Progress ... of a sort!
After the recent run of dreadful performances this match showed that there is still some life left in the team ... and we did gain a point. Had SS still been in charge we would have lost 0-4, which indicates that the players had given up making an effort under his management.
Whether professional players, earning a lot of money, should only make a token effort, is surely a non-question but in reality the board had to sack the manager. And, perhaps, the tactics were wrong for the Championship ... at least with the players at our disposal.
Certainly, the players made a greater effort this evening, perhaps as a result of the comments that Saunders has been making over the course of the last few days. I certainly hope that he follows through on his promises and selects players according to ability, effort and their contribution to the overall team performance and ditches those who are lacking in one or more of these attributes.
However, for all the obvious endeavour on the pitch many of the players exhibited the same old weaknesses: sloppy passing, poor movement off the ball, lack of concentration at the back and an inability to create clear-cut chances up front (and put the ball in the net).
Even if Rochina did dive over Sako`s leg in our penalty area in the 24th. minute, we should not have found ourselves in that position. Sloppy play undid us: Ward compounded the problem caused by Ikeme`s poor clearance-kick by dithering on the ball and making a clumsy tackle. At the time I told my friend that this could be costly and it was!
And it came against the run of play: WW were dominating play and, if we had possessed a decent striker, we could have been a couple of goals up by then. In the 15th. minute, for instance, Cassidy, running onto a good ball from Davis, crossed into the empty space in front of Doyle. Four minutes later Kean brilliantly saved Foley`s flick from a Sako cross. In between, Rhodes, timing his run to perfection, thwarted our offside trap and was through on goal. He should have scored but lost control as he tried to round Ikeme.
After their goal, Blackburn perked up and grew into the game, swinging the percentage of possession away from WW to parity. Even so, we were unlucky to go into the break a goal down. Even better, we did not give up as we had been doing in recent matches. Finally, the players seemed to care about the result. The added effort also elicited a favourable response from the crowd, which was far more vocal than it had been over the past few games.
Saunders`s pep talk had a galvanising effect too and we dominated the second half. But, if Blackburn posed little threat, we still faced the perennial problem of getting the ball into the back of the net. Cassidy, in spite of one or two nice touches, is not the instant solution to our goal-scoring problem, though he did enough to warrant another opportunity. On the other hand, Griffiths, who might have put away a chance or two, seems to have blown his WW career with a mindless racist tweet.
SEB came on for Cassidy in the 78th. minute but did little to prove that he could do any better. Could Nahki Wells of Bradford do the job? DS rates him and he played well against AV the other day. We`ll have to beat off strong competition from a few other clubs though ... and what about McAlinden? Doyle, as ever, ran around energetically, fetching and carrying, but if that is his task, he is not going to score many goals.
When we scored the equaliser in the 73rd. minute it came from a surprising source. Seconds after replacing Davis in the 73rd. minute O`Hara delivered an inch perfect 40 yard pass to Johnson at the far post. He has to start in the match against Sheffield Wednesday in eight days time. That`s not to say that Davis played poorly, rather that they are two different types of midfielder. Indeed, some would argue that Davis is improving as an enforcer (and commits few fouls than Henry) and is a far better player on the ball than our captain. One or other of them will have to make way for JOH.
It was good to see Peszko return to the fray, though he did not see much action in the 29 minutes he was on the pitch. Hitherto, Foley had had a solid , if unadventurous, game, though he might have scored from Sako`s cross. On the opposite flank, Sako remains our most potent threat and, as in the 91st. minute, showed that, when on song, he can take on half the opposition. He knows it, too, and therefore tends to over-elaborate. At times, it gets him into trouble, as do his clumsy attempts to tackle when tracking back. Moreover, he has lost some of the impact he had earlier in the season when he was an unknown quantity. The quality of his dead-ball deliveries has deteriorated, too.
At the back, Ikeme could do little to save Rhodes`s penalty but he did prevent the striker from scoring in open play. Berra and Johnson dealt effectively with most of what Blackburn threw at them, including Rhodes and the feisty Kazim-Richards. Zubar made a surprising appearance at RB, presumably because DS wanted to have a look at him before dispatching him to Ipswich. His appalling mistake outside our penalty box in the 2nd. minute should have convinced the manager to send him packing there an then. Under less pressure than in previous games, Ward nonetheless did not inspire much confidence in his ability effectively to do the job Saunders has ascribed to him.
So, have we turned the corner? In a sense, we have because we gained a point and displayed far greater commitment to the cause. We kept a higher line, were quicker on the ball and at opposition players when they had it, and were more direct in our play. However, we still failed consistently to move into space or to weight/direct our passes accurately. And, above all, we desperately needed a proven striker capable of sticking the ball in the net on a regular basis.
At the moment, therefore, it is work in progress but to strike a positive note the manager and squad seem to be working in harmony. After the past few months that`s an achievement in itself. And, it`s something to build on. I doubt whether we will achieve a play-off slot at the end of the season but at least the prospect of relegation is beginning to recede.