Try as they might, Blackburn Rovers just couldn’t break through. A resolute West Bromwich Albion side, reinvigorated by the arrival of Steve Bruce, stood firm through a Rovers onslaught to frustrate the away side. Now, Blackburn are four points behind second-place Bournemouth, with the Cherries boasting two games in hand, and the odds on the English Football League Championship are no longer in their favour quite so much.
It’s now been four games without a win for Tony Mowbray’s side. At one point, it looked as though they were making a charge for automatic promotion, but a draw with Luton Town, followed by successive defeats to Swansea City and Nottingham Forest, and then this latest stalemate against West Brom, have left Blackburn slightly adrift.
Perspective is everything, of course. Blackburn are a young side with little experience of challenging for promotion. The fact that they are pushing the top two so close at this stage of the season is testament to the talent within their ranks. Having hovered around mid-table for the past number of seasons, a promotion charge hadn’t really been on the cards, so it’s important that Rovers fans remain realistic in their expectations.
As far as the top two are concerned, Fulham and Bournemouth are going to take some stopping. It would take a complete capitulation for the Cottagers not to earn gain automatic promotion, while Bournemouth are back on a strong winning run under Scott Parker following a slight dip in form over the festive period. Those two clubs are benefitting from the parachute payments which are handed out to teams relegated from the Premier League, and as a result Blackburn simply can’t compete financially.
With plenty of matches remaining, there is still an outside chance of automatic promotion, but Blackburn may have to focus on cementing their place in the play-off positions. There have been a number of surprise packages this season, with the likes of Queens Park Rangers, Huddersfield Town and Nottingham Forest also establishing themselves as play-off contenders in the Championship tips.
The table is extremely tight from the play-off positions all the way down to the bottom half, and there is still enough time for a team to build momentum and make a surge for the top six. Mowbray and his players will need to ensure that their rise towards the top is not a flash in the pan, and that they have the grit and determination to see it out until the end of the campaign.
A key cog in their promotion hopes is Ben Brereton Díaz, who has been a revelation over the last couple of years. Having become a star for the Chilean national team, scoring goals in the 2021 Copa América, he has ascended to another level for Blackburn too. The 22-year-old has notched 20 goals already in this Championship season, which is bettered only by the irrepressible Aleksandar Mitrovic. If Brereton Díaz keeps up that kind of form, then Blackburn will certainly be in with a shout.
It’s been over 10 years since we last saw Rovers competing in the top flight of English football, and there is a sense that they are due a return. In a league as competitive as the Championship, chances to reach that promised land don’t come around all too often. Mowbray and co. must snatch it with both hands.