Two years in a row now Blackburn have just missed out on the play-offs, and the departure of the influential Tom Cairney won’t help matters this season. With Jordan Rhodes also potentially on his way out, Gary Bowyer may have his work cut out to keep Rovers at the top end of the table.
Last Season: Championship (9th)
Manager: Gary Bowyer
GKs: Simon Eastwood, Jake Kean, David Raya, Jason Steele
DFs: Shane Duffy, Grant Hanley, Adam Henley, Matthew Kilgallon, Ryan Nyambe, Marcus Olsson, Tommy Spurr
MFs: Craig Conway, Corry Evans, Darragh Lenihan, Jason Lowe, Connor Mahoney, Ben Marshall, John O’Sullivan, Chris Taylor, Lee Williamson, Sacha Petshi
FWs: Chris Brown, Anton Forrester, Rudy Gestede, Devarn Green, Jordan Rhodes, Bengalo-Fode Koita
In: Sacha Petshi (Bastia), Bengali-Fode Koita (SM Caen)
Out: Tom Cairney (Fulham), David Dunn (Released), Paulo Jorge (Released), Joshua King (Bournemouth), Josh Morris (Bradford City), Paul Robinson (Released), Yann Songo’o (Released), Luke Varney (Released), Leon Best (Released)
First Six: Wolves (H), Huddersfield Town (A), Cardiff City (H), Brighton & Hove Albion (A), Bolton Wanderers (H), Fulham (A)
Likely Lineup: (4-1-2-1-2) Steele – Henley, Hanley, Duffy, Olsson – Williamson, Conway, Evans, Marshall – Rhodes, Gestede
A word from…Simon Garner
On his arrival at the club I didn’t expect it going so well when I first signed, I didn’t know what was going to happen to tell you the truth. All my ambition was when I first signed as an apprentice was to try and get into the first team, which I was lucky enough to do. But I used to take it a season at a time, but I never imagined then that I would finish as all time top scorer.
I don’t think you can put a finger on what helps you to score all those goals, I think it’s just instinct, and being in the right place at the right time, which all strikers, all good goalscoring strikers have got. The ability to be in the right place at the right time.
I think that’s what happened with me in a way, you’ll see with most strikers that they just seem to be in the right place at the right time.
On the ups and downs It’s tough to pick yourself up after play-off final defeats, the only thing you can say about picking yourself up is the season’s finished then so you’ve got the summer, you’ve got six weeks off to go and think about it, and get it out your system and when you come back for pre season training you just turn round and start your training and say we’ll try and do it this year. So you start again and forget about it.
I always wanted to play football, especially in the first division, that was one of the ambitions I had at Blackburn. Obviously all the money came into the football club and Kenny Dalglish at the time, the manager, had signed a lot of strikers, then he signed Alan Shearer, so I had a chat with him and he said look you’re not really going to be getting games next season but you can stay at the club if you want to. So I just said if a club comes in for me I’ll leave, deep down I wanted to stay and see if I could do it and get one game in the Premier Ship – that would have been sorted me out then, I would have done everything I’d wanted to do at the club but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
What it was was I was 31 when I went up and got promoted, If I’d been 23, 24, 25 it might have been different and I might have hung around to see if I could get a game but I knew I was coming towards the end of my career. You get to a stage in professional football when you want to be playing first team football – especially as you get older because the years are running out so you really want to play at the highest level you can for as long as you can in your career, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
On the current side It’ll be very tough for the current side to push for promotion, it depends on if you can hold on to the two strikers and the way it’s looking in the papers it’s going to be tough to keep either. I think Gary Bowyer as a manager is dreading the phone ringing, because if you take them two strikers out the team then that’s 40 goals gone, he’s under a transfer embargo so how do you replace them? I think any team even a Premier Ship team if they lose 40 goals they’re not going to win the Premier Ship, so it’ll be very tough.
I think the defence is something Gary’s got to work on, when I’ve watched them they don’t keep clean sheets, obvuously you need the strikers to score the goals, but over the last few seasons Blackburn have needed to score at least 2 goals to win games, I think something they’ve got to work in is keeping clean sheets, if you can keep the strikers and keep clean sheets they’ll have a good chance at making the play-offs I think. I think you’ve got a squad there who all know how he wants them to play but it’s just concentration sometimes, during games the back four they switch off for just a few seconds at crucial times during games and that’s when the opposition score a goal.
