Friday, 11 April 2014

More than one way to measure "progress"

As we head into the final stretch in this season's Championship campaign, Rovers find themselves in the slightly surprising situation of still having an outside shot of making that last play off berth come May 3rd.

Surprising in that if you have anything resembling a memory and can cast your mind back to that awful night at Ewood, as eleven souls meandered round the turf at the sort of speed associated with lame tortoises against Bournemouth, that we're still in with even half a shout.

In recent weeks Blackburn Rovers have finally broken the mould of Gary Bowyer's season long defensive plan - keep tight and pragmatism first - our boys seem to be showing signs of a bit of charisma, a little bit of swagger. As a result we've been rewarded after a difficult run of form with a comparative rich vein of the stuff including a couple of richly deserved home victories over the league's more talented sides.

But by and large this term, Rovers have only been consistent in their inconsistency. One encouraging win has been followed by a dull defeat, disappointing draws have been grabbed from the jaws of possibly victory and we've been predictable in only the sense that we haven't been.

So it's weird given the last few paragraphs that this season's buzz words have been "stability" and "progress". The club have been keen to stress it, the more optimistic amongst us have been using those two words as a badge of honour in the face of more negative reaction since August.

They've also been an easy duo of statements to bandy about with the Rovers manager carrying out a likeable, steady but limited plan throughout the season.

But on the contrary, stability and progress have become resented terms over the last few months with a portion of the fanbase who are less than impressed, and very quick to point to the comparative points total from last season - I mean how can the club have made progress if we've not improved on the points total and efforts of the toxic Rovers rabble from the year before?

Simply put the two terms are intertwined. The progress can be verified by the stability bought about by Gary Bowyer over the last 12 months.

Whilst admittedly coming in from a very low base, the club has come a fair distance in recent times from the utterly batshit mental entity they were in January 2013.

Is the club the well oiled machine it needs to be? I highly doubt it personally. But in the space of little over a year Rovers have gone from a poisonous vacuum of in-house boardroom fighting, lack of direction and added time multi managerial appointments to a season long Gary Boywer reign and relative behind the scenes calm which would have been virtually unforeseeable during rent-a-gob Shebby Singh's heyday.

The jury is still out on the manager's ability to take us up a level or two on the metaphorical elevator required to really become a big time player again, but for his part Gary has successfully overseen a difficult transition from chaos to calm.

Bowyer might not achieve the job he was hired by his bosses to do, but he has carried out the task he needed to perform - for the club and for all concerned.

Being asked to take Rovers from a shambolic outfit drenched in anarchy to serious promotion players in the space of 12 months may seem unreasonable and unlikely to many, even in a league as mediocre as the Championship can be.

G-Bow will likely fall short of that projection, but he has performed his job well enough to ensure we can have some hope that better times could lay around a once distant corner.

Jabbing your finger in the direction of similar year on year points totals does not distract from the improved set of players we've accumulated this season... anyone telling you they prefer the likes of Danny Murphy, Bradley Orr and a batch of Portuguese nobodies to Tom Cairney, Corry Evans and Craig Conway is nuts. Certifiably nuts.

In both the long term and in the now they're not even close to being equivalent in terms of favour.

As a result, the atmosphere has improved as well. Sure most home games are played out in general quiet but long gone is the destructive and corrosive atmosphere in the stands. We've still got the odd Neanderthal shouting at Jason Lowe and Lee Williamson every time they don't rake a pass 60 yards onto a sixpence but in the main we as fans seem happy to back the manager and the players.

That's an important step, virtually all the Championship teams that do ultimately net promotion have a feeling of content and vibrancy about them - we're not quite there yet but it has got better and that is as a direct result of Gary Bowyer's efforts in reshaping the club and the side this season.

It's never been a quick fix on or off the field and no amount of wonderful future season ticket deals can distort that. Even if the owners themselves can't see it.

Given the density of traffic queueing up for that coveted 6th spot, upper-mid table place but only four points adrift Rovers are still unlikely to be embarking on three extra games once the regulation stuff is out of the way.

But at least we can plan for next season fresh in the knowledge that progress has been made and stability although not complete and absolute (under Venky's always a work in progress) has begun to become a proposition.

Better, younger and more suitable players, a manager who at the very, very least has the right intention and a club that finances aside can at least tell it's backside from it's funny bone.

It just goes to show... sometimes progress can be measured in less tangible terms than simply looking at a league table.