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Lancashire Red: Ewood, Wouldn’t He?

10 August 2013

For the past week I’d been steeling myself and preparing to begin today’s report with a comparison between enjoying the best aspects of watching our beloved Forest (usually experienced at home it has to be said) and rather like last week, and enduring the worst experiences – usually at places where we have an abysmal away record, and what better example than Ewood Park?

But wait! What a joy therefore it is to be able to abandon that line of thought! Today erased 14 years of hurt – at least where visiting Ewood Park is concerned. My previous four visits (albeit one of those was accompanying a Bolton fan) had seen nothing but wins for Blackburn, and misery for the visiting fan, whose experiences generally consisted of seeing no goals scored, plenty of goals conceded and getting soaked to the skin thanks to plenty of that East Lancashire rain.

Not today.

I guess the law of averages or whatever theory you want to call it suggested our dismal record at Ewood Park had to come to an end sometime (and we’ve already broken one sequence last week by finally managing a clean sheet against Huddersfield). Even my boss (a Bolton fan) was quick to point that out to me, although just to be on the safe side I wondered if any of my pre-match activities ought to be changed in order to bring about a different outcome to previous visits, and with that in mind I arrived at Ewood via one of the back roads instead of the usual junction off the M65. I was also going to indulge in a spot of fraternizing with The Enemy, having arranged to meet up for a beer with an old work colleague last seen seven years ago in the hope of catching up on old times whilst (more importantly) picking over our respective teams’ fortunes over seasons past and present. But she too, despite her unwavering passion and loyalty to Rovers, had to admit that whilst she felt they’d do well this season, Forest would be right up there as prime promotion contenders, starting with a positive result here today. Early season form may have given us a clue, as Blackburn were licking their wounds after being dumped out of the League Cup on penalties at Carlisle. Personally I felt that whilst these are the kinds of games we should be winning in order to look like credible promotion candidates, even a draw here today would be a significant step in the right direction. Surely a bore-draw is preferable to a third successive 0-3 defeat?

You should be careful what you wish for, Lancashire…

FLC, Saturday 10 August 2013, KO 1500hrs
Blackburn Rovers 0 – 1 Nottingham Forest

