Back in the summer, when we spoke to him for our pre-season preview, Mike Delap seemed sure of how poorly Blackburn Rovers would do in 2021/22. For him, a mid-lower-table finish seemed assured. “Unless something changes we’re in for a season of struggle and difficulty. The only saving grace here is that there are a lot of other teams who are pleading hardship too.”
Fast forward to now and, although Rovers’ form has stumbled (four wins in 14 2022 games), they still sit in a very respectable fourth place. We discussed the reasons for that with Mike, plus how Reading might be able to come away with a result on Saturday.
How would you sum up your season so far?
Despite what you might have read in recent weeks, the season as a whole has been a lovely surprise. Most had us pegged for lower-mid table, so to see Rovers in the play-off race has been as welcome as it has been unexpected.
In the summer you said expectations for this season were “basement level low” and predicted a finish of 17th, so sitting fourth must be a shock. What’s been behind the impressive form?
There have been a number of factors at play here but the main ones at play have been having a smaller squad and switching to a back five. Having fewer players in the squad has led to less rotation, a settled side and as a result a better pattern of results, while moving to a back five has allowed us to play to our strengths - using pace on a counter attack rather than trying to dominate the ball and getting caught out.
Oh and Ben Brereton-Diaz, his Chilean national exploits have had a tremendous knock-on effect to his club form. He’s been a revelation.
Who are the key danger men Reading should be wary of on Saturday?
Well without Diaz the main source of pain should come from a few, Rovers have struggled for goal in recent weeks/months but still carry a threat with the likes of Joe Rothwell, Reda Khadra and Tyrhys Dolan all able to break at pace and stretch a defence.
What the main strengths of this Blackburn side?
Pace breaking from deep and three very solid centre backs forming the base of a side that has been difficult to beat this season. At the start of the season Daniel Ayala was considered an essential, now he barely gets a look-in due to the collective form of Darragh Lenihan, Jan Paul Van Hecke and Scott Wharton. There’s been a heart-warming collective spirit about the Rovers side in 2021/22 and that’s been the best bit to witness.
Any weaknesses Reading can get at?
This version of Blackburn Rovers is prone to frustration and whilst creating chances hasn’t been flagged as a problem, an ability to finish them off definitely has been. The more this collection of young players carry on without scoring a goal the more the worry develops at the other end. Twice this season Rovers have missed a penalty at 0-0 and then lost the game in injury time.
How do you expect Blackburn to set up?
Well after Derby in midweek and a tactical switch this has been blown wide open. But I would assume... Kaminski, Nyambe, Lenihan, Van Hecke, Wharton, Pickering, Travis, Rothwell, Khadra, Gallagher, Dolan.
How do you see the game going and what will the score be?
Tough one this as Reading are naturally just as desperate for this points just as much as we are, albeit for different reason. I will be biased though and say we’ll pick up a 2-1 win here.