What. A. Week.
After struggling to put the game to bed and win by more than one goal against Blackpool last week and on the back of less than convincing win over Swansea, this past week has seen a massive momentum change with wins against QPR and Leicester.
What has been more impressive has been the manner of the wins and the performances - are we finally seeing the fruits of JDT’s system being implemented?
The game at QPR had all the hallmarks of a classic disappointing Rovers away performance before a ball was kicked; a team struggling for confidence without a win in 12; a new manager who just happened to be a former player, who was released by Rovers; and Rovers away, in the capital. However, this time things were different with Rovers taking an early lead and even overcoming the setback of an equaliser to go back in front just before the break, and then providing the comfort blanket of a third on the hour mark.
Tuesday night at Leicester then proved this was no one-off or fluke as Rovers pressed the Premier League side high, forced mistakes and should have been out of sight by half time. Szmodics‘ second goal of the week following great tenacity and drive from Gallagher gave Rovers a much needed two-goal cushion, with Leicester pulling one back with just over twenty minutes remaining. Rovers held firm and got their reward with an away tie against this weekend‘s opponents, Sheffield United, in the quarter finals - one game away from Wembley.
So what does this mean for the run? Obviously the game at Leicester has no quantifiable impact on the league predictions, but you can’t put a price on confidence with 12 games remaining. Our predictor had us needing a run rate of 2 points per game for the final 13 in order to make the Top 6 (3 points for Top 2) - so the QPR win very much puts us ahead of the chains.
Interestingly, we now sit on 55 points, the same number as at this stage last season (last season, the 13th game from the end of the season was a loss away to Sheffield United).
In terms of my predictions, the best I saw us getting from QPR was a draw, so on the optimism prediction we are now two points ahead of where I thought we’d be - meaning IF the rest of results go as predicted, we’ll finish on 76 points, two ahead of the magic 74. From a pessimism prediction point of view, the win means would now finish with 72 points - this means that even from a pessimistic approach to predictions, we only need to turn one of the three predicted losses in to a win, or two of them in to draws.
Oh God, it’s happening, I’m starting to have hope!
If we want to turn a predicted loss in to a victory, why not start with Sheffield United on Saturday lunch time? Pessimistically I have us getting beaten; optimistically I have us getting a draw. The win last week technically means we have two points in hand (to achieve 74 points), so we could afford to lose, technically.
If you’d asked me 7 days ago, I would have (and did) say a draw is the best that we can hope for and I do think that’s realistic, but if you can’t optimistically go in to a top 6 clash at home on the TV after knocking out a Premier League team, when can you?! I’d have preferred Sheffield United to have gone the distance and ultimately lost against Spurs, but the extra day‘s rest may be priceless for us, especially given the sickness bug in the Blades’ camp.
Here’s a question for you; Would you take a defeat on Saturday if it would end our play off hopes, but guarantee us a place in the semi final of the FA Cup? The two outcomes are not mutually exclusive but it’s a question I’ve seen doing the rounds.
Next up after Sheffield United is Stoke City away on Friday night. Rovers have a relatively good recent record at the Britannia, but it’s a ground I’m never confident going to (could be something related to the time I went in fancy dress with friends forgetting I was sat with my mum and dad and just looked weird in Hawaiian fancy dress with an inflatable banana on my own - we lost 1-0 to a Liam Lawrence goal, but I was on Match Of The Day for a split second).
I’m not sure what Stoke are as a team this season - I expected them to be challenging for the top 6 at the start of the season and that didn’t change when Alex Neil came in. Yet they currently sit down in 17th, 14 points off the top 6 coming to the game off home losses to Brighton (FA Cup) and Millwall. I have us down for a draw both for the optimistic and pessimistic predictions - a win would put us in a fantastic position (assuming the rest of the predictions are correct, both for optimism and pessimism).
After Stoke, next is a midweek home game against Reading on the 15th March. Although we are a couple of games away from this one, Reading currently find themselves in 14th place, 10 points off the play offs after a decent start. At present they are on a run of 2 wins in their last 9 league games, with both of these coming at home. Before they come to Ewood they face Middlesbrough away, Sheffield United at home and Millwall at home so if recent form is anything to go by they kick off against us with one win in five.
Away from home I’d see this as a potential banana skin, but at home, hopefully with a bit of form, both my optimistic and pessimistic predictions have us picking up all 3 points. Paul Ince is not a good manager and Reading would have been wise to part company after he kept them up last season.
So to recap:
● We are currently 1 point ahead of the predicted run rate for top 6;
● We are 2 points ahead of where I thought we would be (optimistally);
● Optimistically I have us drawing with Sheffield United and Stoke and beating Reading = +5 points;
● Pessimistically I have us losing to Sheffield United, drawing against Stoke and beating Reading = +4 points.