Earlier in the season, this match would have had very different significance for the opposition. A free-scoring, entertaining Blackburn Rovers side spearheaded by Adam Armstrong had looked for some time like favourites to break into the top six, but poor recent form seems to have derailed that promotion push.
So what’s gone wrong at Ewood Park? To find that out - and more - we spoke to Rovers fan Mike Delap about their season so far, how it’ll pan out, former Blackburn man Lucas Joao and plenty more.
Blackburn have looked like breaking into the top six at points this season, but one point in your last six has put you 15th. What’s gone wrong?
Well, a lot if we’re being blunt. Rovers just seem to have run out of steam with injuries, a lack of variety in their play and a manager searching desperately for fresh ideas having contributed to a dreadful drop in form. Rovers have been reliant on a few key players for long periods - Adam Armstrong for one - and when they’ve not been quite at the races then nobody has been able to step in and pick up the slack.
It’s all been a bit lethargic after grinding out some wins in January, that early New Year resilience has vanished and the goals have well and truly dried up. Leaving us with what we have now. It’s all gone a bit grim for manager, team and fans.
Tony Mowbray is the third longest-serving Championship manager. Is he still the man to take you forwards, or has he taken you as far as he can?
Sadly barring some hitherto life being blown back into proceedings the answer is he’s taken us as far as he can. I take no great pleasure in saying that, Tony Mowbray has been a respectable club custodian for large parts of his tenure here and rescued us where others would have failed. But everything to date since returning back to the Championship has shown we’re at the ceiling of his powers. Nothing wrong with that, we all have our limits, but if the owners are keen on taking that next step a change at helm is likely required.
How does he set his side up tactically?
Generally in a 4-3-3 with two wide forwards, Adam Armstrong in between, one holding midfielder, one roamer and two full backs who push up on command. The idea is that we dominate possession, that is the idea anyway! Sometimes it works, often it frustrates.
What are Blackburn’s main strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths - pace in attack, the nifty feet of Harvey Elliott (temporarily till May), a good goalkeeper and the powerful bursts from midfield of Joe Rothwell.
Weaknesses - a brittle defence, set pieces, a lack of imagination when in and around the penalty area and an overreliance on the same tactical formulas.
What did you make of Reading in the reverse fixture, and across the season as a whole?
I’ve been impressed. I knew Reading had some talented players and expected them to do well but you’ve exceeded what I imagined. To date you’ve been one of the best sides at Ewood and the on-loan right back you had looked absolutely superb. Rovers also had Lucas Joao on loan for half a season and I always thought he was a bit underrated and had bags of potential, so it’s proving.
How do you see the rest of your season panning out?
Awkwardly I suspect. I still don’t think we’re at much risk of going down despite a tricky-looking fixture list in March, but Rovers effectively just need to ascend to a position of safety and cruise in from there. Not ideal, and far from what anybody wanted but things do need to take a turn for the better and soon. There;s no guarantees the manager will be here for long unless wins start appearing on the scoreboard.
How will the game play out, and what will the score be?
It’s going to be hard for us. We’ve struggle with powerful forward play recently so I suspect you might have a little too much for us, but I’ll be hopeful/optimistic/blindly guessing and go for a 1-1 draw. Joao and Brereton with the goals.