Three points from three games against teams in automatic promotion contention was better than most were expecting. However, it has meant that we have slipped a little closer towards relegation danger and need to pick up the rate at which we are accumulating points if we are to survive.
It wasn’t a terrible performance in midweek against Swansea City, but it highlighted the deficiencies this team has in creating and scoring chances that have ensured that we are in the relegation battle. Although our upcoming opponents, Blackburn Rovers, are in terrible form, the ease with which they tore us apart in the earlier meeting between the two sides this season demonstrates how difficult this division is.
Having named what most would agree is close to our strongest starting line-up against Swansea City, the lack of impact from the bench when that starting XI tired points towards the difficulty Mark Robins faces if he wants to freshen things up for this game.
Ideally, players such as Sam McCallum, Gustavo Hamer and Maxime Biamou would probably be afforded a rest for the next game or two in order to regain energy levels and form that have dipped in recent games. However, there just isn’t the quality – or, in the case of Sam McCallum, the option – to take them out of the side without weakening the team. At most, we are going to see one or two changes but it wouldn’t be surprising if there none at all.
If there are changes, it is likely to be in midfield and attack in order to provide that injection of energy the team could probably do with – especially in the midst of a congested run of fixtures. Matty James is probably the likeliest to come into the side in midfield, in place of either Liam Kelly or Gustavo Hamer. In attack, Vitkor Gyokeres seems the likeliest option to hand a rest to one of our starting centre-forwards, although, it already looks like Mark Robins isn’t that keen on the Swede.
Last Time We Met
Although an early red card and penalty was a mitigating factor as Blackburn Rovers ran the Sky Blues rampant at St Andrew’s in a 4-0 win, it probably wasn’t as big a factor in the result as would be assumed.
Despite Matt Godden spurning a good chance when it was 11 versus 11, Blackburn were clearly the superior side and looked like creating chances at will. This was apparent in the move that led to the penalty, where a quality pass from deep from Joe Rankin-Costello outfoxed our defence, with Ben Brereton too fast, strong and skilful for Michael Rose to stop by legitimate means.
Once Adam Armstrong converted the spot-kick, it became a question of how many goals Blackburn wanted to win by, with the answer on that occasion being four.
The Manager – Tony Mowbray
The former Coventry City boss must be feeling a sense of severe deja vu this season. Once again, Tony Mowbray has assembled a talented set of players, including a number of prize Premier League loan players, which has threatened to challenge for promotion only for a complete collapse in the second half of the campaign to render those ambitions seemingly dead.
Having been around the play-offs at the beginning of December, Blackburn have won just three of their last 12 games to drop to 15th place and are currently on a run of five straight defeats. It is mystifying given the talent that Tony Mowbray has assembled at Ewood Park, but the team has lost confidence as both an attacking and defensive unit and look to be less than the sum of their parts currently. Questions are already starting to be raised over Tony Mowbray’s future at Ewood Park, another defeat here would amp up the pressure on him.
Who To Look Out For
Even during this disastrous run of form, the attacking link-up for Blackburn of Adam Armstrong and Harvey Elliott remains the most functioning and dangerous element of this team. As Coventry City fans will already know, Armstrong’s combination of pace, movement and technical ability means that he can beat defenders and score goals in different ways. The seventeen year-old Liverpool loanee, Elliott, meanwhile, has impressed this season with his intelligence with and without the ball ball, which means that he constantly finds pockets of space and can pick out Armstrong, even under close attention from opposing defenders.
Around Armstrong and Elliott, Blackburn have an array of useful, but inconsistent, forwards in the forms of Sam Gallagher and Ben Brereton. The team is perhaps lacking the experienced focal point centre-forward that they had in previous years with Danny Graham, but, on their day, the lanky Gallagher and Brereton are capable of fulfilling that role. In addition, the skill of attacking midfielders Tyrhys Dolan, Joe Rothwell and, the recovering from injury, Bradley Dack provides Tony Mowbray with the ability to tweak things in attack without too much of an impact on quality.
In midfield, Blackburn have a combination of experience and energy. Championship veteran, Bradley Johnson, has been a consistent presence for the team, although, there has been a move towards the younger duo of Lewis Travis and Jacob Davenport over the course of the campaign. In addition, the likes of Lewis Holtby, Tom Trybull and John Buckley add to Mowbray’s ability to rotate and freshen things up in the hub of the team.
At the back, the incorporation of young, loan centre-backs, Jarrad Branthwaite and Taylor Harwood-Bellis has coincided with Blackburn’s worst run of the season, despite the talent the duo possess. Unless the key figure of Darragh Lenihan returns for this game (which appears unlikely) Blackburn are without options to change things at the back. In goal though, the Belgian, Thomas Kaminski, has impressed since his summer arrival.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The key for us will be attempting to impose ourselves on this game in an attempt to exploit Blackburn’s lack of confidence. The risk that we may have to take is that if we look to step up on Blackburn, they have the quality to pick us off and exploit our lack of quality and pace in defence. However, if we don’t look to force the issue, it is likely to provide Blackburn the opportunity to build a head of steam and grow in confidence over the course of the game.
With that in mind, it is essential that we press with energy and organisation in this game. If it’s Tyler Walker and Maxime Biamou starting in attack, we’re going to have to hope that they’re not feeling too fatigued from recent efforts. Against a teenage centre-back duo, our strike partnership has to fancy themselves to bully their opposite numbers and give the team a foothold.
Pressing with energy will not just be an attacking measure in this game but is likely to aid our defensive efforts by putting pressure on the ball and restricting Blackburn’s service into Harvey Elliott and Adam Armstrong. However, we are unlikely to completely limit the duo’s influence on the game will have to balance the pressing game with ensuring that our defence isn’t left isolated against the pace and intelligence of Blackburn’s attack.