Rovers were unbeaten on their travels until last week, only to suffer back-to-back defeats at Huddersfield Town and Blackpool heading into the international break.

The similarities? It was a one-goal defeat, Ben Brereton was on the scoresheet, Rovers conceded poor goals, picked up injuries, but most crucially, they were without Darragh Lenihan.

The others may simply be a coincidence, but Lenihan’s absence marrying up with a defeat has happened too often for that to be seen in the same light.

The Blackpool defeat was the 28th time in which the Irishman hasn’t been in the starting line-up since promotion from League One, all but one of those, a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough in December 2018, because of injury or suspension.

Of those, Rovers have lost 18, picked up 18 points, kept two clean sheets and shipped 50 goals in the process.

Rovers’ season was always likely to be dictated by the number of injuries they picked up, a squad left threadbare by fitness concerns and a host of summer departures, but the availability of Lenihan appears to be crucial to their positive results.

That’s not to say that Lenihan’s form has been rock solid throughout the duration of the last three-and-a-quarter seasons, but now wearing the captain’s armband, his influence on the side is undoubted.

When Lenihan is fit, he starts, the Middlesbrough draw three years a go a rare exception, not least given the fact it followed a 4-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday where Paul Downing partnered Charlie Mulgrew.

His absences since have, bar an eight game absence between February and March 2019, been shortlived but on every occasion seen him put straight back into the heart of the defence at the first available opportunity.

The developing theme hasn’t gone unnoticed with manager Tony Mowbray, who said after the weekend’s defeat: “Is it too simplistic to conclude that we would struggle without Lenihan and (Ryan) Nyambe on a long-term basis? Maybe it is.

“But football is ultimately about footballers, yet my concerns surround the depth of the squad, because if the team’s results drop away so dramatically with only one or two injuries as they have, it becomes a huge concern.”

Rovers have looked to address their strength in depth in defence in recent windows, not least given Daniel Ayala’s fitness struggles over the last year, but the Spaniard has been one of the stand-out performers in the early weeks of the campaign.

Scott Wharton would have proven to be a more than capable deputy were he not still sidelined by the ruptured Achilles injury sustained in December, while loanee Jan Paul van Hecke, brought in to provide further cover, isn’t yet up to speed.

Hayden Carter has become a very useful member of the squad so far, filling in for both Nyambe and Lenihan during their absence, but Mowbray’s preference would have been for him, as well as Tyler Magloire who started at right back at Blackpool, to have gone out on loan, and for Lenihan and Ayala to keep up their partnership which has been the backbone of Rovers’ positive results.

The hope is that Lenihan will be back available by the time that Rovers return to action after the international break against Coventry City on October 16.

Interestingly, their four wins without Lenihan have all come at Ewood Park, with victories over Sheffield Wednesday in December 2018, Wigan Athletic in March 2019, Sheffield Wednesday in November 2019 and Derby County in April 2020. Their only points away from home have come in the aforementioned Middlesbrough game, and a 2-2 draw at Birmingham City in 2018/19, the others have all been defeats.

Their win ratio without Lenihan stands at just 14.2 per cent.

  • Rovers without Lenihan 2018/19: West Brom 1-1 Rovers, Wigan Athletic 3-1 Rovers, Rovers 4-2 Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough 1-1 Rovers, Rovers 0-1 Bristol City, Reading 2-1 Rovers, Rovers 0-1 Middlesbrough, Birmingham City 2-2 Rovers, Rotherham United 3-2 Rovers, Rovers 0-1 Preston North End, Rovers 3-0 Wigan Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday 4-2 Rovers
  • Rovers without Lenihan 2019/20: Fulham 2-0 Rovers, Rovers 2-2 Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City 1-0 Rovers, Preston North End 3-2 Rovers, Rovers 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United 2-1 Rovers, Rovers 2-2 Swansea City, Derby County 3-0 Rovers, Barnsley 2-0 Rovers
  •  Rovers without Lenihan 2020/21: Rovers 0-0 Cardiff City, Bristol City 1-0 Rovers, Nottingham Forest 1-0 Rovers, Rovers 2-3 Watford, Rovers 2-1 Derby County
  •  Rovers without Lenihan 2021/22: Huddersfield Town 3-2 Rovers, Blackpool 2-1 Rovers