League One Club-by-Club Preview for 2017/2018: Blackburn Rovers

Best Blog or Account to Follow: Again, I’ll pick two: Rover Stan. A season ticket holder at Ewood Park since 1978, he has certainly seen it all in the 39 years to date and still loves the club, his posts showing no shortage of mirth. He also keeps a close eye on football in Lancashire from a more holistic viewpoint.

The second one is Rovers Chat. Unusually for a fan account, they also have Snapchat, as well as a presence on an array of other social media platforms.


Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

Championship - 22nd; W 12 / D 15 / L 19 / F 53 / A 65 / Pts 51

Previous manager Owen Coyle who, putting it mildly, was deeply unpopular with Blackburn fans even upon arrival (having previously been at the helm of both neighbours Bolton Wanderers and hated rivals Burnley), did little to endear himself either to them in the early running of the Championship season. It would take until the middle of September before he guided his side to a win and even that was over Rotherham United, who were themselves embroiled in crisis. Proceedings didn’t improve too much in the league until his eventual dismissal in February (the double over Newcastle United the exception).

His replacement Tony Mowbray immediately galvanised the group; indeed, the Lancashire outfit didn’t lose any of the first seven matches under his stewardship and only three of the 15 in total. Even with that, they were in such a downward spiral by mid-February that the play-off standard form that followed wasn’t enough to rescue them from a cruel final day relegation to the third tier for the first time since 1980, winning 3-1 away at Brentford but still succumbing to demotion on goal difference by a margin of just two. The points total accrued would have seen them survive in almost every other year since ‘three for a win’ was introduced several decades ago.

The Somewhat controversial owners of the football club, the Venky’s, then issued what read as a cut and paste statement, offering their support to Mowbray and the efforts to bounce back immediately to the second tier have begun in earnest amidst an improved atmosphere around the town.

Top Goalscorer: Danny Graham (12 goals in 28 starts/2,496 minutes)

Top Creator: Marvin Emnes (5 assists in 13 starts/1,224 minutes)

Danny Graham has found his niche with Blackburn in the second tier after years of being maligned; proving he is still more than capable of leading the line, reaching double figures ; with more firepower (especially in midfield) added to the squad in the close season, it is little wonder why, with his predatory instincts, that he is one of the bookmakers’ favourites to be the top goalscorer


Manager/Head Coach: Tony Mowbray; comes across as quite dour but by contrast, he likes his sides to have lots of technical ability, which often results in eye-catching performances when everyone is on song. He’s held high-profile posts both north and south of the border during his storied managerial career and both his current and previous roles have been at clubs with the fanbase utterly divorced from the board. He put in his best efforts at Coventry City, only for a lack of investment in the squad and a slow start to 2016/2017 to put an end to his time at the Ricoh Arena. On the face of it, he has had backing from the Venky’s, both in terms of his own position and in the transfer market. He can count himself extremely unfortunate that his escape act with Rovers didn’t quite come off.

Ins: Bradley Dack (Gillingham), Joe Nuttall (Aberdeen), Paul Caddis (Bury), Richard Smallwood (Rotherham United), Peter Whittingham (Cardiff City), Ben Gladwin (Queens Park Rangers) & Dominic Samuel (Reading).

Outs: Hope Akpan (Burton Albion), Connor Mahoney (Bournemouth), Danny Guthrie (free agent), Jason Lowe (free agent), Gordon Greer (free agent), Anthony Stokes (free agent), Wes Brown (free agent) & Adam Henley (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

It should be noted that a decision has not yet been made on the captain’s armband but the ‘favourite’ is Charlie Mulgrew

Tactics: Rovers could shape up in a number of different ways, with both positional and role flexibility unusually high in defence and midfield. All three centre backs are comfortable on the ball to the extent that the men flanking Darragh Leinhan could push out and wide when their teammates have the ball in the other half in order to cover a quick turnover in possession. Charlie Mulgrew is also a dead ball expert who is able to conjure up a lot of curl from both corners and free kicks, making it that much more difficult for the opposition to deal with.

At just 19, Ryan Nyambe has a bright future ahead of him and can play in the centre and on the right. He will have competition from new signing Paul Caddis but there might be space to accommodate the pair in the same XI, with Mowbray giving the wing-backs licence to bomb forward to provide support and diagonal balls into the area for Danny Graham to make the most of.

If they can retain his services, Corry Evans will sit at the base of the diamond in midfield and he possesses the qualities Mowbray demands of his players, being neat and tidy on the ball whilst normally being a good man-marker when the situation requires it. In Peter Whittingham and Richard Smallwood, Blackburn have a good balance in the middle to adapt to a variety of gameplans that will be thrown at them in League One. The former is another dead-ball expert but equally handy in normal play, with the vision to pick out his compatriots both near and far. The latter will recycle possession well and graft for his side, covering any gaps in between Evans and the rest of the midfield.

Bradley Dack is a difference maker when on form. He is an expert at timing his runs into the box and at full flow when on the dribble, he is extremely difficult to cope with. Crucially, he has the goal threat to go along with these aspects of his playstyle, as well as the stamina not to simply fade as the match draws to a close. The aforementioned Graham is lethal with the right level of support and, whilst he does lack speed, his positioning makes up for it, especially in timing his movements to beat the offside trap. Much more than a poacher, he uses his upper-body strength to muscle defenders off the ball, calmly places his shots (including from the penalty spot) and will work extremely hard to keep Blackburn on the front foot whenever possible.

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David Raya Martin is a young goalkeeper with excellent reflexes and could concert his position as the #1 custodian for Rovers in the campaign ahead, especially given the intense transfer speculation surrounding Jason Steele

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion. Added to the options already discussed, Rovers also have the likes of Elliott Bennett, Craig Conway and Liam Feeney to call on from the bench in advanced wide areas. When you can exclude all of that trio from your starting lineup and be no worse off and factor in promising players from the Category 1 Academy and in the U23s the Lancashire outfit still boast, you know you have a real chance of cause for celebration in May 2018. Under Mowbray, a side completely lacking goals from midfield and shorn of confidence didn’t look out of place in the Championship. Diligent work has been undertaken to address that problem and their defence should be able to shut down most attacks. In other words, the squad looks in better shape now than when he took over in February.

Some of their hopes, despite adding more striking options, rest on Graham’s fitness at the time of writing. On paper, they are easily in the top handful of teams with the current group. The only potential spanner in the works are matters off the pitch. The Venky’s have a track record of antagonising the town’s long-suffering fans with baffling decisions and extremely questionable dealings. The playing and coaching staff need (and should receive) the support from the stands to bring a modicum of pride back to the one of the oldest clubs in professional football.


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