Pre-season - How's it all going?
Following on from the double header at the Globe Arena, in which we managed to win against Accrington Stanley and draw against hosts Morecambe, the clubs pre-season plans had to be tweaked following the recent terrorism in India. The squad had intended to head out to India before the Hong Kong tournament, however travel arrangements had to be re-scheduled as it wasn`t deemed safe for the players to visit the home country of the owners, Venky`s. An undersized squad minus Nikola Kalinic and El Hadji-Diouf, who are both expected to leave the club in the near future, flew directly to Hong Kong ahead of a tournament opener against recent nemesis, Aston Villa.
Steve Kean has not yet managed to make any significant additions to a squad that is slightly depleted following the departures of Phil Jones, Jermaine Jones, Roque Santa Cruz, Mame Biram Diouf and Benjani, who departed due to differing circumstances. This meant that a host of youngsters were flown out with the team to make up the numbers, highlighting how depleted and threadbare the squad actually is, and showing the importance of bringing in a few new faces as soon as possible, especially as they will need time to gel and settle into the current set-up. However Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina both did fly out to Hong Kong, and both could be pivotal figures in the upcoming season if the club is to progress and hopefully improve on the perilous conclusion of last season.
In the sweltering heat, both Rovers and Aston Villa named reasonably strong line-ups ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser; however the game undertook a slow tempo, with both sides struggling to acclimatize to the humidity. The only goal of the game came soon after the half-time interval, with Darren Bent`s off the ball movement causing havoc in the Rovers rearguard, allowing him to prod Barry Bannan`s inviting cross past Paul Robinson and into the net from close range.
Following Villa`s 1-0 triumph, the 2 sides awaited the result of Chelsea and Hong Kong champions Kitchee, which as expected was a severely one-sided affair, with Chelsea strolling to a 4-0 win, setting up a Chelsea v Aston Villa final. In the 3rd place play off however, Rovers decided to make only 2 changes ahead of their encounter with Kitchee.
Despite a sluggish start by the Premiership outfit, which saw Kitchee win and subsequently fail to convert a penalty, Rovers managed to take a slightly undeserved lead, with Mauro Formica starting the move before bravely flinging himself at Brett Emerton`s inch perfect cross to steer the ball home with around 10 minutes of the half remaining. The game continued at a slow, tepid pace, with neither side really able to exert themselves, until a real moment of class arose from David Dunn.
Following Ruben Rochina being stopped unfairly from running at the Kitchee back-line, Dunn took the resulting free-kick and managed to delightfully curl the ball over the wall and into the corner of the net, past the goalkeepers despairing dive.
Half time substitute Nick Blackman, who had looked largely unimpressive during both cameo`s during the Hong Kong tournament, then managed to win and steer home a penalty to seal a 3-0 victory for Rovers, a score line that flattered us after a performance in which fatigue clearly crept in following a week of intense work-outs in extreme temperatures. However Steve Kean and his coaching staff will have no doubt learnt various lessons from the 2 work-outs, and these are some examples of the positives and negatives throughout:
Mauro Formica - The main positive from the tournament, Formica managed to finally show the supporters what he is capable of, following a half-season of frustration following his winter move from Newell`s Old Boy`s.
The intuitive and creative play maker was impressive in particular during the first game against Aston Villa, as he managed to dictate the tempo, showing great awareness and technical ability, whilst proving he is capable of picking out a pass. Inevitably his performance against Kitchee was slightly more subdued, as fatigue seemed to slightly take its toll, however he was still able to score an excellently taken goal, whilst putting in maximum effort and still managing to outperform the likes of Pedersen and Emerton in midfield.
The Return of Vince Grella - Riddled with injuries ever since he was brought to the club under the stewardship of Paul Ince, Grella has only really been able to show in glimpses what he is capable of since his move from Torino. However the Australian midfielder has managed to feature in both games out in Hong Kong, and Steve Kean will desperately hope that Grella can managed to stay fit as he has proved in fits and starts what he can bring to the side; tough tackling and the capability to pick out a pass and start attacks.
The lack of fire power - The performance`s of Jason Roberts will have been nothing new to supporters, however one thing that should be stuck in the managers mind is that if the goal scoring burden is placed on his shoulders during the upcoming season, then it is sure to be long, arduous and quite possibly painful for all concerned!
Despite his commitment and attitude, Roberts has never been prolific, and his first touch and finishing leave a lot to be desired, whilst his tendency to concede free-kicks during our own set-pieces can infuriate even the most patient Rovers fan. With Kalinic almost certain to follow Benjani, Santa Cruz and Mame Diouf out of the exit door, at least 2 new additions to the front line are required if the owner`s are serious about the ambitious media claims they have continued to make.
Morten Gamst Pedersen - Really should be looking over his shoulder regarding his career at the club, following a few years of mainly lacklustre performances from a player who has the talent but fails to prove his worth on a regular basis. Pedersen yet again wasted the vast majority of set-pieces, which is one of the primary reasons for his inclusion in the team, and was shown how to take them by David Dunn, who deliciously curled his free-kick during the 3rd place play off.
One thing that Steve Kean will have known before the tournament is how vital it is to add to a squad that seems to be diminishing in numbers by the hour. Although the likes of Josh Morris and Jason Lowe can expect to be used more often in the upcoming campaign, there are other areas in the squad that certainly need strengthening ahead of the 2011/12 season, including a defender, a holding midfielder and 2 strikers as a bare minimum.
However supporters can feel aggrieved with the way that Venky`s have gone about their business thus far, with their constant changes in strategy and fascination of drawing up shortlists of players meaning that many feasible targets that could have certainly improved the squad have already moved on.
Indications seem to prove that movement may be imminent, but who is close to signing, and what will they bring to the side?
Radosav Petrovic - A Serbian international who is currently situated at Partizan Belgrade, Petrovic is relatively unheard of within English football but has previously been linked with Tottenham, Manchester United and Fiorentina. The highly rated 22 year old defensive midfielder has 18 caps for his country, and has reportedly agreed terms and passed a medical ahead of an imminent transfer, pending a successful work permit.
But what will he add to the Rovers squad? The void left by Jermaine Jones will be very difficult to fill by anyone, however Steve Kean has had to seek a cheaper alternative to the Schalke star after he became a real fan`s favourite during his loan spell, but a deal became impossible due to his high asking price. Petrovic can be seen as a cost-effective payer with plenty of potential, and his all action style is similar to Jones, however the Serb is also capable of adding to his game with goals.
Strikers - A problem position and an Achilles heel that has affected the club for a couple of years. With only Jason Roberts remaining as an available senior striker at the club, it seemed that Kean had finally snared some competition in the shape of Dundee United hit-man David Goodwillie, with reports suggesting that the 2 clubs had agreed a fee and that the highly rated forward was expected to sign as someone who could replace the out-going Nikola Kalinic.
However the deal seems to have failed at the final hurdle and the club may have to yet again look elsewhere with less than 2 weeks before the season opener against Wolves.
Another striker who has been recently been sounded out as a potential target is Monaco forward Park Chu-Young, who may be available as his club were relegated from Ligue 1. A quick and agile forward with excellent movement, Young would certainly add excitement to the club, and may be beneficial in terms of merchandise in the Far East, however he isn`t exactly prolific. However a potential front 4 of Olsson, Hoilett, Formica/Rochina and Young would certainly set the pulse`s racing and provides a serious danger to Premier League defences.
So overall, Steve Kean and his coaching staff will have learnt lessons from the recent tour of Hong Kong, however one thing he may have already been aware of is that strengthening the squad is something that needs to be done; otherwise we could be embroiled in yet another relegation battle during the upcoming season.