Despite his highly upbeat thoughts in Martin’s Musing, our new manager will not allow himself to get carried away by a late, narrow win over relegation zone companions. With Spurs and QPR – both away – looming, Pete Sixsmith takes a measured view …
Had you seen me slumped in my seat at 4.40pm on Sunday, you would have noticed my demeanour was considerably more gloomy than that exhibited last week on various TV channels. A goal down, time slipping away and the prospect of being one rung above a hapless Bolton Wanderers, all contributed to a face and mood that made the lugubrious Jack Dee look like the ever smiling Bruce Forsyth.
Then, David Vaughan lashed home a shot that almost ended up in Seaburn and Blackburn wilted. In the second minute of added time, Formica gave away a free kick and Larsson stepped up to take it. Rovers built a wall and the excellent Paul Robinson steadied himself. The crowd were more hopeful than expectant.
Larsson duly curled the ball round the wall, off the post and into the net and Martin O’Neill’s dream start was reality. If last Sunday we had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, this week the order was reversed. Huge celebrations around the Stadium and we left to a rarely heard rendition of Paint Your Wagon.
In truth, we did not play particularly well and O’Neill and his coach Steve Walford saw all the failings and weaknesses that had led to the dismissal of the previous management team. There for all to see was the litany of our season so far: hesitant defending, a lack of pace down the flanks, few incisive passes in the centre of midfield and an attack that rarely looks like scoring.
He also saw a degree of resilience that we had seen too little of in the closing weeks of the Bruce/Black period. Heads did not go down. Players kept plugging away. The crowd did not groan and seethe as it had against Wigan.
The fact that the new manager made a telling substitution did not go amiss. The arrival of James McClean for the willing but pedestrian Jack Colback changed the game in our favour.
With his first touch, he controlled the ball, beat his full back and crossed it on the run. Unlike others, he did not stop, cut back and then give it to the full back. In the 20 minutes that he was on the field he caused havoc in a Blackburn defence that had looked settled and determined. He broke that determination.
The gamble came off. I have seen him four times at reserve level and he has looked better at each viewing. He looked as effective as Johnson and Summerbee did all those years ago and it is to be hoped that he can maintain this level and not end up like Andy Welsh (Remember him? Thought not).
For much of the game we huffed and puffed without ever threatening to blow down the Blackburn chicken shed. Vaughan got the nod above Meyler (Gardner was mysteriously absent) and beavered away without having a lot to hit. Too many balls in the first half were knocked long to Wickham and were relatively easy pickings for the man mountain known as Samba and his trusty sidekick, Scott Dann.
We had given a goal away in the 17th minute. Larsson committed an unnecessary foul, the ball was swung across as Brown missed his footing and although Westwood made an excellent save, Simon Vukcevic headed in the rebound.
We should have been level a few minutes later when Sessegnon tricked his way through and passed to Richardson, unmarked in front of an open goal. The Reverend Kieran must have spent too long thanking his Lord Jesus because he allowed Robinson to smother his shot. A fine save and an even finer one came in the second half, when the Bishop’s deflected shot was palmed away.
Grumbling and a smattering of boos at half time and it looked as if MON’s record of never having lost his opening game at a club had gone the same way as Manchester’s Champions League campaign. Then Vaughan and Larsson edged us over the line to the great relief of all but the 350 Blackburn fans who had bothered to make the trip.
When he comes down from the skies, MON will have a clearer picture of what our team is all about. He fiddled with the back four, bringing Bramble back, moving O’Shea to right back and Bardsley to the left. Titus did well against a one man Rovers attack, but neither full back was at his best.
O’Shea gave the ball away far too much and looked to blame anyone but himself, while Bardsley looked as nervous as a schoolboy out on his first date and rushed everything as he attempted to create a good impression.
The midfield was adequate until the arrival of McClean. That allowed Richardson to move into the centre and gave Vaughan more room to come from deep. The Welshman’s goal was a beauty, a shot of Joe Bolton proportions and it lifted players and crowd.
Up front, Sessegnon was as clever as ever, but it must be a poser for the new manager as to where to play him. He has so much ability but how effective is he? Once again, the final ball was lacking. Connor Wickham did as well as you would expect someone to do after a four week lay off. Ji worked hard when he replaced him.
It could be argued that Blackburn handed this game to us by sitting too deep. Westwood barely touched the ball in the second half, which resembled a game of attack and defence as played in Shildon Rec circa 1964 – only without the King Willy Lads coming down and pinching the ball.
They had looked neat and tidy in the first half, but I suppose their game plan was altered when they had to substitute the substitute who had replaced Givet who was having heart palpitations. Should he be playing if he is a walking advert for Casualty?
Their awful away support (only 150 more than neighbours Accrington Stanley took on a 236-mile trek to AFC Wimbledon the previous day) shows that they have lost faith and belief in the manager and the owners. A shame as it is a good away trip, a pleasant stadium and a proper football club. I worry for their future under Venky’s.
Tottenham away next week and another week for the MON influence to seep into the player’s bloodstream. After their loss at Stoke, we can expect a backlash.