Rovers` Andrews - The New Atkins
Never before has there been such a universal shrug of the shoulders to greet the contract extension of a first-team Blackburn Rovers player as there was with Keith Andrews` new four year deal. However, despite the general negative consensus surrounding the Republic of Ireland international I feel he may have a more important value after all.
Alas, as I meandered home last week and waited for my evening footy match I delved into my dad`s haphazard mini library and dug out Kenny Dalglish`s autobiography and opened at the only chapters of interest - the Blackburn Rovers years.
Reading about that famous campaign persuaded me to put-off my afternoon tasks to unashamedly indulge in the full season review; on VHS!
It was whilst watching the re-run and admiring the style of football we played and never received enough praise for - incidentally, how come the likes of Tim Sherwood, Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley never earned more England caps - that the impact of a certain, unfashionable and slightly portly midfielder became apparent.
Towards the second half of our most famous season Mark Atkins, everyone`s favourite squad player, really rose to prominence, at times keeping Paul Warhurst - who up to that point was having a very strong season - out of the side.
His nous for timing a run into the box at the perfect moment returned a vital six goal haul during the season and his ability to link up play in a simple and understated way endeared him to the Rovers support. He stepped up and made 34 appearances in the league often filling in for the high-profile injured players that littered our treatment room.
His goal against Liverpool at Ewood Park to earn us a 3-2 win when coming from behind turned out to be vital. Watching his involvement reminded me of Keith Andrews and his first season at Blackburn.
In an almost perfect symmetry, Andrews clocked up 34 appearances last season and returned a respectable four goals; our top-scoring non-striker. Those goals proved to be as valuable to our cause last year as Atkins` were to our ambitions in 1995. His ability to arrive in the box at the key moment brought a winner against Hull and an equaliser against West Ham.
But what Andrews, like Atkins, doesn`t receive credit for is his technique striking a ball at goal from distance. Atkins popped up with a couple of screamers in the Championship winning season and Andrews demonstrated his ability with a winner against West Brom from distance.
With the likes of David Dunn, Steven Reid and Vince Grella hoping to be fully fit next season, Andrews` first-team chances will be reduced but it is testament to his hard work that Rovers fans no longer refer to him as a player out of his depth, in fact one Rovers fan wrote on the Lancashire Evening Telegraph website, "You have to hand it to Andrews…he really is our irish Mark Atkins." An apt quote with which to finish this piece.
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