For the first time since 1988, Blackburn Rovers have won their first three games of a league season. It’s a perfect start that sees them sitting pretty at the top of the Championship, and already some fans are dreaming of where John Dahl Tomasson can take them.
The new boss will be delighted with the start to life he has made in English football, with a 2-1 win over promotion contenders West Brom the latest in a trio of impressive performances. Once again, Blackburn outperformed their expected goals and that particular statistic shows they ‘should’ have lost two of their opening three games. But they haven’t.
Instead what we have seen from Rovers has been a brutal display of efficient finishing from a front four that have the ability to tear any team in the league apart. Ryan Hedges has emerged as the surprise package having been promoted to a starting role by the new boss. His ability to link with Sam Gallagher and Ben Brereton Diaz has elevated Rovers while the addition of Sammie Szmodics from Peterborough seems like a smart one at this early stage. That narrow quartet, aided by Jack Vale from the bench, are free to roam and switch positions, which has led to unpredictability and efficiency in the final third.
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In the recent outing against WBA, Rovers had two shots on goal, both from outside the box, and scored twice. The duo of Gallagher and Brereton Diaz are amongst the best in the division and when you possess this level of finisher, you exceed expectations when it comes to xG for a match, although Tomasson will know this level of efficiency is unlikely to be replicated over a whole season.
In the 3-0 win at Swansea they were a brutal counter-attacking side that had just 29% possession and four shots on goal. That, by all logic, can’t be maintained but what can be maintained is the level of commitment, desire and dedication the Dane has drilled into his players.
Against West Brom, and across the three games so far, Rovers have been dogged and difficult to break down. Harry Pickering and Callum Brittain have offered width when Rovers have the ball, but they have also been part of a solid back four that have conceded just once so far this term. Even that goal scored by WBA was a deflected strike from outside the area after Blackburn had dealt well with a corner in the first phase.
"They’ve started the season very well with three wins from three and a cup victory," Blackburn Rovers reporter and Championship Chat podcast host Elliott Jackson tells The Sportsman. "Defensively, they have been excellent despite the injury problems that they suffered. In attack, it’s a very narrow and fluid front four system which has worked for them so far.
"The wins over QPR and WBA were both tight games where moments of quality won it for them whereas Swansea was a different tactical plan which worked to perfection. They have started fantastically but the squad is still lacking depth. It will be impossible for them to maintain this form without reinforcements. The first 11 is good enough to compete in the top ten but when injuries and fixtures pile up, they will struggle with the current squad. What they do in the transfer market over the next fortnight will have a huge say on how they fare."
As Elliott touched upon, this has been an entire team effort to keep other sides out. Every member of this Rovers squad is committed to the cause and they are getting behind the ball and pressing their opponents into errors. Brereton Diaz may be the star name and even though he has been consistently linked with a move away over the last twelve months, he is in the trenches battling with the rest of the team. Tomasson clearly wants to play out from the back but he won’t put his side in danger by sticking to that principle if it doesn’t make sense. What he requires is hard running and intensity across the pitch, while his forwards have exceeded expectations in front of goal so far this term.
We saw Tony Mowbray’s side fall away last season after a first half of promise and the attacking statistics seem to suggest that something similar could happen to Rovers this time around. But defensively they have been remarkable so far. Keeping hold of Brereton Diaz is key and if they manage to do that, they have a chance to continue to defy the odds.
There’s only one statistic that matters at Ewood Park at the minute. Three wins out of three. Top of the table.