Blues Travel to Blackburn Targeting First Back-to-Back Wins
Friday, 18th Jan 2019 10:49
Town travel to manager Paul Lambert’s former club Blackburn Rovers on Saturday looking to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season and their first league victory at Ewood Park since August 1991.
The Blues, currently still bottom of the Championship but now seven points plus goal difference from safety following last week’s 1-0 home defeat of Rotherham, won 2-1 on Rovers turf at the start of a 1991/92 season which would see both sides promoted to the then-new Premier League, Town as Second Division champions, with Chris Kiwomya and Paul Goddard netting the goals.
Their only victory at Blackburn since then was the famous FA Cup third round win in January 1996 when Paul Mason’s goal saw the Blues, by then back in the second tier, to a 1-0 win over Rovers, who were the reigning Premier League champions.
Blackburn were promoted from League One last season and have had a solid first campaign back in the Championship after just the one year away. They currently sit 14th, but only six points off the play-offs and 19 points better off than Town.
Lambert, back at the club where he spent six months in charge during 2015/16, isn’t expecting an easy afternoon.
“It’s a tough game but hopefully for them as well,” he said. “We’ll go up there and do our best and do what we’ve been doing and try and go and win.
“I won’t try anything differently other than to try and win. It’s a tough game but every game’s hard, I never go into any game thinking it’s going to be an easy afternoon.”
On Tuesday Blackburn were beaten 4-2 at home by Newcastle in an FA Cup third round replay, a game which went to extra-time.
Asked whether the additional half an hour will have had a significant impact on Rovers, Lambert said: “As a footballer you always want to play games. They’re young, fit guys who can go again.
“It was a difficult game, I watched it, it was a tough match and they did well against Newcastle. It was a tough game, for them as well. We’ll go up there and we’ll go and try and win.”
Reflecting on his spell in charge at Ewood Park, he added: “It was really short. There are some really good people there, I really enjoyed my time there. It’s a really good club.
“It probably lost its way bit with certain things. I’m looking forward to going back because there are some really good people there.”
Blackburn are now managed by Blues legend Tony Mowbray, who took charge in February 2017.
“I never played with Tony up at Celtic, I obviously knew he was up there and I knew how well he did down here,” Lambert continued.
“I’ve met him a couple of times in certain situations, he’s a nice guy and he’s at a good club. Blackburn’s a good club.”
Having added two big strikers - Collin Quaner and Will Keane - to his squad there might be a temptation for the Blues to take a longer ball approach, but Lambert says that won’t be happening.
“Quaner’s got incredible touch for a big lad and an incredible feel for the ball, a really good touch with his feet, he’s more than just a big guy up front,” he said.
“We’ll still play the way I think’s the right way to play football and we’ll still try and make it exciting. I don’t want to play high balls or long balls or anything like that.
“He’s there to help, I think he’s a really good finisher, more importantly he’s got a really good feel for the ball.”
Quaner again looks set to start as Lambert’s central striker in what may be an XI unchanged from the one which beat Rotherham last week, particularly with Blackburn utilising a 4-2-3-1 formation not dissimilar to the system used by Town last week.
Will Keane seems likely to start in the number 10 role having scored against the Millers on his full debut with new signing Alan Judge perhaps on the bench.
The former Brentford man could be an option in one of the wide midfield roles but Lambert could decide to stick with Freddie Sears on the left and Jack Lankester on the right.
Cole Skuse and Trevoh Chalobah will be in the holding roles with the back four ahead of keeper Dean Gerken set to remain the same as the one which kept what was only Town’s third clean sheet of the season last week.
That would see last Saturday's debutant man of the match James Collins partner skipper Luke Chambers - who will wear a strapping on his injured wrist - at the centre of the defence with Callum Elder at left-back.
Matthew Pennington is again likely to be at right-back, a role Lambert believes suits the on-loan Everton man.
“I think one of Matty’s big attributes is that on the ball he’s very, very good,” he said.
“Defensively, I thought he was really strong [against Rotherham], he won so many balls at the back post when it was coming in on top of us all the time. Pennington’s a really good footballer, I think he can adapt to most positions.”
Rovers had four central defenders missing for the FA Cup replay defeat to Newcastle through illness and injury - Charlie Mulgrew, Derrick Williams, Jack Rodwell and Paul Downing - but the quartet are all back in training.
