Last night’s 2-0 win against Martin O’Neil’s resurgent Sunderland sees Blackburn extend to six points above the relegation zone. Goals from Hoilett and Yakubu gave Kean his first back-to-back wins as manager, and sees them take ten points from the last five games. In a season that has seen monumental abuse from admittedly a section of the Blackburn crowd towards their manager Steve Kean, it appears that perhaps finally the team’s fortunes are changing, and whilst there is still seven or eight games left of the season, the recent results suggest that Blackburn may be making the push to save their season.
Appointed in somewhat controversial circumstances following the sacking of former Manager Sam Alladyce, it’s fair to say that Kean was not a popular appointment. Results last season did nothing to encourage the fans, as their mid-table security was compromised, and Kean dragged them dangerously towards the relegation zone. Only a last day win against Wolves prevented Blackburn from being relegated. The Venky Group held firm though. As far as they were concerned, they had their man, and they were giving him a chance.
The start of this season began as the previous had ended, losing five and drawing two of their first eight games. Cue some of the most hateful and passion-fueled abuse towards a manager that this country has seen for a long time. Every game seemed to last an entire Saturday, with protests before the game, sit-in’s after the game, and even banners and booing during the game. Facebook groups were created, ‘Kean Out!’ Twitter campaigns circulated, and this group of Blackburn fans (as stated above this was not all of them, but a significant number) were prepared to do anything to get Kean out! The protests before the game were aggressive, although no physical violence was every carried out. It was a hostile atmosphere every game, and yet the players kept plugging away, and Kean kept telling the fans to be patient, that they were doing everything right, and that he would get them out of it. He also had his own message for the fans, asking them to target him as much as they want, but to let the players play with their support for 90 minutes a week.
The abuse continued, and even other Managers began to rush to Kean’s aid, with big names such as Sir Alex Ferguson condemning the hatred that was being aimed at Kean, and everyone trying to explain that this was not going to help their football club escape the relegation fight that they were now so clearly involved in. Kean continued to remain dignified. Not once to my knowledge did he insult the fans. He agreed that they had freedom of speech, and were allowed to vent their frustration. He also kept reminding them that the players and him were hurting just as much from the poor results, but that he would keep trying.
The odd thing was that the performances were not that bad. Even now, there are only 5 or 6 teams in the whole league who have scored more goals. The attacking football was free-flowing and dangerous, but the defence had clear issues, and their inability to keep a clean sheet was their biggest vice. It was clear to any neutral watching, that the hostile environment that the fans had created at Ewood Park was rubbing off on the players, and their lack of confidence was leading to their shipping of goals. Despite all this, Blackburn began to pick up the bizarrest of points, with their three wins before 2012 coming against Arsenal, high flying Swansea and the Champions Manchester United. These combined with loses to the likes of Bolton, West Brom and Stoke, who without any intent to disrespect, were not setting the league alight.
As we entered 2012, the visible and devastating abuse that had overtaken the performances during the first half of the season appeared less and less. Whilst performances still weren’t good enough for the fans, they appeared drained of energy. The Venky’s had been so determined in their support of Kean that the fans finally realised they were fighting a losing battle and settled down, resigning themselves to watching their team slide towards inevitable relegation.
After a 7-1 thumping by Arsenal in February, it appeared that there was nothing Kean could do to prevent relegation. Points were still not being picked up, and the team looked like the hostile fans had finally got the better of their team. Three of their next five games would be against teams around them, and if they dropped points there, it would be very much Blackburn out!
But Kean’s diligence appears to have paid off. He has handled himself with immense dignity throughout the whole season, events which have been branded ‘a farce’ and ‘disgusting’ by some critics, and he had just knuckled down and got on with his job, saving Blackburn Rovers from relegation. Win’s against QPR, Wolves and Sunderland, combined with a draw against Villa and a loss to high flying Manchester City sees Blackburn’s best spell of the season coming at exactly the right time. The fans are beginning to believe, the players certainly believe, and, well, Kean always believed that he could steer them out of this.
However Blackburn players feel about Kean, or about the position their club are in, Kean himself deserves a huge amount of praise. There are few people around who in the middle of such a storm of hatred targeted purely at themselves would be able to conduct themselves with such dignity. Never mind that, but just to get out there each week and do his job, Kean has certainly earned the respect of many people involved with the sport, and hopefully if there are any fans who remain critical, he will also win them over. The club have come together and are continuing to play their good football, and continuing to score goals. Fans may believe that Blackburn shouldn’t even be in a relegation scrap, but the truth is no one has a right to remain in the Premier League. Every team must fight for their place and Blackburn have certainly done that this season. I for one hope they manage to stay up, as in a world where it is all too easy to sack a Manager after a couple of poor results, it would be a result for the football world in general if a team, Owner and Manager, who kept the faith in the face of adversity managed to pull off a great comeback, and remain a Premier League team for yet another season.