Club Focus – Blackburn – Big Sam’s mini miracle

Blackburn Rovers ended their season with a fantastic victory over Aston Villa – a result that guaranteed the Lancashire side an excellent finish in the top half of the Premier League table. Critics of Sam Allardyce have clearly been proven wrong – some were calling for his head just a matter of months ago. Those critics should hang their own heads in shame, as the former Bolton boss has managed to perform nothing short of a miracle at Ewood Park – a ground where they spectacularly finished the season unbeaten against the traditional ‘top four.’

Having lost experienced Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz to moneybags Manchester City for a decent sum of £18m, Allardyce was given the full backing of the board to reinvest a portion of that money and bring some fresh new faces into the club. In came Lars Jacobsen, Steven Nzonzi, El-Hadji Diouf, Michel Salgado and Pascal Chimbonda for nominal fees, though Big Sam did spend the majority of his budget on bringing talented striker Nikola Kalinic to Ewood Park. The young Croatian may not have set the Premier League alight in his first campaign, but his brilliant goals in cup competitions suggests there is certainly plenty of hope for the twenty-two year old. The other signings have played their part in Rovers successful season too, though a special mention must be given to Frenchman Steven Nzonzi, whose solid performances in defensive-midfield earned him the title of Blackburn’s Player of the Season. Allardyce branded the former Amiens youngster ‘a major find’ – he is thought to have cost the club just £500,000.

Despite making largely successful signings, some commentators unfairly pointed to and questioned the rising average age of Blackburn’s squad. To put it simply, Rovers cannot afford to buy Europe’s brightest prospects at sky-high prices. Older players are cheaper to purchase and bring with them a wealth of experience, something which suits a club of Blackburn’s stature and budget. Nevertheless, Big Sam has responded accordingly, drafting in several exceedingly fine young talents from the Academy and Reserve sides. Olsson, Hoilett, Linganzi, Jones and Hanley have all played some part in Rovers bid to finish tenth – all have been incredibly impressive in their performances. Although Swedish left-back Martin Olsson and Canadian winger Junior Hoilett may have caught the eye with their blistering pace, it is Englishman Phil Jones who has glittered like gold, performing consistently well against world-class opposition such as champions Chelsea and runners-up Manchester United. Keeping Drogba and Berbatov largely at bay is no easy feat, yet Jones’ heroics have seen him already being compared to John Terry. Jones is now a fan’s favourite and the 18 year-old centre-back will look to consolidate his place in Rovers starting XI next season and provide tough competition for captain Ryan Nelsen and the ever impressive Chris Samba.

So, having guided Blackburn to a top-ten finish on a shoestring budget, how could Sam Allardyce improve for next season? Well the answer is relatively clear. The boss has admitted himself that a top striker is a key priority when it comes to preparing for the next campaign. Kalinic has been settling into life in the Premier League and will undoubtedly be a much better and more prolific goal scorer next season; nevertheless Big Sam is still short of options up-front. The ageing Jason Roberts is still an excellent option to have, but Rovers clearly need to start scoring more goals in order to grab more points on their travels and finish higher up the league. Ivorian hit man Aruna Dindane has long been touted to join Rovers and he would be a welcome addition to the squad. Even with Dindane on board, Allardyce will be looking to strengthen his striking options even further. It is highly likely that Blackburn will sign two good quality strikers in the summer – budget permitting.

Overall, this has been an amazing season for Rovers fans. Having stared at relegation hard in the face last campaign under the management of Paul Ince, Big Sam came in and has certainly transformed things at this Lancashire club. Amongst the many achievements this season, Allardyce also steered Rovers into the Carling Cup semi-finals, where a resilient Blackburn side lost 7-4 on aggregate to a decent Villa side. The score line indicates the incredible effort the players put into that semi-final, as they rather unfortunately crashed out of the competition. Still, with some of the most affordable season-tickets on offer in the whole of the football league, the chairman has played his part in making football more reasonably priced for the fans and consequently generating a good crowd and matchday atmosphere at Ewood Park. Fortunately for spectators, they managed to witness a fantastic home campaign and caught glimpses of Rovers potential stars in the process. One thing is for certain – the future is bright at Blackburn Rovers.

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