In the end, it was a promising and relatively comfortable return to life in the Championship for Blackburn Rovers last season.
After winning an immediate promotion back to the second tier during the 2017/18 campaign, Tony Mowbray’s side never really looked out of place back in the Championship, but despite showing plenty of promise, a combination of late goals conceded in early games of the season, and a dismal run of just four points from 11 matches between February and April, ultimately put paid to any hopes of a push for the play-offs.
In the end Mowbray’s men were forced to settle for a 15th place finish, and they will be hopeful of pushing on from that in the coming campaign.
There will be questions about how well equipped they are to do that next season, so we’ve assessed their current position in the build-up to the new campaign here, in our latest six-point opinion piece.
Firstly, what changes have there been to the squad last season?
“They haven’t been as busy as some other clubs in the Championship, but there has been some activity around Ewood Park this season.
“Midfielders Stewart Downing and Bradley Johnson have joined the club on free transfers from Middlesbrough and Derby respectively, while former loanee Sam Gallagher has returned to the club on a four-year deal from Southampton, with the striker reportedly costing £5million.
“Elsewhere Brighton goalkeeper Christian Walton has moved to Ewood Park on a season-long loan to replace the departed David Raya, with the Spaniard’s move to Brentford making him the only departure amongst Rovers’ first-team regulars from last season.
“Defender Paul Downing and midfielder Craig Conway have also left the club following the expiration of their contracts at the end of last season, while it has yet to be confirmed whether Jack Rodwell will be signing a new deal with the club, having spent last season at Ewood Park following his acrimonious departure from Sunderland.”
What will Rovers be hoping for between now and the end of the window?
“Despite the recruitment of Walton, Rovers are thought to be considering a move for a more experienced goalkeeper before the close of the window, with Derby’s Scott Carson among those thought to be attracting interest.
“As well as that, it looks a though at least one additional defensive option could be on the cards, with Manchester City defender Tosin Adarabioyo reportedly close to making a season-long loan move to Ewood Park, having spent last season on loan at West Brom.
“You also imagine the club will be looking to keep hold of their key players, with the previously anticipated interest in the likes of Bradley Dack and Darragh Lenihan so far yet to materialise.”
What look to be Rovers strengths heading into the new season?
“Their attack will be expected to cause opposition defences problems.
“With the arrival of the aforementioned Gallagher, Rovers have a proven Championship goalscorer to provide support to last season’s Player of the Year Danny Graham, while more will be expected of last summer’s marquee signing Ben Brereton in the coming campaign.
“Just behind them, top scorer Bradley Dack will look to continue to cause problems for opposition defences with his trickery and his eye for goal, while Joe Rothwell’s impressive end to last season also bodes well for the coming campaign.
“With the pace of players such as Adam Armstrong and Harry Chapman, as well as the experience and precision of new signings Downing and Johnson also there to be called upon, there will be plenty for opposition defences to think about when they come up against Tony Mowbray’s side next season.”
And what about the weaknesses?
“The full-back positions in particular will be a worry.
“Rovers’ defence as a whole was a problem last season, with 69 goals conceded in 46 league games, but the central defensive areas do at least look like being strengthened with the aforementioned anticipated arrival of Adarabioyo, with the promising end of season partnership between Lenihan and Derrick Williams also offering some extra encouragement in that area.
“By contrast, little has changed about the wider areas of the defence, and with the still relatively young Ryan Nyambe and natural midfielder Elliott Bennett seemingly the two main options at right back, that is a position that opposition attacks could really look to take advantage.”
Who could be one to watch next season?
“Before Richie Smallwood was sent off in a 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United just before the start of the January transfer window, there had been talk of Lewis Travis heading out on loan for the second half of the last season.
“Following Smallwood’s suspension however, it was Travis who was called upon to step into that central midfield role, and he has barely been out of the starting lineup since.
“The 21-year-old’s dominant performances in that position earned him the club’s Young Player of the Year award, and he has recently been handed a new contract to keep him at the club until the summer of 2023, which given the tough tackling and precise passing he has already brought to the side, looks to be an inspired piece of business from the club going forward.”
Finally, what should be the aim for Blackburn Rovers next season?
“For starters, an improvement on last season is essential.
“Beyond that, there has been talk of a push for the play-offs next season, and while that may be a difficult task, you feel that a top half finish will be expected next season.
“Indeed, you imagine that an indicator that there is the potential for a promotion to the Premier League to come sooner rather than later will be needed at the very least if they are to convince those key players who could lead them to the top tier – such as Dack and Lenihan – that Rovers are a club it is worth them sticking around at.”