As part of our new series ‘Inside Scoop’, we’ll be taking a closer look at our upcoming opponents through the eyes of a local journalist – they’ll give us the lockdown lowdown on the club that they have been covering week-in, week-out this season!
LancsLive’s Jaquob Crooke gives us the inside scoop on Tuesday evening’s opponents, Blackburn Rovers.
Jaquob, thanks for speaking to us, how would you summarise Rovers’ season so far?
Unfulfilled promise is probably the best way of putting it. After initially exploding out of the traps and assembling a pretty competitive squad, Tony Mobwray has seen his side fade from play-off contention after a horrendous February run which seen them lose five of their last six. An air of discontent encompasses the club after their latest failings.
And how has this compared to your expectations at the start of the season?
Mowbray has been the victim of his own expectation. The Blackburn boss talked up the ambition of a top-six finish throughout the campaign but asides from very early on in the campaign, Rovers have rarely threatened the top-six positions. Is the squad capable enough of breaching the top six?
They’ve developed a competitive squad but injuries have most certainly hampered their intentions. Their inability to convert their dominance into a result has also haunted them on several occasions over the course of the season.
Last time out, Rovers earnt a point in a 1-1 draw against Coventry City, how did they look in that one?
If a performance ever epitomised a season, that would be it. Blackburn finished the first-half emphatically, orchestrators of some excellent attacking football that threatened to give Rovers a greater reward than their one-goal advantage. But they were slow out of the traps in the second-half, conceded and from then on never looked capable of retaking the lead, even with Leo Ostigard’s dismissal in the closing stages.
Neither of the teams enjoyed a great run of results in February. Which issues do you think Blackburn will be looking to address against Reading at the start of March, and how do you reflect on their recent performances?
First and foremost, Blackburn need a clean sheet. A defensive shutout is a valuable commodity nowadays and if you can keep your opposition at bay you always stand a chance of winning. It’s even more essential given Reading are one of the most clinical sides in the division so reducing defensive lapses will be vital - mistakes have undermined Rovers, especially in their last two outings. And from an attacking perspective, they need to rediscover their creative spark in the final third to break down opposition. On Saturday they lacked urgency in the second-half but if they can sustain their vibrant 20-minute spell for a longer period, they stand a chance of causing problems.
Watching from afar, what have you made of Reading this season, particularly during our 4-2 victory over Rovers back in late October?
I must admit, I’ve been quietly impressed. I didn’t expect you to sustain the form that would see you retain your spot in the top six by this stage of the season. Just when you think results are spiralling beyond repair, they construct a winning sequence that keeps them in contention and that takes fantastic team spirit.
Former Blackburn striker Lucas João appears to be a player reborn under Veljko Paunovic while possesing leaders in the form of Michael Morrison and Liam Moore will always stand you in good stead. Michael Olise is an exceptional talent, while in the reverse fixture Josh Laurent was impeccable.
Besides the obvious being Adam Armstrong, the league’s second top scorer, which Rovers players should Reading fans be keeping an eye out for as your biggest assets?
Harvey Elliott has rightfully earned the plaudits during his debut Championship campaign and the Liverpool teenager looks destined for an extremely bright future. Ben Brereton has two in his last two and is showing glimpses of his early season sparkle while Joe Rothwell, on his day, has the ability to carve open any defence. Bradley Dack has yet to reach the heights expected since his return from an ACL injury but can never be overlooked while Ryan Nyambe is a menace to contain from right-back.
Lastly, with 13 games to go, do you think that play-off hopefuls should be looking over their shoulders for a late Rovers charge?
Unless a miracle happens, I don’t foresee the top teams having to concern themselves over Blackburn in the closing stages of the season. Mowbray’s side are horrendously out of form and while they can be capable of stringing several wins together, many performances have warranted better results and I can’t see that theme changing before the end of the campaign. If they win Tuesday, will it spark a revival? Who knows, but they’ve got an awful lot of work to do regardless.