When Blackburn Rovers’ top-scorer Yakubu was sent off after just 23 minutes at Ewood Park on Saturday, the stage was set for vastly experienced striker Jason Roberts to lead the line in the Nigerian’s absence. However, as has been the case for almost a month now, Roberts had not even been handed a place on the bench and David Goodwillie was called upon instead. Grenadian forward Roberts is thought to be missing out on the action due to contractual issues, but with Yakubu now suspended for three games and Rovers battling to stay out of the bottom three in the Premier League table, those issues will surely have to be resolved in the coming few days.
It has been reported that Roberts faces a similar issue to that of Michel Salgado, who has claimed that he is being left out of the side because of a clause in his contract that states he would be entitled to another year at the club if he plays beyond a certain amount of games this season. While Blackburn and Steve Kean have denied this, the last time Roberts was in Rovers’ 18-man squad was for the crunch clash against local rivals Bolton Wanderers on December 20. And the last time the 33-year-old actually played for the Lancashire outfit was on December 17, when he came on as a second-half substitute in the defeat against West Brom. Yakubu’s rich vein of form – the £1.5m summer signing has notched up 12 top-flight goals so far this campaign – has overshadowed Roberts’ current selection problems. But can Rovers really afford to keep a striker who played a crucial part in their survival bid last season on the fringes of the squad?
The situation seems even more bizarre given that manager Steve Kean has voiced his concerns over a crippling injury list in recent months. With key players such as Scott Dann, Gael Givet, Chris Samba, Ryan Nelsen, Martin Olsson and Junior Hoilett in and out of the squad at various times due to fitness problems so far this season, some fans have found it slightly bemusing that contractual issues have prevented him from calling upon both Roberts and former Real Madrid star Michel Salgado during these tough times for the club.
Some supporters have criticised Roberts for what they believe to be his lack of goals in the past, but what the striker brings to the table is great experience, an ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play, a strong willingness to work hard for the team and importantly great commitment and effort. Last season, Rovers’ number 30 created four and scored five goals in the Premier League – including one against Wolves in the crucial final-day fixture.
While Scottish youngster Goodwillie has shown signs of improvement lately, it appears as though the £2m summer signing would work far better alongside another striker as opposed to leading the line by himself, like he did against Fulham. Goodwillie may well use the next three games as an opportunity to show the manager how good he really is at this level, but should he pick up an injury or a suspension, then Rovers would have just rookie forwards Nick Blackman and Jordan Slew left available to call upon as things stand. Given how crucial the next few games are for Kean and Blackburn, it would be a good idea for the club to sort out Roberts’ contractual issues as soon as possible, or splash the cash on a new striker. Failure to explore either of these options could well result in Rovers slipping back into the drop-zone by the time The Yak is back.
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