City are given a bit of a lesson. But Duckens Nazon is here, so it’ll all be OK.
Well, that’s the Carabao Cup dream over guys. There will be no more Carabao Cupping for us this season after a drizzly night at the Ricoh ended with a fairly comprehensive defeat.
I was actually lucky enough to receive a couple of complimentary tickets for this game, on account of being such a global superstar. This blog has cost an arm and a leg to run since it launched in 2009 so it’s nice when the occasional treat comes my way and I gladly accepted. The night got off to a tremendous start as I found my seats back in our 2015 Block 22 stomping ground, alongside all the old gang: Thomas Turgoose, Bisto Gravy Man, Robert De Niro. They were all there and I had the time of my life re-imagining those glory days.
While my pre-match gaze was distracted by some familiar faces in the stands, this was soon averted by Elliott Ward and Dominic Samuel as they strode onto the pitch and looked positively massive. Blackburn brought a strong lineup as they looked for a win following a disappointing opening day defeat to Southend. There were a few changes, but the introduction of Ward, Elliott Bennett, Liam Feeney and new signing Paul Caddis hardly weakening things. In comparison, we made a string of amendments and gave starting opportunities to youngsters Chris Camwell, Jordan Shipley and Devon Kelly-Evans, while Stevenson, Nazon and Biamou joined them to complete a distinctly fresh looking teamsheet.
Individually you can can identify some real quality in all of our youngsters. Unfortunately they were left a little punch drunk against Mowbray’s death-by-passing. To be fair, I’m being needlessly critical of Blackburn’s approach there – they controlled the match and also made plenty of incisive passes, catching us on the break countless times. All good for them and their possession stats; a bloody hard night’s work for us.
Young left back Chris Camwell made his home debut for the club and started particularly well, showing great anticipation on a few early occasions and ensuring they knew he wasn’t someone to be underestimated. Ahead of him we got our first real look of Devon Kelly-Evans, who also appeared adept on the ball and threw in a couple of solid tackles to get the crowd on his side.
Up front the visual battering rams of Duckens Nazon and Maxime Biamou offered an out ball when things got a little too much at the back, although as the game wore on it became clear that their physical attributes don’t quite align with how they actually approach the game. Nazon was our clearest threat and had a few early opportunities to show that he fancied himself against the Rovers defence. Biamou was less involved.
The opening goal came after some bumbling defending with no real assertion to clear the ball before Corry Evans offered a slightly sliced shot which O’Brien couldn’t get close to. It was by no means a rocket, but set the tone for the soft nature of all the goals on the night.
We equalised swiftly with good work from the fluid Jack Grimmer who came close himself before Nazon completed the job from the rebound and blitzed away for a celebration which surely rates high on the Leroy Lita scale of disproportionate excitement.
Nazon is such an intriguing player to watch, switching from considered and adept link man one minute, to bombarding skill-merchant the next. It’s sometimes beautiful, it’s sometimes chaotic. But I definitely want to see more of it. One thing feels certain – The Duck is going to be too much for most League Two teams.
Unfortunately our next opportunity to score also exposed our vulnerabilities as we took a daft quick corner which left Jodi Jones attempting a cross that he simply wasn’t set for. Jones was another threat and linked nicely with all around him, especially Nazon and Grimmer, but we were already struggling with gaps in our defence so you can imagine the panic it caused as they desperately attempted to neutralise the resulting attack. We’d actually managed it, but a sloppy clearance from Grimmer fell to the feet of Smallwood, whose deflected finish gave O’Brien little chance. While the shot wasn’t riddled with conviction, the speed of the break certainly was.
Blackburn finished us off in the second half with a further deflected goal, but the match really wasn’t so much about the goals as it was the individual performances and lessons we could learn from them them.
Young Jordan Shipley is a proper unit and was heavily-involved throughout. A by-product of this constant prominence was that he made a few passes that he won’t be pleased with, succumbing to the pressure of Blackburn’s midfield. His legs had become jelly by the end, but he certainly didn’t go hiding which was impressive. It was a gruelling workout for him and one I hope he’ll really benefit from.
It was Ben Stevenson’s return to competitive action, and in all honesty, he also struggled with the lack of time he had on the ball. He’s obviously a very classy player and was always looking to get the attack moving as best he could, but things didn’t quite work out for him on the night.
The two-goal gap only seemed to increase Blackburn’s patience in possession of the ball, making it very much a chasing brief for our forward line as Elliott Ward and Charlie McGrew happily stroked the ball back and forth. This comfort was to diminish slightly with the introduction of Beavon and Ponticelli who both went about chasing the ball in a more purposeful manner as Nazon was moved out to the right. This was certainly in contrast to the approach of Biamou, whose chasing is more passive; allowing the game to come to him rather than forcing the issue. The Frenchman still worked pretty hard and tried to get involved where he could, but it was never really pressing with the belief that he’d win the ball; it was the illusion of pressure, if you will.
Ponticelli however entered into a one-man mission to pressure Elliot Ward with a truly lung-busting five minutes following his introduction. This was my first ever Ponticelli experience and it certainly intrigued me. He doesn’t look like he would be the most mobile striker, but this may be somewhat deceptive as he was able to make up ground on all three of the Rovers defenders in straight footraces. But he’s young and new to this, so is going to need time to adapt and feel comfortable.
Defensively there was plenty of effort to keep the score respectable with decent blocks and saves by O’Brien, although there were also plenty of gaps. Much of this can come down to the speedy nature of Blackburn swarming attacks once they did spot an opportunity. Do you back off, or do you engage? It’s a split second decision, and it can sometimes leave you and your teammates exposed if it’s the wrong one.
All told, it has to be seen as an important experience for those young’uns. I know it’s not nice to be outplayed by a League One side, especially as that’s where we were last season, but ultimately it wasn’t really a fair match-up. That’s not to say we were playing poor or weak players, because I think they all showed competence in what they did. It’s really the cumulative effect of having quite so many inexperienced players combining in a single line up. It was just a step too far to ask them to deal with the threat offered by a Blackburn side that asserted control of the ball very early on, but we gave it a bloody good go.