The Blues were without some key players for the vital clash against Gerard Houllier’s men and the absentees were sorely missed. Influential skipper Chris Samba was ruled out with a virus, leaving inexperienced Scotsman Grant Hanley to partner Ryan Nelsen at the heart of the defence. Gael Givet was only named on the bench, whilst midfield maestro David Dunn and in-form Canadian star Junior Hoilett also missed out; therefore it was somewhat unsurprising to see that Rovers lacked creativity and imagination.
Hoilett’s absence in particular was difficult to Rovers to deal with. The exciting 20-year-old winger has been in sparkling form in recent weeks, with Rovers using both his and Martin Olsson’s blistering pace down the wings to devastating effect in the past. With Hoilett injured and Olsson having to deputise for Givet at left-back, the Blues failed to provide any real width and exploit Villa’s full-backs.
With a lack of options at his disposal, Kean decided to experiment by selecting a cluster of central midfielders in order to protect the defence and win the battle in the middle of the park. On paper, the only truly attacking players in the starting line-up were Morten Gamst Pedersen and Roque Santa Cruz, and it appeared as though Rovers would attempt to hit Villa on the break. With Keith Andrews, Vincenzo Grella, Jermaine Jones and Brett Emerton playing alongside each other, the midfield seemed to be relatively cramped and was rather dysfunctional. The visitors lost possession on several occasions and in truth it was simply a disjointed performance by Rovers.
In fairness, the defensive approach worked reasonably well for the Blues in the first half, but they found themselves 3-0 down by the time Kean had introduced Roberts and Kalinic in order to try and get back into the game. And based on statistics from Rovers’ topsy-turvy season so far, the contest was all but over the moment Ashley Young cooly converted a penalty in the 49th minute. The Blues are the only Premier League side who have failed to secure a single point when they have gone behind in a match this campaign. Blackburn will have to show more spirit in their crucial remaining games if they are to avoid being dragged into the drop-zone.
Many will look at this result and come to the conclusion that Rovers are in serious trouble, and some of the critics will point the finger at the manager. However, it must be remembered that Kean was without three leading players in Hoilett, Dunn and Samba, whilst Olsson had to slot in at left-back. Although there will be question marks over Kean’s forced team selection, the Rovers boss should soon have those influential players back in action to give him more options. And when they do return, Blackburn should have enough quality within the side to stay out of relegation trouble.