So Chris Blackburn has been put on the transfer list. Although the details of the dispute between him and Dean Saunders which seems to have led to this state of affairs are naturally between the two of them, it’s easy to imagine the direction it took, and if the obvious is correct, I can’t help feeling that Blackburn has hardly made a sound call.
It’s easy to imagine Blackburn being frustrated at seeing his hopes to grab a starting spot stymied at his every term as he surveyed the squad during close season: Lee Fowler’s brilliant friendly form meant he’d sewn up the defensive midfielder role; Curtis Obeng is first choice right back, and most gallingly of all, Nat Knight-Percival had overtaken him in the queue for the spot alongside Mark Creighton at the heart of the back four. So Blackburn complains that he won’t get a chance, and Saunders points out that Knight-Percival’s fine form in pre-season is in stark contrast to his own. Cue massive blow-up.
The problem is, I can’t see his argument. Don’t get me wrong; going to the manager to demand an explanation as to why you’re not starting can show a healthy hunger to contribute, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Clearly this exchange did cross a line though, and it’s hard to see Blackburn’s logic rather than Saunders’.
Fowler and Obeng’s places are nailed on, but we’re told he is specifically disappointed to not be getting a chance at centre back, an argument which doesn’t really hold water. My impressions of Blackburn in that position last season were less than favourable; in fact, when he started there at the beginning of the campaign I feared Saunders had made a mistake in bringing him in. He seemed to lack the physical aggression required for the position, as epitomised in a fay attempt to stop a break down the flank in the second game of the season which handed Forest Green a goal. However, his most memorable defensive trauma came against York City, when burly centre forward Michael Rankine bullied him from start to finish.
He certainly did nothing to make me see him as an option at centre back in anything but an emergency capacity; Blackburn may have had his nose put out of joint as a non-specialist takes his position, and Knight-Percival’s long term future at the back is unclear (we shouldn’t assume after two games that he’ll be a consistent, permanent option; he hasn’t faced a Rankine-sort of striker yet for a start!). However, his excellent start to the season clearly means he deserves an extended chance in the position, and he has certainly vindicated Saunders’ judgement in picking him ahead of Blackburn.
Now let’s keep things in perspective before it starts looking like a Blackburn-bashing session. He was redeployed in the defensive midfield role and settled into an excellent run of form. Admittedly his performances deteriorated at the end of the campaign, a fact I ascribed to him carried an injury. But surely he should be backing himself to be able to reclaim that spot, forcing Fowler further up the pitch, rather than throw it all in? And when the players and manager have shown remarkable loyalty, repaying the true heroism of the fans in keeping the club afloat, it just all feels a bit disappointing.
It’s not totally clear whether Blackburn was fit enough for selection for the second leg of the play-off against Luton last May. If he wasn’t, then last Saturday was the first time he’s been dropped by Dean Saunders in a year at The Racecourse. Doesn’t sound like grounds for a strop to me.