Project Points

Wednesday, 21 February 2024

If ever a game screamed six defeats in eight at home against six defeats in seven away, it would’ve been Rovers’ 0–0 draw at Cardiff City. Add in a rain-soaked playing surface on a Tuesday night in February. Then sprinkle in a fourth game in 10 days and you there you have it, a perfectly baked 0–0.

Had I gone to a restaurant seven days earlier, and been served up what Rovers did at St Andrew’s, the likelihood isn’t that I’d be going back the following week to do it all over again.

That logic simply doesn’t apply to your football club, so, a week on, there you are strapping yourselves in to do it all over again, hoping for better this time around (and this time without pancakes).

In the immediacy of the final whistle I switched off with similar feelings as to Birmingham, though maybe ones unique to me.

Having done the job I did for seven years, while it never took away that sense of being a fan, it desensitised me somewhat to results. It had to, and in many ways that still remains.

It hurt a lot when Rovers lost, but you were there to do a job, and often writing 1,000 words afterwards was something of a cathartic process, and likely why I’m sat here doing this now.

Coming out the other side and back to being a fan again, I wanted to enjoy going to games again (without having to peer over a laptop to do so).

Of course I want to see wins, that’s a given, but being enjoying what was infront of me was probably just as important.

The two don’t have to go hand-in-hand.

I think back to the first half against Sunderland in September, some of the best football I’d seen from a Rovers side in a very long time. There felt a buzz around Ewood as a young, technically gifted, side fizzed the ball between the lines and created countless opportunities.

Yet ultimately, they lost, no points on the board.

But continuing to play as they did, what that level of performance, I was confident that wins would follow. A bigger picture view.

It’s why I believed so much in the notion that Gregg Broughton was conveying when brought in as director of football, that improved performance, in all areas, was essential for long-term growth.

You have to look beyond the result.

It’s why I find the discourse around the England cricket team so fascinating. When it comes off and looks brilliant they’re praised to high heaven, when it doesn’t and looks ugly, they’re chastised.

That’s top level sport to a point, scrutiny has never been so high, little room for rationale.

The value placed on victory is so high that anything other is deemed as failure.

Maybe I was sucked in by the romantic ideology of playing a perfect, attacking brand of football, bringing through homegrown talent and year-on-year growth that my judgement became clouded.

Even just thinking back to last season, Rovers’ highest-placed finish since relegation from the Premier League wasn’t built on the free-flowing, enterprising stuff we saw from Christmas onwards, it was the tight, one-goal wins that pre-dated the switch in style that was the backbone to it.

Sitting here now reflecting on the Cardiff game, there has to be an understanding that it isn’t the job of a football manager to entertain, it’s to win. That’s their currency, and without them, you won’t survive, as we see on all too many an occasion.

Maybe a win-at-all-costs mindset is what has seen Rovers fail to achieve a top six finish in 12 years, highlighted this week by Tom Cairney reflecting on a ‘disgrace’ that his class of 2014/15 never broke that cycle.

There has been little talk about a project by Eustace.

The ‘p’ word on his lips has been ‘points’ and getting as many on the board as quickly as possible.

Are we at the end of ‘the project’? It certainly feels at a crossroads (or dead-end if you’re JDT).

I can’t say I’m any more, or less, confident that Rovers avoid relegation this season since the change in manager, because at no juncture have I ever really contemplated that possibility.

That’s definitely easier to write, and maybe naïve on my part, than it is to get the 48+ points on the board that it will likely take.

Eustace’s remit, one he’s reiterated, is to get a team that was in free-fall stabilised and looking up the table.

Not that only that, he inherited a squad which included many players hastily put together during a chaotic January transfer window.

Against Cardiff you had a team made up of players making their first (Yasin Ayari), fourth (Kyle McFadzean) and fifth (Ben Chrisene) games for the football club, plus Jake Garrett making just a ninth Championship start of his career.

All this under a head coach who was appointed a matter of weeks ago in a formation they have been thrust together in during a handful of training sessions, I’ll accept that my entertainment levels aren’t the greatest priority.

One defeat in four games since taking charge is positive, particularly when revealing that such a run hasn’t been achieved since the end of November.

It’s one step closer to achieving his immediate mission.

His focus is short-term, and so it feels is that of the club. Whether, how, or if, that changes moving forward will be interesting.

Maybe I got too caught up in the emotion of what I was watching on Tuesday night, though still checking Whoscored.com at half time to see the number of completed passes (only 21 between the three most attacking players on the pitch, if you are wondering).

Project points has another one on the board.


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