Ewood Park
Dry, with cloud clearing later. Warm – very un-Ewood-like.
Away fan experience
Easy to see why it doesn’t take long for the travelling fans to launch into ‘I wanna go home’ a-la-Sloop John B. The area is a dump, hardly anywhere to drink (I and a few individuals were allowed into one home fan-only pub nearby) and the Darwen End concourse is horrendously cramped for such a modern-ish stand. Didn’t sample any of the food on offer, although the pies looked good. Persistent standing meant another game watched entirely on our feet, though for the most part this was a vintage display of support from the Forest faithful, who were only out-sung on the rare occasions the ball was anywhere Darlow’s goal. The view from the away end rather underlined the hard times BRFC has fallen on given the huge numbers of empty seats.
Owing to a hasty dash from the pub to the ground just before kick-off I forgot to buy one today, and there appeared to be none on sale inside either. Brief glances at the guy in front’s copy suggested an average quality read, but left me questioning whether to bother buying them at future away fixtures.
The Match
More recently of course was the goal conceded against The Foxes at exactly the same stage of the game, so what a refreshing change to score a late winner instead of conceding. Despite a last-minute onslaught from Rovers, we never looked like losing that lead, and with the celebrations still in full flow the final whistle eventually went. Party time as BD ushered his troops over to the jubilant travelling fans who positively revelled in Forest’s first win here since this was a Premiership fixture back in 1999.
But I’d reckoned without a hitherto very un-Forest like piece of drama as we entered the second minute of added time. Another long ball from Lansbury was swept into Kean’s area and under Mackie’s challenge the ball was spilled. With Kean now stranded, Mackie managed to crawl out from under him, pulled the ball back to Hendo lurking on the edge of the box which was crowded, but leaving a Kean-shaped hole in the middle, giving Hendo just enough time to measure, pick his spot and then rifle a telling shot straight into the back of the net. Cue delirium from the hundreds of delighted Forest fans immediately behind the goal, most of whom I imagine will, like me, have been here on New Years’ Day experiencing totally the opposite emotions as our season approached its nadir by seemingly trying to out-Venky the Venky’s debacle in Blackburn. What a difference seven months makes!
The second half was a different story. Rovers woke up and proceeded to deny us time on the ball, but on the plus side the game became a more end-to-end affair, although the physical nature of the game was causing stoppages at certain intervals, and the more unedifying aspects of the game included Lowe deservedly getting booked for wanting a piece of Radi’s shirt, and Leon Best did a passable sack of spuds impression under a challenge which failed to impress the ref. It got a little tedious at times, giving me time to compare notes by text with my Rovers friend sat at the opposite end of the ground. Needless to say she was bemoaning the two shouts for penalties – it was so reassuring to see the ref’s hands stay firmly clasped behind his back after one particular challenge by Hobbs on Rhodes on the edge of the area (a second look at it convinced me that Rhodes had dived) – but between us it was agreed the game either had 0-0 written all over it or one goal would settle it, this just as Halford (today’s secret weapon, I taunted my friend) came on for Reid with just under 10 minutes to go. Matt Derbyshire and Jamie Mackie had already come on as we tried to break the deadlock. Halford came closest as the 90th minute approached with an overhead kick which went narrowly wide. Fans could be seen making for the exits at the other end, and I must admit to feeling fairly content for the three minutes’ stoppage time to be played quietly out, due mainly because I’d seen a whole game here without Rovers scoring.
That said, there was little for us to worry about at the back, with the returning Wilson (warmly welcomed by the travelling fans) performing a cracking tackle on Leon Best early on (Rovers appealed for a penalty, which it wasn’t) and Hobbs keeping Jordan Rhodes well away from trouble, apart that is from one set piece delivered by ex-Notts’ Alan Judge which was headed narrowly wide from close range. At the other end, Henderson led the line well despite a lack of clear-cut chances, Paterson tested Kean with a rasping shot across goal and there were generally positive noises to be heard as the players trooped off at half time. The travelling support had been in good voice, drowning out the weak offerings elsewhere.
Rather like a repeat performance of last week, albeit a much more physical encounter with Forest much the better team in the opening period to the extent the ball was rarely in our half of the field. The usual problem though: making those final balls count, and whilst there were plenty of crosses going in, they tended to be in the direction of anywhere except a red shirt or into the grateful arms of the towering Rovers ‘keeper Jake Kean. As observed so often last season whenever we got the ball and moved forward there was too much time afforded for the Rovers defence to fall back – something that definitely requires work in the coming weeks.
Looking assured in defence was probably the biggest plus (a more convincing clean sheet today…. I wonder why), and although the game was devoid of chances the goal was well worth the wait. The timing of the breakthrough meant almost five minutes of non-stop celebration. A great day for the travelling fans. I’ve no voice left now!
Too many crosses being lofted into the air to be gobbled up by Kean, or otherwise wasted with no-one on the far post. Lichaj was lucky only to receive a yellow card for his high challenge on Todd Kane. Still concerned over our inability to turn dominance into goals.
Wilson staging the return of the Prodigal Son like he’d never been away gave our defence a much greater security about it, and the travelling support roared its approval. Hendo gave a steady performance and deserves credit for such a well-taken goal.
Guedioura seems to have taken over The Moose’s mantra of giving the ball away, and with alarming regularity. TBBM was doing his nut over it.
Andrew Madley: Showed restraint with yellow cards, especially early on and although a few examples of inconsistency shown, denied Rovers two penalty claims which another ref may well have [wrongly] given. Overall did OK.
Entertainment Value5/10 – With Forest doing their best to cancel out any ventures by Rovers, this was never going to be exhibition stuff. All the same, the ability to switch from right to left or vice versa was about the closest we came to seeing anything resembling an open game.
Promotion Rating
2 – Still too early for this really, though back-to-back wins at the start of a campaign (only the 2nd time in 16 years) to put us into 3rd place has to represent a good start.
Are you watching, national media? The FL season is a week old now, and yet all the national press are interested in is events off the field at Premiership clubs, such as the Suarez circus or the protracted Fabregas wheeler-dealings, whilst events on the field last weekend warranted barely a mention (unless your name happens to be Harry Redknapp, even though the gate at City Ground attracted far more than at Loftus Road). It's not just about the Premiership!

So, with the Billy Factor working its magic once again, another sequence is broken in successive weeks. This particular fan saw his first win at Blackburn today. Will next week see him witness a first ever win over Bolton – home or away?

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