How Blackburn Rovers turned into promotion contenders.

01.11.2022 16:29:37 Adam England
Ewood Park, home of Blackburn Rovers
  •  Blackburn Rovers have made an impressive start to the season and sit in the automatic promotion spots.
  •  It’s manager Jon Dahl Tomasson’s first season at the club after Tony Mowbray left in the summer.
  •  Rovers have won 11 games and lost seven, drawing none
  •  Top scorer Ben Brereton Diaz has eight goals in 17 games so far.

 

When Tony Mowbray left Blackburn Rovers in May after just over five years at the club, it felt as if the 58-year-old had taken them as far as he could. He took over a club in crisis in February 2017, replacing Owen Coyle as manager, and couldn’t stop them from dropping into the third tier for the first time since 1974-75, but brought them back up to the Championship at the first time of asking and established them back in the league.

Under Mowbray, the team finished 15th, 11th, 15th again twice, and then 8th. Mowbray then left in May this year, with Jon Dahl Tomasson joining as head coach in June. The former Newcastle, Feyenoord, Milan player and Danish international had prior managerial experience at Excelsior and Roda JC in the Netherlands and Malmo in Sweden, but his only experience in England was that season playing for the Magpies in 1996-97. 

Nevertheless, fans were excited to see what the 46-year-old could do at the helm, and it’s fair to say they’ve not been disappointed. Blackburn sit in the automatic promotion places, and are vying with the likes of Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United, Norwich City and fierce rivals Burnley for top spot. 

 

A promising start

They started well with three wins on the bounce, scoring six and conceding just one, but then let seven in without reply in the following three games. Concerns that had started to seep in were placated somewhat by an away win at Blackpool, but this was then followed by a loss at home to Bristol City. For the next six games, Blackburn alternated between wins and losses, before a run of four straight victories that propelled the club near the top of the table.  

Blackburn have lost as many matches (seven) as bottom team West Bromwich Albion. Yet, no team have won as many as their 11. Eighteen matches into the season, Blackburn have not drawn a single game. 

It’s been a freakish league this year. Not only have Blackburn not drawn a game yet, but Preston North End went seven games without conceding at the start of the season and drew five of their first six games 0-0. And it’s a close league. A couple of victories on the bounce and a team could go from being around the relegation zone to looking up at the play-off places in touching distance. 

 

Tactics and team selection

The manager has been questioned by supporters at times. His preference to play with just one central striker has been scrutinised, particularly after the loss to Wigan Athletic last month, but he’s had to deal with injuries to players like Sam Gallagher and Daniel Ayala. 17-year-old defender Ash Phillips has been thrown in at the deep end at times. 

The league table speaks for itself. They’ve scored 23 and conceded 18, six of those coming in two matches at the start of the season. Only Burnley are ahead of them. Nobody else has won as many matches. 

Tomasson of course deserves plaudits for his management since coming into the club, but it’s impossible not to ignore the impact of Ben Brereton Diaz. If last season was his breakout campaign, he’s carried on where he left off this term. Like Adam Armstrong after his impressive 2020/21 season, Brereton Diaz will surely get a big-money move in the summer, meaning that this might be the best chance Blackburn have to return to the Premier League for some time. 

After 22 goals in 37 league games last year, the Chile international has eight in 17 this season. He’s their main man and a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card. That said Blackburn are by no means a one-man team. 

 

Good signings and groundwork 

Mowbray deserves credit for laying the groundwork and making Blackburn a solid Championship team. Thomas Kaminski, bought from Gent in 2020, is one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and he of course was at the helm when Brereton Diaz joined too.

New signings have also benefited the team. Attacking midfielder Sammie Szmodics joined from Peterborough United in the summer and has slotted right in, scoring on his debut, while centre-back Dominic Hyam and full-back Callum Brittain have done well since joining from Coventry City and Barnsley respectively, though the latter has struggled with injury this term. 

Midfielder Tyler Morton, on loan from Liverpool for the season, is impressing at just 20 years of age too, and should only improve as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable with frequent first-team football.

Long-serving players like Darragh Lenihan, Ryan Nyambe, Bradley Johnson and Joe Rothwell all departed in the off-season, so along with Mowbray’s departure it’s felt like an end of an era, but the future looks bright. 

It’s been a decade since Blackburn were last in the Premier League during the Steve Kean era and what felt like constant controversy surrounding owners Venkys. It is now possible they could be back in the top-flight next term. 

Of course, it’s going to be a long season, and there are some strong teams in what is a competitive league, but it would be foolish to write Rovers off. Turn a few of those losses into draws, and keep Brereton Diaz in the goals and they could go up even without the stress of the play-offs. 

 

 

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