Squad must now shape up, says Blackburn Rovers boss
MICHAEL Appleton has demanded a response from his players in tonight’s game at Bolton Wanderers, knowing a revival in fortunes in Blackburn Rovers’ next four matches could drastically change the mood around the club.
Rovers slipped to an embarrassing home loss to Peterborough on Saturday, when they trailed 3-0 after only 27 minutes, and Appleton accused some of his players of lacking enough commitment after the game.
The Rovers boss has told his players that he expects a major improvement tonight when they travel to in-form Bolton.
That is followed by an FA Cup quarter final at Millwall on Sunday, then the eagerly-awaited fixture against rivals Burnley before another Lancashire derby with Appleton’s former club Blackpool.
The 37-year-old knows how important the next four matches will be to the atmosphere around the club and hopes his anger at the Peterborough display will have hit home to his squad.
“I tried to get it out of my system as best as I possibly could because we’ve got a game every two or three days, or certainly we have had over the last five or six weeks,” Appleton said.
“It’s getting the balance now of making sure the players still know you’re angry and disappointed with how the game panned out but obviously switching the focus to a big derby game against Bolton.
“It’s a big game for us because I want a reaction from Saturday.
“A performance is what I want. At this stage of the season a lot of managers will probably say it doesn’t matter about the performances, it is about points and nine times out of 10 I’d agree with them. But after Saturday for once I’ll allow myself to just concentrate on how we perform.
“These are good games to go into. When you win derby games, you don’t get more than three points but it feels like 10 points, and there’s obviously a cup quarter final in there as well.”
Appleton hauled off Danny Murphy, Bradley Orr and David Bentley at half time on Saturday and expects all three to have a point to prove in the weeks to come.
Murphy and Orr have both struggled to win over many of the Rovers fans this season but the latter apologised on Twitter after Saturday’s game for getting involved in a war of words with fans, insisting he took responsibility for his part in the defeat.
“It’s brave of him,” Appleton said. “He has taken responsibility and that’s all you can ask of players, to take it on the chin.
“He’s a passionate lad, he’s a Scouser, he takes things to heart and I’m glad that he’s done that because he is an honest lad and he does care.
“He knows when he’s not played particularly well.
“As professional footballers you know that at some point in your career you’re going to get a bit of stick whether it be a manager, colleague, fan, pundit, whoever it may be.
“In the heat of the moment it’s difficult to keep your emotions in check. It’s one thing reacting to something, it’s another being big enough to say ‘okay, I did wrong there, I shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘I’m going to prove that they’re wrong’ and do it in a positive manner.
“That’s the message I’ve been saying to the players, to make sure our reaction from the way we went about it in the first half an hour, make sure you give me a good reaction to that.
“I think they did it initially in the second half and hopefully they will do it again at Bolton.”
While Bolton are unbeaten in six and are up to 10th in the table, Rovers are now 10 points behind the play-off spots in 12th.
Appleton says he has not prioritised Sunday’s FA Cup clash over the league, insisting the right response tonight is the most important thing.
“If they know me by now and what I’m about, if any of them are thinking about the Millwall game now, they won’t be playing against Millwall,” he warned.
Rovers still have a lengthy injury list ahead of tonight’s game, although Leon Best is getting closer to a first-team return after a setback on his comeback from a long-term knee injury.
“We’re hoping he’s going to be training this week,” Appleton said.
“We wanted him to be involved on Saturday but he had a bit of a reaction to his knee and it swelled up a bit.
“We’ve had the liquid took off his knee and luckily there was no blood in that, which is a good sign.”