It seemed almost incredulous a few months back that Blackburn Rovers would be five points clear of the relegation places after having seen their team keep two clean sheets in a row for the first time this season. But then again, that’s the nature of the beast. That’s how football is. You can never predict anything in this game. Today, as Rovers boss Steve Kean guzzles his coffee he can cast an eye over the weekend’s impending fixtures safe in the knowledge that he’s not looking over his shoulder.
In a campaign overshadowed by protests, misguided ownership and some very testing results, Blackburn fans are finally looking forward to a positive finish to the season. And, much as they want to say it through gritted teeth, Steve Kean is due some gratitude for the team’s sudden upturn in fortune. The last three games in particular have seen Rovers show an incredible amount of survival instinct and togetherness. They picked up a credible point against Aston Villa at the start of the month in a 1-1 draw – a game which could have easily gone against them. They then followed this up with vitally important back-to-back wins against Wolves at Molineux (2-0; Junior Hoilett with a brace) and Sunderland at home (2-0 again; Hoilett and Ayegbeni Yakubu).
It seems that as their rivals around them are dropping points – Wigan, Wolves et al – Rovers are all of a sudden hitting a good vein of form and God knows they needed it after a season which has been less than enjoyable for all concerned with the club. Obviously the fans won’t be getting carried away and some factions firmly remain in the ‘Kean Out’ camp; a small purple patch of form will do little to change their minds. However, even the most ardent Kean hater would begrudge the Scotsman of this spell.
If ever there was a man who needed thick skin this season it’s the Blackburn Rovers manager of just over 12-months. Employed by Indian consortium Venkey’s in January last year, Kean has had to endure a very tough tenure as boss amidst a very mixed bag of results and resounding criticism from large sections of the club’s support. Let’s face it, if Roman Abramovich was in charge at Ewood Park Kean would’ve been given the boot long ago. But no, the Indian owners have backed Kean during tough periods of this season and, whisper it; Rovers are starting to show all the signs of a team who may well beat the drop.
It’s difficult to argue that the players aren’t playing for their manager. Around Christmas time, during a difficult run of fixtures, Blackburn came away from trips to Anfield and Old Trafford with four points – more than most teams take from those two visits. In both games Kean’s men showed incredible fighting spirit, particularly against Man United, a match in which they deservedly triumphed 3-2. After hitting a couple of stumbling blocks in January – namely a 7-1 mauling at the hands of Arsenal – Rovers have since picked themselves up again and are now five points above the drop (albeit having played a game more than their rivals). Simply cast an eye at the embrace shared by defender Grant Hanley and manager Kean after Hoilett’s goal in the Sunderland game last week – a fine example of the current togetherness that Blackburn are displaying.
There’s still a lot of football to be played and one bad result throws Rovers right back into the relegation picture but for now, Kean can enjoy some brief respite in a season which has provided very little. It’s the least the much-maligned Glaswegian deserves.
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