Rovers reporter Rich Sharpe reflects on the Wycombe defeat, the position of Tony Mowbray and where the club finds itself.

The performance

This felt like the lowest point of the season, not necessarily because this was the worst performance of the 39 games, but just that it was an accumulation of what we’ve seen for too long.

It felt as though Rovers were going through the motions. Countless times they surrendered possession, a lack of care with the final pass saw them squander some excellent positions around the opposition box, and really struggled to create any clear-cut openings against the league’s bottom side.

This wasn’t simply a ‘score from a set play and hold on’ mission from Wycombe, they dominated the opening half an hour and could have been two goals to the good. After going 1-0 ahead from a free header two minutes after the re-start, they came closest to scoring the game’s second goal as Barry Douglas cleared off the line.

The sight of Sam Gallagher delivering an excellent cross from the right wing to the waiting Harvey Elliott and Tyrhys Dolan in the middle somewhat summed things up as an attacking force for the visitors.

For all the highlighting of Wycombe’s set play threat, a warning they failed to heed early in the second half, it was from a corner, and a free kick, and two free headers, that brought Rovers’ best chances of the game.

To go from the performance at record-chasing Norwich, the pressing and the promise, to an abject display, devoid of life, at the division’s bottom side demonstrated the inconsistency that has blighted Rovers, long before this current run.

It felt all too predictable, again. 

The manager

Few managers survive a run of one win in 11 matches. Tony Mowbray did that in early 2019. Fast forward two years, and he’s currently in the midst of a run of one win in 13.

To survive both shows there is great trust placed in him by the Rovers hierarchy. He will know that he can’t rely on that forever, but equally there doesn’t feel much panic around the club during the course of the post-January run.

The players must take some responsibility as well. It is widely accepted that this group is better than their league position, and points tally, suggests. And of course there is a responsibility of the manager to get more from the group of players that he has.

Yet the players have been part of that run too, given enough chances to come up with performances to prove that they are capable of challenging in this division, but for too long haven’t done enough, not sticking their hand up and dragging Rovers out of the situation they find themselves.

The manager is the only one fronting up to the press to discuss performances, yet no sign of the players, no shows of support for Mowbray, or an acceptance that performances haven’t been good enough.

That’s a long-term issue in football, and while it’s often the case that a manger will carry the can, offering a protection of the players, the number out of contract this summer, and unlikely to be part of the picture next season, means there will be an upheaval and turnover of the playing squad not seen since Mowbray’s first summer in charge.

But back to the manager; there have been mistakes, an overcomplication of systems and selections, and a failure to overcome the issues that have blighted them all season, not least defeats being all too predictable once going a goal behind.

Their fast starts of last season have disappeared, this a 23rd game out of 39 in which they have failed to score in the first half.

The issues aren’t necessarily mounting up by the week, just the main areas of concern are now so well known that it is becoming the norm, but yet to be addressed.

Barnsley, for instance, have scored (50) and conceded (43) the same amount as Rovers, yet sit 10 places higher and have 19 more points on the board. How is it that Rovers are getting edged out in so many games?

There is never any hiding behind results, particularly after just seven points from the last 39 available, but there are becoming fewer things to mask them. The injury situation has eased from where Rovers were ,at the shots on target count is diminishing, chances that were being squandered previously now aren’t being created, the only thing growing is the apathy with every winless game.

The situation

The real concern for Rovers, as a club, should be how this season of watching games on laptops and televisions has drained some supporters of their enthusiasm. A season which offered so much has faded to such an extent that some will have switched off and drifted away, and as the club have found previously, getting them back can be a difficult task.

Fans haven’t had their chance to have their say on proceedings inside the ground, the first indication to some of how they really feel could come when season ticket prices are released for 2021/22, and subsequently go on sale.

Many will come back out of excitement, others out of habit and loyalty, but there will be some that at the very least will take some thought at parting with their money after what’s becoming a long slog to the finish line for the third consecutive season.

At a time when Rovers fans should be working out mathematically calculations to keep them in the play-off mix, instead they’re looking at a team stuck in 15th place and hoping they don’t get drawn into any trouble.

It is now 17 defeats in 39 games, the same as the whole of last season, and only one behind the tally in 2018/19, and five, and four, wins short of those campaigns.

So progress won’t be measured by the league table, in terms of position or points, and with the prospect of many players moving on, Rovers are facing a rebuild. Of the 20 players that were involved yesterday, 13 face uncertain futures, either returning to their parent clubs on loan, or their contracts coming to an end.

To be even talking about next season, and it feels like we have for some weeks already, is such a disappointment. There still should be life in this season, these final eight games not simply an exercise in seeing what Rovers can get out of them, another drag to the finish line.

For everyone at the club it feels very much about getting these next seven games out of the way and re-setting. Yet that will likely be done under the cover of a reduced budget, senior players leaving and the prospect of them being replaced with loans and free transfers.