Midfielder Corry Evans suffered an ankle injury in last week’s 2-0 win at Millwall but has also returned to the training field.
On-loan Southampton midfielder Harrison Reed suffered a knock in the Newcastle match but was expected to join in with the rest of the squad today.
Rovers have won their last two in the Championship and have three of their next four matches at home, giving them a big chance to push on towards the top six.
However, manager Mowbray wants to concentrate on the Town match rather than looking too far ahead.
“They are dangerous games in your mind and that’s my job, to try and overemphasise the importance of this game. It’s an opportunity for us to get three points,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph.
“I have to be careful that when I speak about three of the next four games being at home being a real opportunity for us that we don’t forget about the first one against the team at the bottom of the table.
“Once those three points slip away, they’re gone, you aren’t getting those back. There will be total focus from the team. They know the importance of it.
“They have made five signings [sic] this window. Alan Judge is one the supporters will know. At his best, and his fittest, he’s a very good footballer. We have to be mindful of that.
“They have brought in two strikers, and James Collins at the back, so they have added some experience, knowledge, speed and some craft.
“I think it’s probably the right thing for Paul to do, to try and shake it up and see if he can get a reaction from everyone.
"For us, we have to apply ourselves and do what we do, but be mindful they will be competitive in every challenge because the necessity of their position means they have to fight for everything they can get.
“We have to make sure we match [that]. If there is one trait of our team that I’m confident we will get it’s that we will match them physically and you hope a [Bradley] Dack, [Danny] Graham or [Adam] Armstrong has a good day and the quality we have can win us the game.”
Despite their lack of league wins at Ewood Park in more than 27 years, Town have had the upper hand on Rovers historically, winning 19 games (16 in the league), losing 15 (14) and drawing 18 (17).
At Portman Road on the opening day of the season, debutant sub Tayo Edun netted a fortuitous injury time equaliser as the Blues and Blackburn drew 2-2 in Paul Hurst’s first game in charge of Town.
Gwion Edwards put the home side in front with a debut goal of his own in the fifth minute but Graham and Dack put Rovers in front at the break and the visitors might well have sealed the win before Edun’s late leveller.
Last time at Ewood Park in October 2016, Town stretched their goalless and winless run to five games as their visit to Ewood Park ended in a 0-0 draw.
However, the Blues will have felt they had enough chances to have won it with Adam Webster, Chambers and Tom Lawrence all going close in the first half, while the on-loan Leicester man had the best opportunity after the break.
Town boss Lambert was in charge at Ewood Park between November 2015 and May 2016. In his 33 games in charge, Rovers won 12, lost 13 and drew eight.
New Blues signing Judge has had two spells with Blackburn, although featuring rarely for their first team. The Dubliner joined Rovers as an academy scholar in 2006 and remained with them until he moved on to Notts County in January 2011.
Eighteen months later he returned, opting to go back to Ewood Park rather than join the Blues, for a spell which lasted a year before he signed for Brentford. In total across the two stints, the winger made eight senior starts and six sub appearances, scoring once.
In addition to boss Mowbray, another former Blues defender, Mark Venus, is Blackburn’s assistant manager and ex-Town striker David Lowe is their first-team coach.
Blackburn’s 25-year-old Irish defender Derrick Williams regularly trained with the Town Academy during the school holidays as a youngster but ultimately opted to join Aston Villa as a scholar. He moved to Ewood Park from Bristol City in the summer of 2016.
Saturday’s referee is Darren England from South Yorkshire, who has shown 101 yellow cards and four red in 26 games so far this season.
His last Town match was the 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest last April in which he booked Grant Ward and one home player.
England, who is in his third season as a Championship official, also took charge of the 1-0 defeat at Bristol City a month earlier, in which he booked Jonas Knudsen and one home player, and the 2-0 win at Sunderland a month prior to that, in which he cautioned Joe Garner and one Black Cat.
Squad from: Gerken, Bialkowski, Pennington, Spence, Kenlock, Elder, Chambers (c), Collins, Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Huws, Dozzell, Nolan, Bishop, Edwards, Lankester, Dawkins, Judge, Keane, Quaner, Roberts, Sears, Jackson, Harrison.
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