Club Focus – Blackburn – Top half finish achievable despite set-back

Blackburn’s brilliant nine-match unbeaten run at home came to an abrupt end as the Lancashire side produced a brave, battling display against Everton. Indeed, Rovers were last beaten on their own turf way back in December and Sam Allardyce’s men looked to avoid defeat once again at the weekend, only to concede a late equaliser from the ever-influential Tim Cahill. Despite the disappointing defeat, Rovers still have a reasonable chance of finishing in the top half of the Premier League.

On quite a few occasions this season, Blackburn have gone a goal behind awfully early in their fixtures at home – and this was once more the case against the Toffees. For a few moments during the game, it seemed as if Big Sam’s side were on course to produce yet another spectacular comeback and gain at least a point, just as they had done against Aston Villa, fierce rivals Burnley, troubled Portsmouth and title-chasing Chelsea earlier this campaign – this was not to be. Nevertheless, the stubborn attitude of the players will unquestionably have satisfied the manager.

The first half of the match certainly seemed to have the feel of a tired end-of-season encounter. Everton started vibrantly and the ingenuity of Mikel Arteta was visible for all to enjoy as he helped his side keep possession of the ball relatively well. However, despite his outstanding ability on the ball, the Spaniard should undoubtedly have been sent off for a petulant poke in the eye of winger Morten Gamst Pedersen. Bizarrely, the referee booked both players and Arteta remained on the pitch to help his side to victory.

Blackburn came out much stronger in the second period and arguably scored their best two goals of the season in a short spell that saw three goals scored within the space of merely twelve hectic minutes. Frenchman, Steven Nzonzi scored a magnificent goal as he sensationally shot from an outrageous 35 yards out. Everton substitute, Yakubu scored soon after having been on the pitch for only twenty-two seconds, but more magic was still to come from Rovers, this time from striker Jason Roberts – who allowed the ball to bounce a full 25 yards away from goal and then struck the ball sweetly only for it to end up in the bottom corner of the net. Though Rovers lost the game at the death, this performance really did demonstrate huge quality from the side, in particular the excellence of the two goals scored.

Steven Nzonzi was the main focus after the game as Allardyce paid tribute to the young Frenchman and the incredible ability he has shown in his debut season at the club. The manager praised the midfielder’s sublime strike saying: “Steven Nzonzi’s goal – our first – was tremendous, you won’t have seen a better one anywhere in the country today, or perhaps all season.” Allardyce is a giant fan of his young defensive midfielder, who has come a long way since being snapped up from French lower-league side Amiens, for a fee of just £400,000. Having played every league game for Rovers this season, Big Sam should be confident that the tall youngster – dubbed the new Patrick Vieira – can blossom into a wonderful player over the coming years.

Arsenal are the final team to visit Ewood Park this season, though that fixture is sandwiched between two important away games for Rovers. Wolves are next up for Allardyce’s side, a game that Blackburn should be able to win if they perform well enough. Phil Jones is likely to start yet another game in the heart of defence, and the young centre-back has performed very well in the opportunities he has been given towards the end of this season. With the emerging talent of Jones and Nzonzi, plus the likes of Hoilett and Martin Olsson, one thing is certainly for sure – Sam Allardyce’s men have a bright future ahead of them.

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