There was, of course, one thing much worse than staying in and watching Blackburn v Sunderland on the box: going to Ewood Park to see it. Pete Sixsmith presented apologies for absence from a meeting at work to make the transPennines journey on a wet, miserable night and is grateful he can at least look back on the fish and chips, the pie, the Wagon Wheels and the ale …
Let’s start with the positives from our epic clash with those footballing maestros from Ewood Park Monday night.
First of all, it was accepted at work that I would not be missed from Middle Management Meetings, so I shall work on the assumption that if I am not needed at this one, there’s no point in going to any more.
Secondly, I spent a grand three hours in Skipton, mooching the market, quaffing the ale and wolfing the fish and chips. The market was breaking up, but it whetted my appetite for a visit at some future date in order to stock up on waterproof hats, leather coin holders, extra large dishcloths and “Chain Store Rejects” which usually means cheap pullys from M&S.
The beer was uniformly excellent and I took a risk in allowing four of the little beauties to slip down in The Narrowboat. All were from Yorkshire breweries and all had very distinctive tastes. Pride of place went to Copper Dragons Freddie Trueman Ale, named after “t’World’s Greatest Fast Bowler” who spent many years in Skipton, puffing on his pipe, shaking his head and wondering what was going on out there and saying “Sithee” to all and sundry.
The fish and chips were eaten in the main street, dodging the heavy rain that followed us from the Pride of the Yorkshire Dales to the stygian gloom of Blackburn, and a potential soaking as we sat in Row 9 of the Lower Enclosure at the Darwen End.
Of all the rebuilt PL grounds, Ewood Park is the most pleasing. It was a dismal place in the 80s, a tribute to the qualities, or otherwise, of reinforced concrete. The Darwen End was a shocking terrace, with its overhanging roof, which meant that anyone 10 steps or so from the front had to stoop and contort their neck to see the game. Mind you, the pies were good and they sold Wagon Wheels as a dessert so you could dunk them in your tea or Bovril.
That’s the travelogue and the reminiscences out of the way, so what about the game?
It was a shocker. Two timid teams who cancelled each other out, managed by two men who are either ultra cautious or who are beginning to realise that they are running out of tactical options.
I could dismiss Big Sam’s tactical ploys in five words: hoof, hoof and more hoof. We are supposed to be a bit more sophisticated than that and we did start as if we wanted to pass the ball on the floor and penetrate by stealth rather than brutality.
It didn’t last long. Rovers decided that the way to stop us was to put the frighteners on us. Two very poor challenges by Emerton and Kalinic on Bardsley and Turner respectively, which received yellows set the tone for the rest of the game.
Samba was quite rightly sent off just before half time, but we should have been ahead before that, when Bent missed a 1 to 1 on Robinson. Still, I thought, get Gyan on straight away and have a go at them before they can settle down.
We didn’t, and once again I thought Bruce missed a great opportunity to hammer home our advantage. I thought he made his subs too late against Manchester United and I thought the same here, but there was far less need for the caution.
When Gyan did appear, he forced a good save from Robinson and bustled about, but to little effect. This was partly due to the impressive Jones and Givet at the heart of the Rovers defence, but also partly due to a complete absence of decent balls laid into him.
By this time, we had well and truly descended to their level and even if our lumping of the ball wasn’t as immediate as theirs, it still happened. Square, square, backwards, lump; that was my perception of much of the second half.
It was disappointing. The game was there to be won, but that we did not is down to a combination of Blackburn determination, Sunderland’s inability to open up a defence and our manager’s frisson of fear when we are in a strong position.
Eight games in and we have won but a single match. Six have been drawn and of those, three of them should have been won. Had we gone for it with a little more determination, we could have been sitting near the top, instead of scuffling around with the likes of West Ham, Newcastle and Liverpool. We need to start winning soon or fans will get twitchy.