Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
Only 45 minutes before kick off in Blackburn’s EFL Cup second round game with Crewe on Tuesday night and the scene was dispiriting.
Ticket prices were reduced to £12 with children priced at only £2, yet interest was scarce and the walkway around the stadium resembled a ghost town.
Business didn’t really pick up at kick-off either with a total of 3,448 fans clustered out in a stadium that seats 31,367, leaving oceans of empty blue seats.
It was the anger felt towards the club’s owners Venky’s that was coming home to roost, with apathy beginning to grow at the drastic decline that set in when the Indian poultry suppliers gained control back in 2010.
Only six times have the owners been to watch the club in the six years in which they have taken Rovers from a mid-table Premier League club to bottom of the Championship, from £20 million in the red to debts of over £100 million.
Venky’s haemorrhaging of money saw Blackburn placed under a year-long transfer embargo in January 2014, but since having the ban lifted they have not invested.
Rovers, now under the guidance of former Burnley boss Owen Coyle, have had to rely on free transfers and loans over the past two years while Venky’s have sold off the family silver.
Grant Hanley, Jordan Rhodes, Tom Cairney and Rudy Gestede have departed for significant fees in recent seasons but to Venky’s they were merely assets ready to be stripped.
It has left Coyle, on Tuesday evening’s evidence, with a lacklustre squad who will now be without Shane Duffy who has moved on to Brighton.
After scoring three own goals in the space of four days last week, two coming in the trip to Cardiff where the Irishman was also sent-off, Duffy signed off with the extra-time winner against Crewe and it brings to an end a sorry saga resulting from Venky’s inexplicable failure to offer the defender a new deal until the final year of his current contract.
He, along with winger Ben Marshall who started the midweek game with his former club Crewe on the bench, has rejected a new deal and though Coyle may still salvage a small return from Duffy, it is hard to identify the next potential sale.
Coming into the game having took one point from their opening four games, nobody stood out in a shoddy display against Crewe that was strewn with error and slack defending.
Crewe, who went 0-2 up and had ample chances to kill the game at 1-2, are just beginning to rediscover their feet in League Two after a dreadful relegation campaign but looked, as manager Steve Davis said afterwards, every inch the equal of opposition supposedly two leagues above them.
Davis believes that Coyle will eventually turn Rovers’ fortunes around, having been mightily close to registering his first win in charge in the 2-2 draw with Burton last week, but the Scot will have to improve a woeful lack of fitness if he is to do it.
Centre-midfielders Hope Akpan and Jack Byrne look ill-suited to a 4-4-2 as they were overran by Crewe’s crisp passing and movement, while a defence that could not deal with Chris Dagnall and Alex Kiwomya is in desperate need of organisation.
A distracted Duffy partnered Scott Wharton, the 18 year old who only made his debut on Saturday, on Tuesday and they appeared distinctly short of nous and leadership.
Wes Brown, who has trained with Blackburn all summer, may solve those defensive issues; if the owners can search down the back of the sofa to form a contract offer, that is.
Still, there were positives for Blackburn to take as they seek a first league win. Anthony Stokes and the on-loan Sam Gallagher were lively and aggressive in attack, feeding on the service from wingers Liam Feeney and Craig Conway, also impressive in the draw with Burton as he hit a cracking opener, which remained dangerous throughout.
The quality of set-pieces was constantly outstanding and Coyle was right to praise the character of his team for fighting back to take an eventual 4-3 win in extra-time.
It was a tough night that at times threatened mutiny, but Coyle will be relieved to make round three carrying on some optimism from the victory for his troubled squad.
It is just regrettable that, with so many fans alienated past the point of return, the amount of people watching his team progress will be scarce, regardless of how much their owners reduce the admission prices.
Written by Adam Gray
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