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First team

Media View: Expert insight on Blackburn

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to maintain their promotion push when they face Championship rivals Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

A storming second-half showing saw the Cherries battle back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at Swansea City on Tuesday, leaving them three points ahead in second place.

Following an inconsistent start to the season, Blackburn occupied the second automatic promotion berth at the start of February after an excellent run of results.

A sequence of one defeat in 13 games – a 7-0 beating at the hands of Fulham – included no fewer than ten wins as Rovers propelled themselves up the table.

However, the loss to injury of leading marksman Ben Brereton Diaz during a 0-0 draw against West Brom on Valentine’s Day coincided with a dip in fortunes.  

The Chile international, who hit 20 goals in their first 24 games, missed seven matches as Rovers’s hopes of a top-two finish evaporated.

But Tony Mowbray’s team kept alive their chances of reaching the play-offs after thrashing Lancashire rivals Preston North End 4-1 at Deepdale on Monday.

Victory ended a five-game winless run and moved them to within three points of the top six with two matches remaining – against the Cherries and Birmingham City.

Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Rich Sharpe who covers the fortunes of Rovers for the Lancashire Telegraph. 

BLACKBURN ROVERS PROFILE

Ground: Ewood Park

Nickname: Rovers

Manager: Tony Mowbray (appointed February 2017)

Club captain: Darragh Lenihan (pictured above)

Current league position: Eighth

Leading goalscorer 2021/22: Ben Brereton Diaz (21 in Championship)

Last game: Preston North End 1-4 Blackburn Rovers (Championship)

Past six league results: LDDLLW

afcb.co.ukHow would you sum up the season for Rovers?

RS: They were their usual selves, winning a few and losing a few coming up to November. Then, they put together a ten-game unbeaten run, which included six wins on the trot, and it catapulted them up the table.

They lost 7-0 against Fulham at the start of November and didn’t lose again until the middle of January. That chunk of form was the basis for where they are now.

This year has been a real disappointment and the win against Preston on Monday was only their third victory in 16 games.

The season has really unravelled and fallen away and that’s why they find themselves in a position where they need to win their final two games to give them a chance of making the play-offs.

They were second in February so the season has tailed off and probably put a cloud over what was looking to be a positive season.

afcb.co.ukGive us your assessment of Tony Mowbray’s tenure?

RS: For a manager in today’s football world to be there for five years, it’s a hell of a long time and he has spoken about that himself.

There have been different cycles with the team. The League One team was built around a lot of experienced and key figures.

Slowly but surely, they have been phased out and there has been a younger, academy-heavy team looking to develop players and bring them through.

There was a big turnover of players in the summer with a lot of senior players going and the same will probably happen again this summer.

They have probably fallen away too often. I think fans have seen them get into a position to challenge for the play-offs and there has always been that ceiling of seventh, eighth in the league where they would get there and not be able to break through.

The hope was that could change this season but, unfortunately, it could happen again where they have just not quite been able to make that step up. 

afcb.co.ukWhat’s the mood like among supporters with two games to go?

RS: They were performing above where they were expected to and all expectations changed with the position they got themselves into.

When you’re second in the league in February, you would like to think the play-offs would be a safety net, a fall-back option. But it has unravelled and things were looking really bleak.

The supporters were looking for something to cling on to and they went away to Preston on Monday and did the double over their neighbours and put in a season’s-best performance.

The hope is that will revive and put some life back into it for the final two games. It could still be too late but at least they’ve kept themselves in contention.

afcb.co.ukWho is Rovers’s one to watch?

RS: Ben Brereton (pictured above) – and not just because he’s the obvious one.

He got injured at West Brom in February and you only have to look at the statistics to see how they struggled for goals in his absence. He’s scored about 40 per cent of their goals this season.

He was starting to look jaded before that going away on international duty with Chile.

But in the past couple of weeks, he has started to get back to the levels that he was earlier in the season. He scored 20 goals before the end of the year. He’s looking really fit and strong and back to his best.

The hope would be that he could be the man to kick-start something in the last couple of games.

afcb.co.ukAnd who is their rising star?

RS: John Buckley (pictured above). They have played a false nine for quite a lot of the season which is where he’s operated.

When things have not been going so well the past few weeks, that’s probably been something to debate – a back three and a false nine and whether that was getting the best out of them.

He shifted back and they played a midfield three against Preston. He scored and the midfield were excellent. He came through the academy and has had a real breakthrough season.

afcb.co.ukAre any first-choice players either suspended or injured against the Cherries?

RS: I think this is probably the best the squad has looked all season.

Dilan Markanday, who they signed from Tottenham in January, got injured on his debut and will probably still be out.

Reda Khadra has gone back to Brighton for a scan so could be out. Other than that, everybody else should be fit and available.

afcb.co.ukWhat’s your score prediction?

RS: I can see it being quite an open game. Bournemouth drew 3-3 with Swansea and Rovers beat Preston 4-1 this week.

I’d like to think Rovers will edge a five-goal thriller to take it to the final day. With an optimistic view, I’ll go with a 3-2 win to Rovers.

You can follow Rich on Twitter – @richsharpe89

Officials: Robert Jones (referee), Sam Lewis (assistant), Jonathan Hunt (assistant), Carl Boyeson (fourth official).

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