21 April ~ "We'll have to win two games and get a draw from somewhere," was Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean's recipe for avoiding relegation this week. With only two away wins all season and visits to White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge coming up, "somewhere" feels like it might just as well be over the rainbow. Victory at home to Norwich this afternoon is essential if Rovers are to have any hope of hanging on to the pot of gold that is Premier League survival. The Canaries were doing the singing when the sides drew in October, given that Rovers had been 3-1 up until the final eight minutes. Despite that, Norwich have not beaten Blackburn for 18 years. Today is not the day to surrender that record.
With only seven wins this season, Rovers have never really been free from peril, although some decent results in March saw us emerge blinking from the bottom three, with hope of escape starting to blossom. April, however, has been a disaster. A series of abject performances coupled with good results for QPR, Bolton and Wigan have shoved us back down to the keeping-Wolves-company slot in the table.
In fairness to our relegation rivals, if you can show enough spirit to beat the top teams at the sharp end of the season, you deserve to stay up. No such spirit seems in evidence at Ewood Park, given that defender Gael Givet felt compelled to issue a statement this week denying he had refused to play at Swansea.
Some fans' treatment of Kean has been unattractive, but his continued tenure is not the only source of frustration. The extent to which a formerly well-run club, with a good relationship with the community, has essentially disintegrated in just 18 months seems unappreciated by critics. By all accounts, the Rao family have little day-to-day involvement and are rarely seen in East Lancashire, with questions about Rovers' governance and finances being asked both locally and in parliament.
While Kean might be a better manager in different circumstances, watching QPR being led to safety by the man who took Rovers into Europe not so long ago is a painful indicator of the club's decline. A leadership with a stronger grip on affairs would surely have taken evasive action already, but no amount of poor results or fan pressure has been enough to stimulate change.
If relegation is the price of getting rid of the owners, some would be willing to pay it. But if Venkys will neither fix the problems nor sell to someone who might – such as the supporters' trust now putting together a bid – then only despair lies ahead in the Championship. Even if Steve Kean does find a few points down the side of the sofa, unless there is radical change, Rovers will just be doing it all over again next year. Dianne Millen