Today in the north west, it’s the Rovers versus the Rangers. Anyone would expect all the pre-match chat to be about Roy Race and his magic boots. But no, it’s all about the Rangers and their remarkable resurgence.
It could all come crashing down at Ewood Park this afternoon but maybe not, for there seems to be more of a resilience and toughness at the moment about the traditional ‘southern softies’ where winning away is usually in the category marked blue moon. Already the boys in pink, hardly a tough look it must be said, have won on the road at Bolton, Reading and Ipswich this season. Granted, not the hardest of places on current form, but games that would ordinarily produce little return.
However, the Rovers offer a much sterner test – unbeaten in their last 13 matches against the Rangers, the visitors winless in their last 7 visits to the north west – albeit their form this season has fluctuated, the highlights being victories over Leeds and Stoke.
On Saturday 18th August, Rangers lost 7-1 at West Brom. Three days later they were well beaten at home 0-3 by Bristol City. Rock bottom, questions were being asked about the new gaffer Steve McClaren and the transfer window was shut. Rangers fans were wondering whether removing previous boss, Ian Holloway was such a good idea after all.
We live in a fast moving world, club owners and supporters demand instant success but, as everyone really knows, the world just simply isn’t like that. Words like time and patience are rarely found in football dictionaries. Yet time and patience is what is often needed more than anything.
McClaren was given time. He had to be. Four games is a fraction of a season and when a new manager is assessing an inherited squad, with no money to spend and furthermore, a transfer embargo in January, he needs time to properly assess his playing resources before making any decisions.
For all his criticisms and foibles, McClaren is wise and has a good footballing brain. He has experience and is not prone to panic. The club has invested in him, when it would have been easy to have carried on the Holloway way.
McClaren quickly identified that, for the all the exciting youth and potential that Holloway had cleverly unleashed, some experience was required. Proven performers in this and higher divisions. Players who were perhaps on the fringe of action at their current clubs but had reached stages in their careers where they just want to be playing. Enter Geoff Cameron, Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed, all on loan, plus Angel Rangel on a free.
What a difference. Very good business indeed and their arrival has sparked a revival in some of Rangers existing players who were patently struggling and lacking in confidence – Joel Lynch and Luke Freeman to name but two, both of whom are now playing at the top of their games. Moving the precociously talented Ebere Eze, who recently made his bow for the England Under 20’s, into the number 10 role behind a lone striker has also borne fruit as he was wasted playing in a wide position.
So, after the disastrous start to the season, these really are unimaginable and arguably extraordinary times for the Rangers. 3 wins in 1 week with 0 goals conceded was the stuff of dreams only a couple of months ago.
The question now is whether they can continue the run. Winning becomes a habit, and breeds confidence. However, overconfidence can lead to a lack of focus and laziness, which must be guarded against. Maybe the real test starts now ?
Blackburn Rovers v Queens Park Rangers – Ewood Park 3pm Saturday 3rd Nov 2018