Sitting third place from bottom, win-less and with a cup exit to their name, Blackburn’s start to the season has not been an enjoyable one. Gary Bowyer is finding life tough three weeks into the new season and most fans are already predicting mid-table mediocrity, some even anticipating a relegation battle. But there are some of us who retain perspective in the Ewood faithful, to quote an old saying, ‘the season is a marathon, not a sprint’.
Blackburn kicked off their campaign away at Derby County as part of the Football League’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the game saw plenty of positives, plenty of optimism as Blackburn performed admirably to come back from 1-0 down. Leon Best earned a very respectable point that should have perhaps been all three, the performance certainly warranted it. The following week and Nottingham Forest were the first visitors to Ewood, but after a dull match threadbare of any real chances, Forest grabbed a last minute winner. Although the opposition had the better of the play, the defensive duo of Scott Dann and Grant Hanley showcased their claim for being the best centre-back pairing in the league by limiting the opposition at almost every opportunity. It was only an error from Jake Kean that gave Forest the win. Bowyer in his post match interview said he believed Forest were one of the favourites for promotion, a team led by Billy Davies, he may well be right. Six days later Blackburn travelled to South Yorkshire to face League 1 champions Doncaster Rovers. Both sides were looking for their first win of the season and it was Doncaster who duly obliged with a 2-0 victory. Bowyer called attention to a few questionable refereeing decisions and it is necessary to point out that Doncaster had eleven days to prepare for the game, while Blackburn also had a few internationals in action just two days earlier. However, excuses aside, Doncaster deserved their win. As an ex player who gave his all for the club, it’s refreshing to see Paul Dickov enjoy success as a manager, and his side were very much in the image of the terrier himself. They pressurised Blackburn all game, all over the pitch and made it difficult for Rovers to create many chances.
Three games in and Blackburn already find themselves in danger of a remarkably unsatisfying season. With the dark clouds showering over Blackburn I feel it necessary to appeal for perspective. It’s been a summer of upheaval with plenty of exits and incomings, and with change comes the inevitable slow progression. With finances limited, Gary Bowyer has had to work within his means and has done well in the transfer market, all things considered. He has solved the left back issue with Tommy Spurr who has impressed in his two appearances, and the midfield, although less glamorous, has a Championship edge to it. The return of academy graduate Alan Judge looks inspired and with Leon Best off the mark there is room for optimism. The squad, compared to last season, is more equipped to deal with a Championship battle and with more incomings expected we can look forward to a season where, unlike last year, every player will give his all.
When we consider last season’s start, which saw Blackburn in the top 6 after five games, it is easy to see why the panic button should not be pushed just yet. Furthermore, a fine example of the slight irrelevance of a poor start is Crystal Palace, who didn’t win any of their opening three games last season and yet were still promoted come May. So how can we explain Blackburn’s poor start, for me its lies in the direction of the clubs strikers. The injuries to Ruben Rochina and DJ Campbell have been devastating and last season’s top scorer Jordan Rhodes’ failure to score has been the key reason to Rovers slow start. It was Rhodes’ goals that saved Blackburn last year, and it is fair to say that if Rovers are to mount a promotion challenge, then he needs to match his goalscoring exploits of last season.
The Venky’s group have surprisingly attended two out of three games this year and appear to have learnt a great deal about running a football club. They have made sensible decisions this summer and we should hope that maintaining faith in Gary Bowyer remains one of them. They will know all to well the gratitude they owe him after he stopped a Rovers team in free-fall last season into League 1. Up next, Blackburn return to Ewood with Barnsley the visitors and Bowyer will be anxious to grind out a win against the Yorkshire side. A fourth game without victory, at home to a team Rovers should be beating and questions, right or wrong, will start to mount upon the rookie manager.