Why Blackburn Rovers have every chance of reaching the top six in the Sky Bet Championship

Can Blackburn spring a surprise and contend for the play-offs?
Can Blackburn spring a surprise and contend for the play-offs?

"We are just fighting and aiming to give a bloody nose to some of those bigger clubs."

Tony Mowbray wouldn't have backed Blackburn to push for the play-offs during the 2018/19 season.

Indeed, Rovers finished well short of a top-six finish. They registered 60 points, the highest of any of the three promoted sides, and more than pre-season title favourites Stoke, but at least four wins from the promotion places.

It was a satisfactory outcome nonetheless. Securing a position safely tucked away in mid-table should always be the minimum aim for any side moving into the Sky Bet Championship, and Blackburn did just that.

There's more to come from Rovers, though. Mowbray's re-build has successfully completed stage one and two, and while a return to the Premier League may still be a few years away, the club is in a capable position to upset the odds and compete among those battling to join England's elite.

They don't look like smashing the £8m record fee paid to Huddersfield for Jordan Rhodes' services in August 2012, although they did come close with the addition of Ben Brereton, but in general the transfer window has been positive thus far.

Sam Gallagher's arrival for a £5m fee could prove to be a bargain in the current market. The striker, arriving from Southampton, is no stranger to the Ewood Park faithful having spent the 2016/17 on-loan at Blackburn, scoring 12 goals across all competitions.

It didn't put him among the top scorers, but the return was a strong one for a striker aged just 20 at the time in his second ever loan spell away from his parent club.

An outsider at 80/1 to finish as the division's top goalscorer this season, the unfancied forward of England's second tier, but the faith shown in him by Mowbray, with a substantial transfer fee paid compared with recent seasons' spending, could provide the confidence to compliment the natural talent that Gallagher possesses.

Stewart Downing and Bradley Johnson bring experienced heads to a relatively young squad - both could prove to be shrewd bits of business on free transfers.

It largely comes down to having a leader in Mowbray who stresses the importance of a positive group atmosphere in order to achieve success.

Speaking to Sporting Life back in February, Mowbray said: "Our team spirit and camaraderie is what allows us to punch above our weight. Our collective togetherness allows us to compete with teams that have spent more money and have higher individual talent in their side.

"Just go into our dinning room and you can see the players all lining up to play pool, laughing and joking with each other and having fun.

"Part of the secret for any top team is that the players enjoy each other's company, they respect each other's talent and they want to work hard for each other. That's what we have here and it is a good basis to start rebuilding this club from."

It's a belief that has brought success in the past. Mowbray led West Brom back to the Premier League in 2008, although that didn't happen overnight.

He was tasked with guiding the Baggies back to the top-flight after relegation in 2006. The first season ended in failure, despite Mowbray keeping them as a permanent fixture in the top-six.

A defeat to Derby in the play-off final sentenced them to another season of second division football. Mowbray had laid the foundations, though, and the season after they would lift the title.

Mowbray is well in the midst of his process at Blackburn. He's already experienced relegation in 2017, although that could be put down to problems created by his predecessor, but managed to gain promotion at the first time of asking.

It was a quick turnaround and strong leadership was required to get everyone back on board. The despair of Rovers' fans has been well documented over the years, with little to shout about since Roque Santa Cruz was leading the line in 2007/08.

To go from the low-point to promotion and comfortable safety in the space of 24 months is a testament to the man at the helm.

His beliefs seem to suit the group of players assembled at the club, from the top name in Bradley Dack to the up-and-coming Jacob Davenport, everyone has a role to play.

"I feel as a manager you have to have honesty, integrity and humility in everything you do on a daily basis," Mowbray continued.

"You have to set the standards - not by telling players, but by doing. Show your work ethic - be the first one in in the morning and the last one out at night.

"Have an open door policy for the players, so they know they can come and discuss their problems with you at any time and that no problem is too small or too big.

"Try to create an environment where players want to improve and get better. They feel included in how you select your style and how you are going to play."

What Mowbray has seemingly done during his spell at Rovers is create a happy workplace where players feel comfortable in talking to their manager.

When that happens, you will get a group who are willing to do whatever it takes for the person dishing out the instructions.

It's not just the atmosphere at Brockhall, Blackburn's training ground, but it's the presence around the club that has received a boost too.

A man not only concerned with positivity around his squad, but one striving to ensure supporters are on board with the project he is building.

There's a manager who has created the much-needed connection with the fans. Everyone is seemingly looking in the same direction, something that is often imperative when aiming for success.

Blackburn are unlikely to be at the forefront of many people's predictions this season, but the foundations are already there for Rovers to build upon.

The squad is more than capable, but it comes down to the environment present at the club. It's no longer toxic, it's not longer forcing fans to stay away, it's one of hope, one with a positive looking future.

Work still needs to be done this summer, of course, to make the squad as strong as possible for opening day against Charlton. A goalkeeper needs to arrive to replace David Raya who has made the switch to Brentford - that is seemingly priority number one.

This season could even see a change of style on the pitch, with less emphasis on playing through the middle hinted by Mowbray. Quite where that leaves Dack or Danny Graham remains to be seen.

Whatever happens on the pitch though, the same philosophy will be installed off it. It's one of hard work, honesty and most importantly of all, unity.

It's a spirit that's championed at Blackburn, putting them ahead of many other clubs in that sense. It will take time, as it does for every club to build.

Under the current atmosphere, Rovers are on an upward trajectory, and the process could be rewarded with a shot at promotion in 2020.

"Arte Et Labore" sits proudly on the club's crest - "By skill and hard work" it roughly translates to from Latin. Skill can be bought at any club, but hard work is much tougher to come by.

While Mowbray is at the helm, Blackburn supporters can fully expect a team who are a testament to the motto.


Odds correct at 1230 BST (18/07/19)

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