Club Focus – Blackburn – Rovers face defining weekend on and off the pitch

Events over the last week prove that there is never a dull moment at Blackburn Rovers. Off-field issues will always make the headlines, but in reality, performances on the pitch are far more important, especially at this critical stage of what has been a topsy-turvy season. The following few days could have a significant impact on the future of this proud Lancashire club. Should Rovers – one of only four teams to have ever won the prestigious Premier League title – survive in the top-flight, then this coming summer promises to be one of the most exciting ever seen at Ewood Park. However, a disastrous plunge into the Championship would almost certainly see some of the club’s promising young players and experienced stars seek new homes. The stakes are extremely high for Steve Kean’s battlers.

Prior to the last set of fixtures, several fans and pundits felt that the Blues, who have lost just twice since the middle of March, would all but guarantee safety if they could hold table-topping Manchester United to a draw at Ewood Park. Rovers did exactly that and clinched what could still yet prove to be a vital point against the newly-crowned champions. On the face of things, a 1-1 draw against Sir Alex Ferguson’s richly-assembled side is an impressive result, particularly when you consider that Rovers took an embarrassing 7-1 mauling at Old Trafford earlier this season. But with fellow strugglers Wolves, Wigan and Blackpool all winning on the same weekend, Rovers’ fate still hangs by a fine thread.

Versatile Aussie ace Brett Emerton, who has recently been linked with a move to Sydney FC in the A-League, gave the Blues a shock lead within the first 20 minutes – a goal which gave the home crowd hope that they could poop the visitors’ party. Rovers toiled and grafted for the majority of the game. United’s attack-minded awesome foursome of Nani, Valencia, Rooney and Hernandez were stifled, for 73 minutes. Up until that point, courageous Rovers had made more successful tackles, blocks, interceptions and clearances than their opponents. But Wayne Rooney’s controversial penalty changed more than just the scoreline.

The closing stages of the game were bizarre. United were more than content with the point which would gift them the title with a game to spare, while Rovers were suddenly afraid of pressing forward in search of a winner. Sir Alex’s side completed an incredible 225 passes after scoring their goal – a statistic that would make Spanish giants Barcelona proud. A third of the visitors’ total number of successful passes of the afternoon came within those final 20 minutes. While many astute Rovers fans understood that going for the win may have allowed the Red Devils to punish their side on the counter attack, some Blues supporters were left unimpressed by the safety-first approach. Kean will argue that the Ewood Park faithful would have taken a point against Manchester United before the game, but some fans feel that based on Rovers’ performance in the first 72 minutes; they could have clinched all three.

The Blues now head into the final game at Molineux, knowing that a win would definitely see them safe. A draw or defeat would only send Rovers down if any two of Birmingham, Blackpool or Wigan were to win. Those teams would love to be in Rovers’ position right now, but Kean’s side must not take that for granted. The Lancashire side only have to look at what happened last weekend to realise that things at the bottom can quickly change.

If Rovers are unfortunate enough to finish the season in the bottom three, then Kean might be forced to look back at the team’s lackadaisical approach to final 20 minutes of the game against United. That point, deemed so precious at the time, could yet come back to haunt them. On the other hand, should Rovers survive, then the manager will be celebrating his decision to ‘stick’ and not to ‘twist’ during that fixture. Whether he did the right thing by making this brave choice remains to be seen. However, to the fans, big performances on the pitch and Premier League survival this weekend are far more important issues than alleged incidents involving drink-driving and ‘bungs’. Those matters are simply unwelcome distractions.

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