Blackburn Rovers: 3 Players vital in their Promotion Push
Once a staple of the Premier League, from the title heroics of Shearer, to cult heroes like Morten Gamst Pedersen, Blackburn Rovers have suffered in the last decade. Relegated from the top tier in 2012 and subsequently to League one in 2017, dark clouds formed over Ewood Park as fans berated the club’s ownership for their fall from grace.
However, the Lancashire based side look closer than ever to a dream return to the Premier League. Jon Dahl Tomasson came in last summer to replace Tony Mowbray, who’d guided Rovers to 8th in 21/22. At Christmas, Blackburn sat third with 39 points. A winless run of eight games at the business end cost Blackburn a top six finish. A thrilling 4-3 win in which Rovers came from 3-1 down against Millwall, who also had their hopes dashed on the final day, wasn’t enough as Sunderland pipped them to sixth via goal difference.
This summer they have lost key players in Thomas Kaminski, Bradley Dack and 14 goal frontman Ben Brereton Diaz. In contrast to recent years, Blackburn have moved early in the market for three new additions. Niall Ennis, Arnor Sigurdsson and Sondre Tronstad have beefed up Tomasson’s squad, with further signings touted. Man City Youth prospect Kian Breckin is linked, whom Rovers have a good relationship with after previously housing defender Taylor Harwood Bellis on loan. Highly rated Leeds forward Sonny Perkins is also on the radar.
A squad with an average age below 24, one of the lowest in the EFL, shows Blackburn’s youth centered strategy is paying off. The work done at Brockhall by head of academy Stuart Jones and u21’s boss Mike Sheron in recent years is impressive. Talents such as Tyrhys Dolan, Adam Wharton and Jake Batty have attracted interest from the Premier League. If they stay together, this young crop of players could spearhead a return themselves. Here we look at three players that could help Blackburn gate-crash the promotion spots this time round.
They say the best things in life are free, and this could be the case with Harry Leonard. Having been in Rover’s academy since the under-10s, Leonard scored his first professional goal as Blackburn beat West Brom 2-1 in the opening fixture of the campaign. An all round striker, Leonard’s ability to drop deep and link play is coupled with clever movement and the physicality of an old fashioned number nine. Leonard’s 21 goal contributions in 19 games for Blackburn’s under-21 side earned his senior debut in a 2-2 draw with Huddersfield back in April.
One thing Rovers lacked last season was goals, scoring the least of sides that finished in the top half last season. Factoring in talisman’s Brereton Diaz’s departure, a gaping hole is left the nine position for Leonard to show his worth. Having featured in two of Blackburn’s opening three matches, the forward has the manager’s backing. So far the jump doesn’t look too big and who better to lead the line that one of your own.
Another academy graduate on the list is Adam Wharton. Lancashire born Wharton earned admirers with some classy displays last season. The 19 year-old signed a five year deal last September, fending off interest from Palace and Arsenal to remain at the club he’s been with since aged six. A progressive passer, comfortable off both feet and composed at the base of midfield, Wharton had a breakthrough season in 22/23. The England under-19 international won the Club’s young player of the season with some excellent displays. A man of the match performance in a narrow defeat to champions Burnley highlighted his quality, while a impressive 45 minute cameo in a Carabao Cup win against West ham showed maturity beyond his years.
English football could do with a left footed midfielder and Wharton looks to be a future star. Wharton averaged 4.6 tackles per 90, as well as 6.4 progressive passes last season. Much more than a destroyer, he also ranked 5th for attempted through balls per 90 and 1st among teenagers who played over 1000 minutes. His stats show what an all rounder Blackburn have on their hands. The solid partnership with Rovers captain Lewis Travis gave Tomasson’s side stability both in and out of possession. A stunning 25 yard effort on the final day last season showed he can be a threat from range and one of the club’s key men going into this campaign.
Club captain Lewis Travis’s tenacity and energy in the middle of the park will be vital. The tough tackling midfielder completes a hat trick of academy graduates on this list, with Travis promoted to the first-team back in 2018. Originally part of Liverpool’s youth set-up, Travis has become a important cog in Tomasson’s side. A defensive midfielder, Travis formed a good understanding with Wharton in midfield last season. The 25 year old had more license to go forward as Wharton anchored the centre, giving Blackburn better intensity when engaging in a high press.
With over 200 appearances for the club, Blackburn fans will be hopeful that Travis stays. Reports suggest Millwall had a bid rejected, with the Lions looking to enact revenge for last season by taking Rover’s leader. It looks likely Travis will stay, having started both league games so far and assisting Dilan Markanday’s opener in the win vs West Brom. More time in this box to box role gives Travis the platform to add goals and assists to his game, and lead his side to the Playoffs come May.