On losing big players I think Cairney leaving was a shock, I think you’ll get over that one, you’ve got enough in midfield to get over that. It’s really hard to lose a player no matter who it is in whatever position when you can’t sign a player. You look at what Gary’s done over the last two seasons under the circustances and he’s done an absolutely fantastic job, he’s sold players when perhaps he didn’t want to but he knew he had to bring money into the club, he sorted out the squad and got rid of the players who are on big money and get them out the door, but he’s kept them mid table in the championship and I think he’s done a great job there.
I think he is capable of taking the team up to the Premier League. My last move, I played at Wycombe Wanderers and I played under Martin O’Neill and Gary reminds me of O’Neill, the way he goes about managing his footballers and running the team, I think he’s capable of doing it and getting them in there. if he had money to spend I don’t think it would make a lot of difference to Gary he’d still manage in the same way, he wouldn’t sign star names he would get a squad together and they’d play the way he wanted them to and he could get them in the Premier Ship.
On instability off the pitch I think it’s tough for the fans regarding the owners, all the trouble there was to start with, yes the Venky’s are trying to do the right things now, it seems like they’re trying to do the right things but it’s going to take them a long long time to get the fans back on side and i honestly don’t know how they’re going to do it. The fans have hurt so much, they came into the club promising this and promising that and not really knowing that much about football. Yes they are trying but it’s going to take a long long time till they get the trust of the fans back. Especially with this transfer embargo now, if they lose the two strikers the fans aren’t going to be happy about that. Fans always want to blame somebody so obviously straightaway they’re going to blame the owners, I’m not saying they’re fighting a losing battle but it’s going to be hard.
On the strike force How do you replace Rhodes and Gestede? You don’t – not if you’ve not got a lot of money to spend, if you’re only going to bringing in loan players or free transfer signings and you can’t pay them the right money for a championship player, you’re obviously not going to get 20 goals out of them. You might get lucky and find a player who will score you 20 goals but it’s tough, honestly you do fear for the team if they do lose both of them, I mean if you lost one of them – okay, but to lose both of them is going to be a massive blow to the club because you can’t bring anyone back in and then the fans will turn round and say it’s the owners fault because of the transfer embargo, they brought that on, and you can’t see any way out of it.
The problem with the squad at the moment is consistency, I only see them when they play down in London and when i’ve seen them play they have been quite consistent actually and they look quite good, it seems to be when I played there compared to nowadays, when I played we always used to win at home, Ewood was like a fortress, but nowadays it isn’t the same, and I don’t know what it is about it I don’t know why that is. I’d put it down to consistency, playing the same team week in and out but they don’t seem to do it, as a football team you expect a couple of players to have an off day, but at Blackburn because of the consistency you tend to have more players all having a bad day at the same time, and then it’s tough to win football games.
On the new season I’m always optimistic about the season before it starts, and I always think they will make the play-offs. To say where they could finish at the moment is really tough because you don’t know what’s going on with the strikers, if they keep them two strikers I’d say yes you’re expecting to push for the play-offs this year but the championship is so hard, i’m not saying it’s top quality but there’s a lot of teams in the mix. If Middlesbrough turn around and offer 14 million for Jordan Rhodes, you know you’ve got Derby;s new manager who’s spending a lot of money, so you always have teams in there who throw a bit of money at it and it’s very difficult to pick two times to go up in the championship.
The Offside Rule Podcast Prediction: It’s going to be an interesting season at Ewood Park, Gary Bowyer has done a great job but Cairney’s departure and Rhodes’s willingness for a move away isn’t what he needs. Rudy Gestede leaving would be on the icing on the cake, if he can hold onto his two strikers they’ll have a great chance.
Key Player: Rudy Gestede – He’s been a great acquisition after initially arriving in the country with Cardiff. His aerial presence and general finishing make him perfect for a team like Blackburn and it’s no wonder Premier League teams are eager to sign him.
One to Watch: Sacha Petshi – The unknown midfielder played 22 games for Bastia in France last season and did enough in a pre-season friendly to convince Gary Bowyer to offer him a one-year deal. He’ll be inspired by what the likes of Gestede have managed to achieve coming from abroad and is one to watch in the middle of the park.