With the Championship back on Boxing Day, we turn our attention to the MKM Stadium as Hull take on Blackburn and Benjamin Bloom has all you need to know, with odds from Betfair throughout.
Setting The Scene – Parallel improvement
‘Where on earth did Blackburn come from?’ is a question frequently asked by Championship fans at the moment. I’ll give you a very boring and literal answer. On October 19, Blackburn were in 11th position and a massive 14 points behind then leaders Bournemouth after just 13 played. Since then Rovers have gone on an astonishing run, winning eight of their last ten games, moving up eight places to third in the table; the 14 point advantage once held by Bournemouth now stands at a solitary point.
Blackburn’s form is unquestionably brilliant, they’re out in front on their own in the eight-game form table, but cast your eyes down just two places to third and you’ll find this weekend’s opponents Hull. You could reasonably make an argument for Hull’s recent surge in form being even more surprising than Blackburn’s when you take into account their starting point. On November 3, Hull had scored just nine points from their opening 16 games, they had the worst goals tally in the division and nobody had won fewer games. The idea that after that opening 16 games Hull would then score 14 points in the next six, including a four game winning streak was extremely far-fetched, but that’s exactly what they did.
It’s never a good idea to try and find a single factor analysis to explain away a footballing trend, it’s normally far more multifaceted than that. Hull’s improvement points towards a switch to a three at the back and Blackburn’s players are perhaps finally executing Tony Mowbray’s plan of the past two of three seasons. Whichever way you slice it, the two teams here will be very much happier with their work over the past month or so.
One To Watch – Keane Lewis-Potter (Hull City)
Championship fans got their first glimpse of Hull’s Keane Lewis-Potter in the 2019/20 season, the young winger had debuted as a 17 year old in the FA Cup under Nigel Adkins, but Grant McCann gave him his league debut in the following campaign. Unfortunately for Hull, the emergence of Lewis-Potter was somewhat overshadowed by the club’s collapse and relegation in the second half of the season.
It was in League One on the left hand side of Hull’s attack that Lewis-Potter became a regular first teamer, 18 goal contributions in 33 starts and Hull winning the division would suggest things went pretty swimmingly. Back into the Championship and having paid his dues over the past few seasons Keane Lewis-Potter is now a key player for Hull, he’s started all 23 of their games and five goals and three assists already may see him go close to double figures in either, or both categories.
The current trend of playing three at the back in the Championship means Lewis-Potter is now playing at wing-back rather than in a front three. The move back puts Lewis-Potter further away from his forwards and gives him defensive responsibilities he didn’t have previously, however he’ll likely get more touches and, with Hull not dominating opponents in the way they did a division lower, more chance to influence their games. The comparisons to Jarrod Bowen probably grate a little on Hull fans, yes they’re both wide men and both have worn the black and amber, but they’re different players. Where Hull fans probably would agree is in time both could go down as having a big influence on the pitch and the balance sheet at the MKM.
One To Watch – Scott Wharton (Blackburn Rovers)
When Steve McMahon slid the ball across for Ian Rush to give Liverpool the lead in the 1987 League Cup final, who would’ve known one of football’s great streaks was about to end. The previous 145 times Rush had scored in a Liverpool game they’d never lost, but two goals from Charlie Nicholas turned the game and the run was over. Now, I’m not comparing the greatness of Ian Rush and the Liverpool sides of the 1980s to Blackburn and Scott Wharton, but the Rovers defender is building a nice streak of his own.
Seven games ago Wharton came into the Blackburn side, Rovers had just lost 7-0 at home to Fulham and a red card for Jan Paul van Hecke in the game would leave him suspended thus opening up a slot in the Blackburn defence. Wharton had last appeared in the Championship 11 months previously but a ruptured achilles meant he hadn’t kicked a competitive ball since. In his seven games back in the first team Wharton has partnered up with captain Darragh Lenihan, and more recently in a three centre-back system with van Hecke the third man.
