An improved performance against Swansea City in midweek has helped reduce some of the anxiety about our ability to survive at this level. Nonetheless, it’s just one win from the opening six games and we could do with putting a win or two on the board over the next few games to avoid getting sucked into the relegation places as the league table starts to take shape.
Once again, we face a difficult challenge, this time against a free-flowing Blackburn Rovers side under our former manager, Tony Mowbray. If we’re not at it, this is the kind of game we could lose by a considerable margin. However, if we can replicate the work-rate put it on Tuesday night and show a little more composure in front of goal, we could spring a surprise here.
The biggest concern heading into this game – along with the hectic run of fixtures over the next three weeks – is that after such a big effort against Swansea City, it could be difficult to replicate just a few days later. With Sam McCallum and Jordan Shipley forced off on Tuesday night due to a combination of fatigue and injury, it underlines the challenge of maintaining a level of intensity to our performances with so few players of genuine quality for this division in our ranks.
Jordan Shipley looks to have sustained the more serious injury from the Swansea City game and is probably set to miss this one. It’s a shame for the player, after his scoring contribution on Tuesday night demonstrated he can make an impact at Championship level. Although it leaves us short of options in midfield, the return of Liam Kelly has come at precisely the right time to account for Jordan Shipley’s potential absence. Kelly’s return should help shoulder some of the defensive burden from Ben Sheaf in central midfield, however, it means Jamie Allen will have to be pushed forward after some encouraging performances in a deeper midfield position.
The other key team selection decision for this game rests on the fitness levels of both Sam McCallum and Fankaty Dabo. Having seen the benefit of having wing-backs who can stretch the play on either side of the pitch over the past two games, Mark Robins is likely to be reticent to start Josh Pask. This means that, even if Sam McCallum isn’t fit enough to last 90 minutes, he is likely to start this game. If Fankaty Dabo is capable of returning to the starting line-up here, it leaves Robins with some tough decisions to make over whether to start Dabo or Sam McCallum on the right or whether to drop Ryan Giles – who has been one of our biggest attacking threats this season – on the left in favour of McCallum.
Last Time We Met
This isn’t the first time we’ve taken on Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers, although this feels a more meaningful reunion with our former manager than a First Round League Cup tie.
Both teams were at the start of what proved to be successful post-relegation seasons – Blackburn Rovers from the Championship and the Sky Blues from League One. Although both managers opted to name almost completely second-choice XIs, it was clear that Blackburn were miles ahead of where we at in terms of financial and playing resources.
Blackburn played much of the 90 minutes at a canter, controlling possession and creating chances with ease. From a Coventry City perspective, the most notable thing to come from the 3-1 defeat was Duckens Nazon’s first goal for the club – along with a wildly passionate celebration on a low-key evening. For Blackburn, goals from Corry Evans, Richie Smallwood and former Sky Blue, Dominic Samuel, ensured the procession was rewarded with progress to the Second Round.
The Manager – Tony Mowbray
Since taking over Blackburn Rovers when they were on the brink of relegation from the Championship in 2016/17, Tony Mowbray has revitalised his managerial reputation more completely than he did during his memorable, but ultimately unsuccessful, stint with the Sky Blues. Benefitting from a more considerable financial backing than he had at Coventry City, Mowbray has built an exciting Blackburn Rovers side that has the right balance of youthful exuberance and experience.
This looks to be the season where Blackburn Rovers make the push from the top-half in the Championship into play-off contention – although, a couple of poor results recently has shown that there is work still to be done. The squad is perhaps a little top-loaded with attacking talent, which can leave Blackburn prone to the counter-attack when their forwards are stymied. However, on their day, Tony Mowbray’s side are truly an irresistible force.
Who To Look Out For
After some inconsistent seasons following his break-out year at Coventry City, Adam Armstrong has finally rediscovered the mojo he had while with us and has stepped up into being one of the leading strikers at Championship level. As anyone who watched us in 2015/16 will know, Armstrong’s combination of pace and agility can make him a hard player to deal with, what truly marks him out as a special player is his supreme technique and ability to pull off some spectacular finishes which means he can conjure goals out of nowhere.
One of the key changes Tony Mowbray has made this season has been to deploy Armstrong in a central striking position, opting to move the more physical options of Sam Gallagher or Ben Brereton into wide areas. With Blackburn having spent reportedly around £12 million between the two forwards, both have underwhelmed significantly at Ewood Park. However, former Nottingham Forest man, Brereton, is starting to show some signs of life, capable of moments of pace and skill, getting more goals out of him could help take Blackburn to that next level.
While Blackburn are missing the creative goalscoring presence of Bradley Dack from midfield, there is still talent in abundance for Tony Mowbray to call upon to supply the bullets for Armstrong. Former German international, Lewis Holtby, is a notable name in Blackburn’s ranks and has proven a class act even if he hasn’t quite gotten the goals and assists you’d expect from someone who has so recently been playing at the top-level. Meanwhile, young wide-players, Tyrhys Dolan and Liverpool loanee, Harvey Elliott, provide the pace and unpredictability that make Blackburn’s forward line that little bit harder to deal with.
Tony Mowbray has looked to balance out the side by having experience in defensive midfield from Corry Evans and Bradley Johnson, while Daniel Ayala was a key addition in defence over the summer, but looks to be out injured for this game. While it leaves the team a little short on experience and quality at the back, Darragh Lenihan is a more than capable presence in central defence, while Ryan Nyambe and cross-machine, Barry Douglas, provide attacking thrust from the full-back positions.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
For both managers, fitness levels are likely to be the biggest concern heading into this game. While Tony Mowbray can rotate his Blackburn side without costing himself too much quality, Mark Robins does not have that same luxury – especially with Gustavo Hamer and Tyler Walker unavailable, along with possibly Fankaty Dabo and Jordan Shipley too.
Blackburn Rovers are a side that tend to do better when they can play on the counter-attack than when forced by opponents to break through a set defence. With a pacey attack and a defensive line that can leave space behind it when pushed up the pitch, it may make sense to drop a little deeper here to deny the space in behind for Blackburn’s forwards to exploit and look for opportunities ourselves on the counter.
However, we’ve seen in recent weeks that we stand a better chance in games by getting in the faces of opponents rather than attempting to sit back and absorb pressure. Mark Robins could have to strike a difficult balance here by implementing a level of organisation and discipline at the back and attempting to unsettle Blackburn’s defence with an energetic, pressing gameplan.