Opposition View: Toby Wilding
Another promotion hopeful comes to Kenilworth Road on Saturday, as Luton look to make it four straight home wins. We spoke to Toby Wilding, of Football League World, to get the Rovers' perspective...
Tell us a bit about you and your Rovers supporting background…
I got taken to my first Blackburn game in April 2002 - a 2-0 win at home to Southampton - shortly before my sixth birthday, and have been a regular follower/season ticket holder ever since. These days I will be at games either as a Blackburn fan or reporting on the club in my role as a reporter for Football League World. I have also been to plenty of away games in my time, and seeing Rovers win 1-0 at Doncaster in April 2018 to secure promotion from League One at the first attempt is probably the highlight of my time supporting the club.
The last two months have certainly been memorable for Blackburn, with Rovers currently sitting 2nd in the table after an indifferent start. How do you feel the season has gone so far?
This season has probably exceeded all expectations for just about every Blackburn fan. Having ended last season with four wins in 20 - relegation form in all honesty - and sold top scorer Adam Armstrong in the summer without signing a replacement, as well as seeing several experienced players leave with only a small handful of youngsters arriving to replace them, a mid-table finish looked the best-case scenario.
However, the club and squad have dealt brilliantly with any setbacks that have been thrown in their direction - not least the 7-0 thrashing by Fulham at the start of November that has sparked a run of nine wins in 12 league games - showing a resilience not associated with this team in recent years, to give supporters belief that maybe, just maybe, this season could be different.
Tony Mowbray was seemingly under pressure at the start of the season. Given the turnaround in recent months, has he managed to get all of the Rovers' fanbase on side?
He certainly seems to have done. Ultimately football is a results business, and right now Mowbray has found a way to get that out of this squad, even if it may not be as pretty to watch as in previous seasons, when results were not as positive.
Indeed, having experienced the buoyant atmosphere in the Blackburn End at Ewood Park after Monday night's big win over promotion rivals Middlesbrough, there can be no doubt that everyone at the club is pulling in the same direction, regardless of previous misgivings about Mowbray that some supporters may have had.
Ben Brereton Diaz is quite clearly the outstanding player in a really strong side, but will (thankfully) miss the game at Kenilworth Road! So, who would you say have been your other key players this season?
From an attacking perspective, Sam Gallagher will likely take on the Brereton Diaz role again when Rovers make the trip to Kenilworth Road on Saturday. The striker ran himself into the ground and produced the one clear moment of quality to net the matchwinner against Middlesbrough on Monday, and his physicality and effort should give Luton's defence plenty to deal with.
On-loan Brighton man Reda Khadra continues to impress with his pace and trickery, and will likely partner Gallagher up front, while the creativity and ability to drive forward from midfield will make John Buckley and Joe Rothwell big threats as well.
Defensively, captain Darragh Lenihan, Scott Wharton, and another Brighton loanee, Jan Paul van Hecke, have formed an excellent central defensive trio - one that has now helped the club eight clean sheets in their last ten games - while goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski is as reliable a presence as any between the posts in the Championship for my money.
But for all that, holding midfielder Lewis Travis and right-back Ryan Nyambe were the two who were badly missed for Rovers in the 2-0 defeat to Hull last Wednesday that ended a ten-game unbeaten run in the league, so they also deserve shout outs. I think I've near enough named our entire starting XI there!
The Hatters managed to grab a point at the death at Ewood Park earlier this season. What have you made of how Luton are doing this season?
I've been really impressed by Luton this season. It feels like they have come an incredibly long way since the 2019/20 final day clash with Blackburn in which the Hatters got the 3-2 win that ensured they avoided relegation back to League One.
Although perhaps somewhat inconsistent, as evidenced by the weekend's defeat to Sheffield United after a recent good run, I do think Nathan Jones' side are a solid mid-table Championship team at the very least, and moving forward, should be continuing to look up, rather than down.
I'm a big fan of both Elijah Adebayo and Harry Cornick in attack and think both have really adapted well to playing at this level, since making the step to the Championship with Luton. Indeed, I would expect both to be big threats for Rovers to deal with on Saturday, provided Cornick is fit.
It is also good to see that Amari'i Bell looks to be thriving at Luton, having been a useful player for Rovers during his three-and-a-half years with the club, before moving to Kenilworth Road in the summer.
Time for some predictions - who do you think (i) will get automatic promotion, (ii) make the playoffs, and (iii) get relegated?
For starters, Fulham look to be well on their way to the title after recent results. Beyond that with Rovers in the automatic promotion mix, I'm reluctant to either jinx us or write us off!
I'll therefore go for Blackburn to be joined in the top six by QPR, who are in excellent form right now, West Brom, who despite recent struggles should have enough to at least claim a play-off place, Bournemouth, who when they click look tough for anyone to beat, and Middlesbrough, who have recruited well this month and have an excellent manager in Chris Wilder. That, however, does feel harsh on the likes of Nottingham Forest, Stoke, Huddersfield, and Coventry, arguably among others, who will all feel they have shown more than enough to be considered strong top six candidates this season.
At the other end of the table, I think the points deductions and squad problems stemming from financial issues mean that as valiant as they have been, Derby are destined for the drop, along with Barnsley, who simply can't find a win at the minute, and have yet to strengthen in the January window.
I then think that Peterborough will complete the bottom three, because I get the feeling that Reading and Cardiff might just have enough ability and experience at this level, to hold them off in the battle for safety, with those above seemingly clear of danger.
Finally, give us your score prediction for Saturday’s game…
This is a tough one to call. It was a tight encounter in the reverse fixture, and I would expect both teams to make it hard for each other again here. However, with the incentive of the promotion battle on the line, and the confidence they will have from that win over a promotion rival in 'Boro, I have to back my own side here!
With that in mind, I'll say 2-1 to Blackburn.
With thanks to Toby Wilding (@brfctoby96). You can check out more of his work at Football League World (@FootballLeagueW).