions and free transfers seemed set to propel us on a course to the play-offs as a bare minimum. It didn’t quite materialise.
The reality is that one of the three keepers signed is excellent, one flawed, one nowhere near the first team.
The loanee left-back has struggled to impress. The injury-prone centre back has proven to be…well, injury-prone. The loanee midfielder underwhelming and a 36-year-old returning veteran has offered a couple of decent cameos.
The bright spots have been Elliott from Liverpool on loan, who is undoubtedly a little gem and the free transfer capture of Dolan from Preston, who excites every time he’s on the ball.
Mowbray still going strong or just going?
Mowbray continues to polarise opinion; those who are grateful for the stability he has brought remain convinced that in a time of global uncertainty, from which football is far from isolated; the safe pair of hands he possesses is precisely what is required for the Rovers tiller.
The opposite constituency believes that Tony’s safety-first approach means that promotion under his watch is as likely as Donald Trump being welcomed to Barack Obama’s house for afternoon tea.
For what it’s worth, I struggle to see why Venky’s would consider a change for as long as Rovers are in no imminent danger of relegation and fully anticipate Mowbray to see out his contract. I also fully anticipate we will still be in the Championship whenever he is eventually replaced.
What January transfer activity was done, how do you rate the ins and outs?
The defensive injury crisis has required further forays into the loan market and two further promising Premier League reserve defenders have been added; Branthwaite from Everton and Harwood-Bellis from Man City. Both come with solid reputations. Branthwaite infuriated Neil Warnock last week with a reckless high challenge, so he is already well on the way to becoming a fan favourite, THB has not yet been spied in action. We also signed Harry Pickering from Crewe but loaned him back for the rest of the season so no chance of seeing him for a while.
Summer 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
Summer 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
Winter Ins >>> Harry Pickering, 22, LB, Crewe, Undisclosed >>> Jarrad Branthwaite, 18, CB, Everton, Loan >>> Taylor Harwood-Bellis, 19, CB, Man City, Loan
Winter Outs >>> Harry Pickering, 22, LB, Crewe, Loan >>> Harry Chapman, 23, RW, Shrewsbury, Loan >>> Brad Lyons, 23, CM, Morecambe, Loan
Where is the team strong and weak?
Kaminski in goal has been a terrific acquisition and provides reassurance whenever called upon. (he’ll throw one in for sure now mind.)
Defensively, the constant chopping & changing and having to play players out of position has made it difficult to form robust partnerships and some comical errors have been the inevitable conclusion. It appears we are stocking midfielders in a warehouse just off he M65 as a risk mitigant in case post-Brexit supplies dry up. Even so, the magic midfield combination has proved elusive for Mowbray and having so many permutations means it’s a temptation to tinker that Tony can’t resist.
Armstrong, Brereton and Gallagher up top should equal goals and invariably it does, but they are not evenly shared. The reliance on Armstrong is high. The other two need to step up to ease the burden.
Team news for this one? Has the injury crisis subsided at all?
To paraphrase Blackadder, injuries and suspensions stalk the club “like two giant stalking things…”. As soon as one returns, another drops or picks up a yellow. Or in the case of Lewis Travis, picks up an injury and a yellow card. We can put out an XI and a decent bench, which hasn’t always been the case this season, but absolutely nobody has a clue as to what is our strongest line-up…least of all Tony.
How do you foresee the rest of the season going?
Always being a run of “just seven consecutive wins” away from a guaranteed play-off spot. We’ll finish 10th, but arithmetically the play-off dream will still be alive until about three games to go at which point all of our midfielders will contract dysentery and we are forced to play four goalkeepers in those final games.
The Twitter @ianherbert, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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