Blackburn Rovers 2-0 Bradford City Six Things: gulf in class

Tony Mowbray – rovers.co.uk

Blackburn Rovers went top of League One on Thursday night after second half goals from Bradley Dack and Craig Conway gave them a 2-0 win over out-of-form Bradford City. Here’s six things from the game.

Blackburn’s bold start

Tony Mowbray, who is arguably establishing himself as one of Blackburn’s most popular managers so far this century, picked an attacking line-up. Three forwards – Dominic Samuel, Marcus Antonsson and Adam Armstrong – started along with attacking midfielder Dack, underpinning ‘Mogga’s intentions for his side to start on the front foot. They did just that: the attacking quartet pressed with real hunger in a dominant first half from Rovers, midway through which Dack and Antonsson both hit the woodwork in the space of a minute, shortly after the latter had missed a glorious headed opportunity from Richie Smallwood’s pin-point delivery.

Simon’s unGraysonlike side

The last side Simon Grayson led to League One promotion was Preston North End in 2014-15 – one of the major things that stood out was the quality of service into the forwards. So far, his Bradford side has not shown anywhere near the same conviction in their forward passing. In previous games, the suggested reason for this had been the absence of Charlie Wyke, with stand-in striker Shay McCartan not possessing the same physical qualities. The former’s return at Ewood Park, however, made no difference, as hoofed clearances was the extent of the service he received. It begs the question – how can any striker score goals when they have no support?

Defensive gaps

Grayson started with five at the back but on the half hour mark, he switched to a back-four with Vincelot moving into a holding midfield role to, theoretically, deny space for Dack. The 32-year-old though appears to have lost a yard of pace this season and failed to stay on his man in the transitional phases of play, while 35-year-old Stephen Warnock couldn’t get anywhere near Armstrong, who frequently broke towards the byline down the right. The Bantams were being pulled apart at will and the only thing keeping them in the game was a combination of good fortune and last-ditch defending from Nat Knight-Percival. The centre-back, who himself struggled for pace, at least bravely blocked a 62nd-minute drive from Evans, who was first to a lose ball not for the only time that evening.

Super subs

If the performances of both starting elevens didn’t clearly show the current gulf in class between Blackburn and Bradford, the quality of the substitutes did. Grayson brought on McCartan and Omari Patrick – who have performed well in divisions below League One – while Mowbray could bring on Jack Payne and Craig Conway, Championship players in waiting. The former slotted an inch-perfect through ball to Dack, who tucked home the 68th-minute opener one-on-one, before Conway scored the second not a quarter of an hour later. The Scot tapped home at the back-post, after Armstrong’s shot was deflected into his path following a fine passing move.

Bantams play-off hopes fade

Pundit Stuart McCall – whose controversial dismissal as Bradford boss looks increasingly questionable – said his old side still have a chance of making the play-offs. The four point gap to sixth would suggest it is possible, with none of the sides above them showing the consistency levels to make the final two spots their own. Performances however, reveal a side that is some way short of the standard that a club of their size demands.

Instant Rovers return?

Blackburn picked up just seven points from their first seven games against bottom 10 opposition: there were mild suggestions back in October, that they struggled to match the work ethic of the so-called lesser sides. That scenario seems a world away now, because what stands out as much as anything is how quickly this team reacts to losing the ball and every player’s desire to battle for one another. Mowbray deserves great credit for galvanizing the club, which looks destined for a prompt return to the Championship.