Liverpool not the only club to have performed below expectations in the league
8 April ~ With diminishing hopes of a return to the Premier League, tonight’s FA Cup quarter-final replay offers Blackburn Rovers supporters their only chance of success in the long term. As player acquisition has been restricted by Football League financial fair play rules and mounting debts has forced budget cuts by owners Venky’s, the likes of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes are expected to be looking elsewhere come the season’s end. In these terms it’s easy to see why the game will be the biggest home gate for several seasons.
A Championship season that started brightly has gradually drifted away, all the more frustrating when the table shows that there are no stand-out teams in the division and that just a couple more experienced players and a manager with a little extra nous at this level would probably have seen a play-off finish. Austerity economics have hit Lancashire hard with numerous empty shops, pubs and restaurants in a once vibrant Blackburn town centre and, as funding from India has also dried up, the terrible state of the once award-winning Ewood Park pitch is a clear sign of the club’s decline.
Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions now appear to have ended and so a game that might once have been a distraction in the midst of a tough campaign has become the team’s main focus. Brendan Rodgers will be aware that some of the club’s dafter supporters have begun clamouring for his head and with Raheem Sterling’s interview stirring up rumours of unrest he knows that a Cup win would at least buy him more time. But with Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Emre Can all suspended for a game that comes on the back of a very poor performance against Arsenal, Liverpool will feel mounting pressure to beat a mid-table championship team to reach the semi-final.
Blackburn will hope that Josh King has sufficiently recovered from his recurring hamstring injury to use his pace against a makeshift Liverpool defence and that their underdog status will give them the freedom to play some of the good football seen in patches during the season. This replay will show just how much getting to Wembley means to two clubs in very different positions but both with a burning desire for some success at the end of disappointing seasons. Bruce Wilkinson