Wharton probably thinks football has gotten very easy since he returned, Blackburn have won six and drawn one of his seven games, and equally impressively have kept clean sheets in each of their last five games. It’s been a long road back from injury from Wharton and in what looks like an unlikely automatic promotion challenge, Rovers have found themselves an equally unlikely undefeated talisman.
Key Battle – Di’Shon Bernard vs Ben Brereton-Diaz
Forgive me for breaking my arm whilst I pat myself on the back, but by the time I’ve padded out this sentence that’s 900 words writing about Blackburn without mentioning Ben Brereton-Diaz. The Rovers striker has been the predominant story and the wonderful narrative of embracing his Chilean heritage, adding the Diaz, and turning into a goal machine has been enough to attract the attention of even the most Premier League obsessed football observers.
The evidence for this magnificently surprising run from BBD not being some kind of ‘flash in the pan’ is starting to stack up in a good way for Rovers fans. It makes sense that he would get more chances in games after top scorer Adam Armstrong left in the summer, it makes sense that a player would really start to mature and improve at the age of 22, and it makes sense that a player so full of confidence would be scoring goals for fun. Brereton-Diaz has a stunning 19 goals this season at a rate of a goal every 103 minutes of Championship football. He has scored nine in his last nine games and hit more than one in a game on five separate occasions this season. I can remember a Blackburn striker in the 90s who used to do things like that.
Brereton-Diaz tends to attack coming in from the left hand side, so the latest Championship centre half to have a go at shutting out the red hot Chilean is Hull’s Manchester United loanee Di’Shon Bernard. Bernard is 21 and has stepped up to the Championship after a loan spell at Salford last season. Anyone who goes through the Old Trafford system is normally well prepared, but Bernard will have to call on all his strong pedigree to deal with the rampaging threat of Rovers in form frontman.
Inside Insight – Hull (Luke Flanagan, @lukeOT92)
City are in a much healthier position than the last time these two sides met. The Tigers actually dominated until Blackburn scored at Ewood Park, and then slumped to defeat. The change in both personnel and formation since November has seen a rapid improvement from McCann’s side, but they still lack a prolific threat up top. That will be something that the reported new owner Acun Illicali will prioritise in January – all being well. City played well in patches against Forest last time out but will need to be better at both ends to pull off a result.
Inside Insight – Blackburn (Dirk @roverseas)
Tis been a great first half of the season for Blackburn Rovers as we sit nestled within the early signs of playoff contenders. As we approach the tricky away day match against Hull City, Rovers bring with them a confidence which has been lacking for sometime, and its with this confidence that we hope Tony Mowbray can deliver us his masterpiece in the shape of a top 6 finish. Our momentum of 5 wins with 5 clean sheets has the Rovers faithful hoping we can navigate a festive period of fixtures and extend our run into 2022. In recent seasons, Rovers have faired poorly over the holiday break, however this season things seems to be a different beast. As for our performances on the pitch, Rovers have adapted a new style this season which favours less possession and making use of our chances in front of goal. The Chilean wonder Ben Brererton Diaz make get the headlines, however its in midfield where all the donkey work is done that should be given some major credit. Lewis Travis has been grinding away as our defensive midfielder for a few years now, and without his scrappiness Rovers would find it difficult to create those goalscoring chances. As we take a look at our opponents it’s a familiar name how used to fill Travis’ position at Ewood Park that will give Rovers fans goosebumps as we hope to see the return of the “King” of Ewood, Richie Smallwood lead out the tigers at the K-Com stadium. Rovers fans have nothing but respect for Richie, as his crunching tackles and no nonsense stuff in midfield led us to promotion at the first attempt from League 1. Rovers fans are riding a wave of euphoria right now, and we hope that wave can extend into 2022, however this is the Championship so we must be at our very best on each appearance and just hope we can traverse through any COVID 19 postponement nightmares so the momentum continues as long as possible!
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