regret? Blackburn Rovers will have to defeat some of Burnley


Second versus third, claret and blue versus blue and white, Burnley and Rovers renew their rivalry once more.

After a poignant and immaculately observed period of silence to commemorate Remembrance Sunday, the stage was set.

In the end, the Rovers players stomped away dejectedly, their Burnley colleagues absorbing every bite of their ovation.

The prize on offer was top spot in the Championship but East Lancashire’s more prominent rights, while the loser had a month to stew defeat in what was their biggest game of the season so far.

Whilst the disappointment for the Rovers players was paramount, there probably would have been another given the way the game went; a feeling of regret.

Did they really dare? Did they really believe?

These thoughts after a derby defeat will accompany the players well into the break.

Aside from the rivalry, there has always been a degree of respect between teams given their respective league positions.

The Rovers faced a side unbeaten at home, having lost only twice all season.

Still, there would have been nervousness and trepidation among Clarets faithful every time the ball went into their box following recent struggles from set pieces on the backs of five players in last week’s defeat at Sheffield United.

This vulnerability was never revealed, however, as Rovers had no territory for an extended period of time.

They managed a shot on 90 minutes that came early in the second half when Ben Brereton had to smash away an attempt from Arijanet Muric, a rare moment for Rovers to fall behind.

The game plan focused on containment but an inability to hold the ball meant it was a one-way affair, although their defensive form was strong enough to stave off Burnley’s first-half threat.

But from the moment the impasse broke, the Rovers withered away, and not for the first time, they struggled to not only find an answer, but to change the course of the game that was unfolding against them at lightning speed.

In the end, they held on to avoid humiliation worse than 3-0.

Their build-up game was slow and invited pressure, the back three and full-backs were repeatedly placed in positions with no options.

With no one on the field able to carry the ball forward through the center of the field, they stayed in their own half.

There was a forensic investigation into team selection after the game and that was undoubtedly a topic of conversation, but that shouldn’t overshadow Rovers’ approach.

They were passive, shy and seemingly playing with themselves.

The pre-game talks were so much about not overshooting the target and dropping the red mist to avoid a foul-tempered portrayal.

But Rovers went too far in the other direction.

Referee David Coote was willing to let go of a lot and while some of the decisions were questionable and his approach at times overly lenient, Rovers didn’t test that attitude enough as Burnley largely had things their way.

While the players naturally made an effort, they looked self-conscious, a fear seeming to have gotten over them.

And that has created the feeling that Rovers don’t see this as a missed opportunity but as an opportunity they didn’t seize.

This was a huge platform to get out there and perform, to show how far they’ve come to go head-to-head with another team that’s at the top of the league but passed them.

Rovers could not have been more confident, with five wins from their last six and a Carabao Cup success against West Ham United.

Although none of that was apparent on what was an unforgettable afternoon for the blue and white side of East Lancashire.

And so to the team selection.

The main topic of conversation was the selection of Clinton Mola for his first league start and Jake Garrett for his second.

There were several permutations of formations but it turned out to be Ryan Hedges and Callum Brittain at full-back, a tactic used to attempt to reduce the threat posed by Burnley’s wingers.

Tomasson did the same against Sunderland and it worked well even when the two players were out of position.

Hedges had done well until the 55th minute when he was unmasked by Zaroury, who dived past him to deliver a cross Ashley Barnes couldn’t miss.

Mola was chosen over Scott Wharton, a decision Tomasson attributed to the need for additional rear mobility.

But Wharton’s record shows he’s always a presence in the Rovers’ back line and while Mola started well he faded, unsurprising given his lack of minutes.

Some suggestions that Wharton should have played based on his knowledge of the importance of the game would be disrespectful of the qualities he offers as a player. Tomasson explained his reasoning, but it felt surprising.

Rovers preparations should have Sam Szmodics as part of the midfield three, with Garrett getting the nod after being forced to retire through injury.

What most felt like an easy pick for Tomasson now wasn’t, and there was one element he might have considered.

The Rovers’ midfield three didn’t play like that, they were dragged around by Burnley’s rotation and the first 45 minutes felt more like a game of chess than a blood-and-thunder derby match.

However, blaming that defeat on the squad’s composition alone would overlook how poor the Rovers were on the ball, as they failed to build sustained pressure over the 90 minutes and were hampered by their inability to play the game that cost them 1-0 in the final stages, as Burnley the chances played together.

This was about the bid and fans would have the right to demand more from anyone who took to the field.

Tomasson has shown he will make big decisions and change teams and he has credit on the bench in that regard.

Losing Sam Gallagher just after they created their first chance of the game was a big blow and they didn’t react to that change appropriately.

Rovers now have a month to stew over their most disappointing result of the season, even though they have beaten expectations in 21 games and still go into the break well-placed.

But this one will stay with Tomasson and his players for a good part, at least until they get back to work after a period of rest.




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