MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) assesses the odds ahead of Monday night’s FA Cup showdown between Newport and Blackburn.
Newport v Blackburn | Monday 19.15 | S4C
A penny for the thoughts of a Blackburn fan. Following Paul Lambert’s appointment, Rovers collected 11 points from a possible 15 to move to within two points of the top-six.
But the new manager bounce ended swiftly there after and play-off talk has been replaced by a fear of relegation. The dramatic decline that’s seen the 1995 Premier League champions take two points from an available 18, scoring just once, means they’ll make the trip to fellow strugglers Charlton on Saturday only five points above the bottom-three.
On Saturday, Blackburn were beaten at Ewood Park for only the first time in six matches but home supporters have seen their side win just three of their 14 fixtures as hosts and the full-time whistle of that 1-0 reverse to Brighton was greeted by boos and jeers.
Rovers fell behind to an early goal and failed to bite back. Ben Marshall’s free kick crashed against the post but the Lancastrians didn’t do enough to force an equaliser. Lambert has now W3-D3-L4 of his first 10 games in charge of Rovers and said post-match, “For this club to improve and to have any chance, we have to be a lot better as a group and a team.”
Whether the Scotsman was trying to hint at internal strife remains to be seen but it’s just another reason why I don’t want to be with Blackburn on Monday night. But the overriding factor is their severe lack of goals and creativity in the final third.
Blackburn’s last seven games have come against – Brighton (home), QPR (home), Cardiff (away), Bolton (away), Reading (away), Nottingham Forest (home) and Rotherham (home) – not the most taxing of opposition. Across those seven fixtures, Rovers have netted twice – one of which was an own goal.
But arguably most alarmingly, Lambert’s side have fired in just 24 shots-on-target – that’s an average of 3.43 per-game and seven of those came when welcoming QPR last midweek. Against Brighton, Cardiff, Reading and Bolton – four of their last five – they’ve landed three or fewer on-target efforts.
Football League goalscoring genius Jordan Rhodes hasn’t scored in nine matches now but his nine goals are still head and shoulders above his teammates. In fact, other than Rhodes, no Blackburn player has scored more than two goals this term.
Stalwart centre-half Shane Duffy is absent through injury too and since the start of last season, Blackburn kept 14 clean sheets in 43 fixtures (33%) with the former Everton trainee present. However, the 30 games he’s missed have seen the Red Rose keep their sheets clean on only five occasions (17%).
Finally, it’s worth noting that Lambert himself was subject of much debate last year when publicly stating his preference to focus on Premier League progression with Aston Villa rather than FA Cup success. Nevertheless, he only made three changes for a home third round tie with Sheffield United and still managed to suffer a defeat.
Rovers have only twice lost in FA Cup fixtures against lower-ranked sides (W14-D4-L2) but intriguingly, the two defeats have arrived in their last five encounters and they may not relish a trip to Wales and a Rodney Parade pitch that was waterlogged and unplayable just over a week ago.
For Newport, this is a big deal. It’s their first FA Cup third round clash in 30 years and although there’s no money-spinning potential from a fourth round meeting with divisional rivals Oxford, they’d stand a realistic chance of making the fifth round for only the second time in their 104-year history.
It’s not been an easy week for the Exiles, mind. Manager John Sheridan returned to Oldham but the club moved quick to promote Warren Feeney from his assistant role into the number one, their fourth boss in just over a year.
Feeney began with a 1-0 victory at fellow relegation battlers York but County were a touch fortunate to depart with all three points. Aaron Collins’ early goal did the business but the Minstermen had the lion’s share of the possession, the pressure and the chances.
The former Northern Ireland international only made a few tweaks at the weekend but hailed his team’s spirit, determination and desire in the aftermath whilst also claiming, “I want winners in the team and they certainly showed that today. Monday is a free game for us now.”
He’s right, of course. There’s no pressure on Newport to perform and I reckon they’ve enough in their locker despite a few issues in the goalkeeping ranks. On-loan cat Mitchell Beeney made his debut on Saturday but he’s ineligible and with Joe Day missing the weekend’s win due to personal reasons (it’s unclear whether he’ll return here), youngster Joe Green may have to don the gloves with defender Matt Taylor the back-up option.
Still, conditions look right for a possible upset. Since returning to the Football League, Newport have W20-D18-L20 at Rodney Parade in league action and exited the League Cup at Championship clubs Wolves and Reading in each of the last two campaigns.
But there’s no way I’d be with Blackburn at odds-on here, so I have to oppose the visitors.
Newport v Blackburn – Newport +0.50 Asian Handicap (10/9 BetVictor)
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