When Blackburn Rovers announced on Monday that Stewart Downing had signed a new contract at Ewood Park, the mood that greeted the news felt rather different to how his original deal with the club was met last summer.
Whereas roughly 15 months ago, the arrival of Downing prompted some scepticism about whether, at 35-years-old, the veteran midfielder could still do a job for Tony Mowbray’s side.
But having proved emphatically last season that he most certainly could – no player provided more assists or created more chances for Rovers than Downing during the 2019/20 campaign – there were no such questions about the suitability of such a deal this time around.
Indeed, it didn’t take long for the sense behind bringing Downing back to Ewood Park to become even more apparent.
Just a day after his return to Blackburn was confirmed, Rovers went up against the club that Downing left to make the move to Ewood Park in Middlesbrough, as Tony Mowbray – another strong ‘Boro connection – saw his side end a two-game losing run with a hard earned goalless draw.
But while Rovers came out of the game relatively unscathed in terms of the scoreline, they were left to count the cost of a performance that saw them have to constantly throw their bodies on the line in order to prevent ‘Boro from making a breakthrough.
Speaking after the game, Mowbray revealed that both centre back Derrick Williams, and on loan Norwich midfielder Tom Trybull, were substituted during the game as a result of injury concerns picked up, and it is that that shows the need to bring back someone such as Downing.
Even before that double setback suffered on Tuesday night, Mowbray found himself with no fewer than nine senior players unavailable for the clash with his former club, including the likes of attacking talisman Bradley Dack, central midfield pair Lewis Travis, Bradley Johnson, and left-back duo Barry Douglas and Amari’i Bell.
With that in mind, Rovers are in desperate need of numbers in their squad, and with Downing, you could also almost argue that they are getting at least three for the price of one.
Having played – and indeed impressed – on the wing, in the centre of midfield and the left-hand side of defence for Rovers last season, not only is Downing an extra source of cover in one position for Mowbray, but he is someone whose versatility means the club now have another option in hear enough every area of the pitch.
Indeed, it is also worth pointing that having made 43 appearances in all competitions for Rovers last season – only Adam Armstrong, Lewis Travis and Sam Gallagher, all of whom are in their 25 or younger – there are unlikely to be too many concerns about Downing’s ability to go the distance this season, once he gets up to match fitness.
As well as that, with Blackburn increasingly forced to rely on youth as they look to cope with those injuries – of those that started against Middlesbrough only one (30-year-old Lewis Holtby) was over the age of 27, and five were 22 or younger – that added experience and control that Downing brings ought to add an element of confidence to a team that Mowbray himself admitted looked low on confidence against ‘Boro.
It seems therefore, that a return to the squad for Downing could not have come at a better time for Rovers, and when those currently players start to return to action, they ought to have a squad that will be more than capable of challenging for a top six spot this season.
As a result, it can certainly be argued that there are still things to be positive about for Blackburn despite what – even with those eye-catching wins over Wycombe, Derby and Coventry earlier in the campaign – has been a somewhat underwhelming start to the season for Rovers, and Downing it seems, is a big part of that.