Blackburn Rovers began the season targeting a top-half finish after Sam Allardyce had guided them to 10th spot in 2009/2010. Such a repeat was always going to be a tall order given that Allardyce did not spend a single penny on strengthening the squad – which was already built on a shoestring budget – in the summer. Experienced Zimbabwean striker Benjani and defensive midfielder Herold Goulon were picked up on free transfers, while Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf joined Rovers on a season-long loan.
After winning two of their first 10 league games, the Blues found themselves sitting just a place above the relegation zone with a measly nine points. Two wins from their next three eased the nerves of the Rovers faithful, before Indian poultry giants Venky’s completed a takeover of the club. The Rao brothers were presented to the crowd prior to Rovers’ 2-0 victory over Aston Villa, but a 7-1 mauling at Old Trafford just six days later reportedly left the owners reeling. A 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers saw Rovers rocket into the top half, but Allardyce’s fate was sealed just a week later after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers.
At that point, Blackburn were sitting in a respectable 13th position and five points above the drop zone. The decision to sack Allardyce and replace him with first-team coach Steve Kean angered fans and was widely criticised. Kean’s managerial career did not get off to the best of starts, but a 3-1 victory over struggling Liverpool and a ‘double’ over promoted West Bromwich Albion saw the Scot’s popularity rise as Rovers climbed into 7th.
However, all was not going to plan off the field. Venky’s were ridiculed for trying to lure Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho and former England captain David Beckham to Ewood Park. However, Rovers managed to snap up exciting youngsters Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina in January, while the energetic Jermaine Jones and former favourite Roque Santa Cruz were brought in on loan. Venky’s were given a good reception when they attended the game against Tottenham Hotspur in February, but things quickly started to go downhill.
Four defeats from five games saw Rovers slip down the table, while draws against Blackpool, Arsenal and Birmingham City plunged them deeper into relegation trouble. The Blues were hovering just a single point above the relegation zone following back-to-back defeats against Everton and Manchester City, leading a cluster of fans to protest against the manager and owners. There was no repeat of these demonstrations when Rovers beat Bolton five days later and deserved draws against West Ham and Manchester United eased the pressure on Kean. Rovers entered the final game knowing that a win would see them safe. A fabulous first-half show at Wolves saw Kean’s side 3-0 up. They ended up winning the game 3-2 and finishing the season in 15th – four points above the relegation zone. Supporters are now hoping Rovers can push on next season as Venky’s look to invest over the summer.
Coach – Steve Kean: The ever-positive Kean has averaged just over a point a game since taking charge and some supporters are still questioning his management credentials. However, performances improved in the last weeks of the season and a growing number of fans are willing to give the optimistic Scot a chance to prove himself next term.
Player of the season – Junior Hoilett: Where would Rovers be without this Canadian wizard? The skilful star has shone under Kean. Whether he is making rampaging runs down the wing or using his quick feet when tucked in behind the striker, Hoilett causes real problems for opposition defenders. The 20-year-old is expected to sign a long-term deal this summer.
Turning point – Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Bolton Wanderers: Martin Olsson’s delicious left-footed drive during this spirited display ended Rovers’ horrific run of ten games without a win and finally gave the supporters something to cheer about. Kean’s side went on to collect five crucial points from their final three games – securing Premier League football for an 11th consecutive season.
Average starting XI:
Salgado – Samba – Nelsen – Givet
Emerton – Pedersen – P. Jones – Olsson