TONY Mowbray’s ‘defenders are coming’ comments from May last year have become somewhat infamous, viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media, and rolled out every time Rovers have struggled at the back.

Some fans would argue defenders, to the level they had hoped or expected didn’t arrive, with just loanees Tosin Adarabioyo and Greg Cunningham through the door, the latter now back at his parent club after his season was cruelly ended by a knee injury in October.

The biggest calls were selling goalkeeper David Raya to Brentford, and replacing him with another loanee Christian Walton, who wasn’t first choice, but someone Mowbray has stuck by. Meanwhile, captain Charlie Mulgrew, a mainstay under Mowbray was loaned out to Wigan, before taking the decision himself to return in January.

What is undoubted though, Rovers have improved no end defensively. Not perfect, but a big improvement.

Mowbray described some of the goals Rovers conceded last season as ‘ridiculous’ and he wasn’t wrong, 69 in all, 48 of which came away from home.

They claimed a 10th clean sheet in the win over Hull City on Tuesday night, two short of the tally for the whole of last season, and bar a second half Jackson Irvine shot that hit the top of the bar, the visitors rarely made inroads.

So where have Rovers improved, and how have they managed it?

Well consistency of selection has been key. They’ve named the same back five for the last six matches, with Darragh Lenihan and Adarabioyo paired together for 14 of the last 16.

From the 15 times they’ve played together, Rovers have taken 30 points. Lenihan and Adarabioyo complement each other well, and on their day, are a top six pairing.

Rovers have conceded 11 goals fewer than at the same stage last season, and now no longer needed to score two and three times to win matches.

Against Hull you felt that 1-0 would do it, and that builds belief and confidence throughout the team.

From the moment Lenihan opened the scoring with 17 minutes to play, that settled Rovers down. They are seeing games out much better, demonstrated by the fact they have conceded just seven times in the final 15 minutes of matches, contrasted with the 27 last season as countless points slipped through their fingers.

In 2018/19 they shipped 46 second half goals, so far they have conceded 21.

They have brushed up on defending from set pieces, conceded just six so far, the fewest in the division. Last season that figure was 13. Of the 38 goals conceded, five have been penalties.

It would be remiss not to mention the fact that in the summer Christian Walton will return to his parent club Brighton, as will Tosin Adarabioyo to Manchester City.

Rovers will need reinforcements again in the summer, but Mowbray’s short-term approach to defensive strengthening has paid off so far, though he will need to do it all over again once May rolls around. But for the here and now, Rovers are getting the job done.

Ryan Nyambe has improved immeasurably, while Amari’i Bell is gaining confidence with every performance at left back, starting every match in 2020 so far.

Full backs was an area Rovers were exploited too often last season, but that particularly avenue of attack for the opposition looks to have diminished somewhat.

Goalkeeper Walton too has had his critics but came up with a point-saving stop at Middlesbrough to deny Rudy Gestede earlier this month and made several key saves to keep Rovers in the game  against Fulham. 

While this season’s injuries have come in attack, Rovers were decimated at the back in the second half of the season, and should anything happen to either Nyambe, Lenihan or Adarabioyo in the remaining third of the season, then it would leave them vulnerable.

But credit where it’s due, you’re now no longer needing to watch Rovers defend through your fingers.

Asked if not needing to score two and three goals to win every game had been a big difference, Mowbray said: “Undoubtedly. I like our defenders, I think Bell has found some form and confidence.

“Nyambe has found confidence through sheer hard work on the training ground every day, passing the ball, receiving it and passing it.

“He has the physical attributes to play in any league but he has to keep improving his technical ability to play in the Premier League and I’m sure he’ll get there if he keeps his work ethic going.

“The two centre halves, Lenihan, if the goal he scored (against Fulham) had been allowed he’d have had four in five.

“I think Tosin oozes style and class. The biggest thing for him is that he doesn’t find it too easy and get lethargic.

“He shows his quality with his passing from the back through the lines, in to our strikers and wide players, that really helps our teams.

“I moaned to him at half time saying he has to make first contact with headers, he has to start heading the ball back over the halfway line and getting pushed about by (Josh) Magennis.

“I thought he stood up second half and showed he can do that.

“And he’s still only a young boy. He’s 6’4, yet he’s still a young boy mentally, and it can be okay to shout at them as long as afterwards you shake his hand and tell him how great he was when he got the job and he respects that.”