Monday, 4 August 2014

Here we go again...

After a summer of trying to fill the void of Rovers interest through mediums such as the World Cup, cricket, golf, athletics and actually engaging in meaningful dialogue with direct family members, all with varying degrees of success... we're nearly there.

Just a few more days to go before it all begins again - the worrying, the superstitions, the debating, the moments of joy and (naturally) the cries of disappointment. I think we've all become a bit too familiar with the Rovers rollercoaster over the last few years, but for the first time since Venky's "took control" of our club, we can actually begin to forecast a higher end of the table finish without the fear of the cynical sniggers that greet the more optimistic a Rovers' prediction in previous campaigns.

Of course, we're not entitled to believe that a play-off spot or even a promotion push is a god given right, the Championship is an unforgiving vixen of a mistress with many a variable. 

To thrive we've got to make sure our own engine is fully functional and firing on all cylinders. It's far from assured that Gary Bowyer and his merry men will get this right enough to reached the promised land. So in true Mrs.Delap style - a list (yes it's all fun and games over here), here are the areas I feel a successful - or otherwise - season will hinge on.


Rewind 18 months and ask most Rovers fans where our attacking threat lay, aside from the very isolated, wayward and hopeful shout of Ruben Rochina the more or less booming chorus of "Jordan Rhodes" was the universal and depth free reply. 

Fast forward to the present day and there's a much broader answer to give. Aside from the aforementioned goal machine we've added Rudy Gestede, Craig Conway, Tom Cairney and Ben Marshall to the frustrating potential of Josh King and the always excellent when not spreadeagled on a physio bench David Dunn.

Stick a combo of four/five of them on the field and you've the arsenal and opportunity to cause any Championship defence a headache.

There is no reason for Gary Bowyer to revert back to his more cautious tactical approach, deployed loyally to our early season exploits of last term. Yes it occasionally worked to build on the clean sheet first mentality that Gary Megson will use to his dying day, but a lot of the time it left us in the win one, draw one, lose one spin cycle which gets you nowhere at a reasonable degree of speed. 

The proof that we're better off being proactive rather than reactive was in a more satisfying pudding towards the end of 2013/14... attack first became the more predominate rationale under G-Bow, and it worked.

Games became exciting, we finally started to beat the better sides in the division we mean to conquer and results improved. It wasn't perfect - when is it ever? But it was better. There was very little not to like, well aside from Liam Feeney (cheers Bolton).

Some major question marks still exist over the defesnive areas of the field - the lack of a decent, dedicated right back, Robinson's ongoing problems with long range attempts at his goal and Grant Hanley's ability to lose his head (pun intended) every so often.

Yes there is a balance to achieve, one we certainly didn't manage to achieve last season, but I always believe you go for a good run with your best pair of trainers on. So let's hope Bowyer uses the very handy array of attacking talent we have and give them the license to hurt teams, because he now has the players to achieve what we want to achieve.


Something that a lot of people won't want to hear or contemplate. But there is a chance that the lanky dancing machine from Benin's excellent late season form last time out was a flash in the pan.

We've seen it time and time again in football. Player makes move to new club, has blinder for the first few months and then once settled runs out of the magic dust and new club exuberance that made his exploits quite so brilliant.

Not saying that will happen with Gestede, he's been a super bargain buy so far - but if he does slump or lose the confidence that made him an unplayable beast then we'll lose a step. A decent portion of our 12 game unbeaten run to finish last season off was down to Rudy - at times it was as if defenders were trying to use Gestede as an unofficial climbing frame to stop him playing. He was that good.

His presence added elements to our game that Jordan Rhodes can't provide and gifted midfield providers with a target they simply didn't have before his January arrival.

But his career long record suggest his goal surge so far at Ewood is more of a flash in the pan than a continuation of a fine, free scoring career.

We just have to pray he's the exception to the rule and that Gary Bowyer and Rovers are the people and the team to bring out the best in a clearly talented player.

Gestede plays well and Rovers do so too, with an extra dimension that only he can provide. I suspect the formula may well be the same this time around, we just have to hope the man mountain produces.


Although not a major problem until later in the campaign, a worrying pattern emerged when Rovers took the lead in games.

After looking comfortable and capable before going ahead, latter parts of games were played in a defensive panic and visible worry that normally ended in dropped points.

Sheffield Wednesday away and Brighton at home spring to mind. In the words of Alan Partridge, there are others.

The usual crowd moans are that "tactics aren't right" and "we sat back too much", both desperately lazy complaints that escape the real issue. Even the better managers of the world sit back and soak up the pressure when ahead in games. Jose does it and he's called a genius, Sam Allardyce does it and it's called archaic, but all and sundry do it - even if they care not to admit it.

What we lacked last season was that mental toughness and confidence to close games out. Sure part of it can always be apportioned to organisation and the system you've set up - but ultimately calmer heads and better retention of the ball turn those desperate late defensive lunges into a routine defensive clearance and that hoofed clearance into a more astute, pressure relieving pass.

Players such as Tom Cairney (hopefully more centrally deployed this time out), Mat Kilgallon, Grant Hanley, Jason Lowe and Corry Evans need to be the players to take games by the scruff of the neck and exude confidence, maybe even that little bit of arrogance that the best tend to have.

Our young squad are all now a little older, a little wiser and a little bit more battled hardened.

Certainly no guarantees it'll make us tangibly better - but we'll need to find that little bit of mental steel if we want to go from possibles to pretenders.


For the first time since the loathsome Steve Kean started spraying out the verbal bullshit supersoaker from the dugout and the press room, we've endured a spectacularly boring summer transfer window.

So far this summer we've done very little outside of cancel - at great expense - overpaid wasters' contracts.

In turn, three signings have been made that will cause great excitement to absolutely nobody.... Alex Baptiste, Luke Varney and Chris Brown.

Transfer mania is running mild. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But the notion that for the first time in a while we've had to perform only minor surgery instead of an express triple heart by-pass to our squad is a further testament to the excellent steadying of the ship job being carried out by the current incumbent of the manager's hot seat.

Those signings aren't an attempt to improve Plan A - we've already got a good one, they're an attempt to at least give us a proper Plan B.

They're a symbol that Rovers are adding to, rather than attempting to construct a meaningful side.

Of course the jury will still be out on such unexciting signings, they're not exactly players to get the pulse rate up.

Baptiste will need to improve from his Bolton spell, Brown will need to put to bed a problematic injury laden career and Luke Varney will need to be a hell of a lot better than the Luke Varney we saw headless chickening about in his early Ewood days to hold up their end of the bargain.

But a summer spent in the knowledge of having such a settled starting XI should be rewarding.


We've been god awful away from home for far, far too long.

Constant whooping and cheering about home form will only get you so far.

Find some form on the road, and we'll find ourselves up near the top. That's what the best sides do...

Here's to a great season for Blackburn Rovers, fingers crossed.