Here I go again, I thought, as I journeyed towards my goal of Ewood Park on a reporting double header; a goal that at one point seemed to be disappearing as Northern Rail cancelled all train services between Manchester and Blackburn. So, after two buses and a taxi I carefully negotiated a slippery when wet concourse and took my seat in the lower Darwen End. There I joined around a thousand away fans who, buoyed by recent form, were expecting nothin’ but a good time. But City were headed for a heartbreak. On Skid Row we lined up:
Kane Mazuch McKenzie Kingsley
Bowen Evandro Grosicki
It is no trade secret that successful sporting team sides tend to be built on solid defences. De Wijs injury at Villa Park last week immediately signalled the end of a miserly period of ten unbeaten games conceding just seven goals to one and a half games conceding 5 goals. Burke becoming the latest casualty meant that we were getting a tad light on players at the back.
But the City’s makeshift defence was not the only area that was shown suspect today. With the ball we were ponderous, mistake prone, unimaginative. Without the ball we were uncombative, outmuscled and outfought in all areas by a hardworking Blackburn side.
After the sixth one minute silence/applause of the season City kicked off towards the Ronnie Clayton stand and started quite brightly for a minute or so passing around a bit and letting the ball do the work. But every rose has its thorn, and Tony Mowbray had presumably told his players to hold a high line and press the opposition, guessing correctly that City would fold under such questioning. On 12 minutes Armstrong shins Kane and unleashes a real cherry pie of a shot past Marshall. 1-0. On 19 Dack’s shot gets deflected over Marshall and luckily over the City goal. But unluckily the resulting corner sees an unmarked Rodwell head in. 2-0. It’s so easy.
Blackburn have adapted to the wet weather playing clever long and short passes and pulling our back five all over the place. But then I thought that they would adapt to weather inclemency- it rains for 360 days here. Dack and a bulky Graham (and that’s not ‘bulky’ in a Lukaku sense) have touched the ball around 40 times each. Martin has had a couple. Rodwell is not afraid to dribble through midfield. City are not afraid to ignore him unchallenged.
One thing inevitable as the rain in Blackburn was an injury to Mazuch. Lasting nearly a whole half the Czech warrior finally slumps to the turf and hobbles off replaced by a slightly more robust Lichaj. Then a chance to get a toe hold in the game! A free kick in a decent position is struck goalwards by Grosicki forcing a good save from Raya. Our first shot of the game. Then that’s it for the half, the worst half City have played in 21 halves to be exact.
Chewing on a balti pie I reflected on my admiration for Blackburn and its many mill town neighbours. The town is like a Beamish style museum to post industrial heritage with a scattering of phone unblocker shops, pizza takeaways and offies. And while some of the towns so called football-fans have decamped to the bright lights of Old Trafford and the Etihad, there are still enough who have maintained their pride in Blackburn Rovers FC to still see it as the main attraction in town.
But Blackburn have had their fair share of recent glory, namely the Jack Walker team of 1995 that pipped Man Utd to the Premier League. The steel magnate allegedly plowed an incredible £60 million of his fortune into that side. Now £60 million may get you the man who irons the kits at Man City- chump change indeed. The Venky brothers bought Rovers while they were still a Premier League outfit but allegedly not realising the club could be relegated. They got two relegations under their stewardship. Still this current side may get two promotions, though I suspect Blackburn may not have quite enough for that this year.
A far lesser promotion prospect are City, based on the first half. But talisman striker Campbell coming on for Evandro signals more intent and we briefly step up a gear as a few balls find the front two before they are crowded out. We even enjoy a period of possession as Rovers sit a bit deeper and both Campbell and Grosicki have half chances. We also get to look at new boy Marc Pugh who shows one or two good touches and crosses well during this purple patch of the game.
But we descend back through the gears after more monkey business at the back. Poor Will McKenzie has had a torrid time though bravely he keeps going. After Stewart misjudges a long ball the bounce finds Graham (I think) who passes to Reed who then out foxes McKenzie and fires in from close range. 3-0 and I want to close my eyes forever.
There is still enough time for Rovers to compound the misery after a nasty looking challenge by Rodwell on Bowen sees the Herefordshire Arjen Robben hobble off. I think that should warrant a red but the ref thinks otherwise. Playing with ten, City are livin’ on a prayer. The final whistle can’t come soon enough.
So that’s the end of the remarkable unbeaten run. A glass half empty position would look at this as inevitable, that this performance was from the dark days spent at the bottom, indeed we are not yet out of being pulled back into the relegation scrap. But come on! This is the Hull City of 2018. We will stay up and take some scalps on the way to mid table mediocrity. And from what could have transpired this season that could be just like living in paradise.
Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)