All my worst fears were realised on Saturday at Ewood Park, as Blackburn profited from the ”new manager factor”, handing Sam Allardyce a dream start to his career at the club, easing past Stoke 3-0, the goals coming courtesy of Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts.
Allardyce greets the Rovers faithful on the pitch before kick-off
While an injury to main goal-threat Roque Santa Cruz led Allardyce into making a straight swap for fellow striker Jason Roberts, his Stoke counterpart Tony Pulis opted for some rather more ”unconventional” changes. An injury to first choice ‘keeper Thomas Sorensen in the warm up meant understudy Steve Simonsen, who is yet to really impress in the Premier League, was handed his first league start since early October. Meanwhile, he chose to start with a defence containing four players whose best position is probably centre-back, in Danny Higginbotham, Abdoulaye Faye, Ibrahima Sonko and Ryan Shawcross, a bizarre decision that certainly didn’t seem t pay off with the Potters shipping three goals. Striker Richard Cresswell replaced Danny Pugh on the left wing and, finally, Vincent Pericard replaced the injured Mamady Sidibe in attack to complete a Stoke line-up which could hardly be described as full-strength.
Perhaps surprisingly, Stoke made the better start, enjoying the majority of possession, though in truth, failing to really bother former England man Paul Robinson in the Blackburn goal, although midfielder Glenn Whelan did inadvertently strike the Blackburn crossbar with a mis-hit cross. Disaster struck in the ninth minute though, Sonko unnecessarily scything down Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pedersen inside the box, leaving referee Peter Walton with little choice but to award the penalty. It was South African international forward McCarthy who stepped up to take the kick, and any pressure being felt inside the ground certainly eluded him, as he calmly stroked the ball into the bottom left corner of the net, sending Simonsen the wrong way.
Pedersen wins the penalty before McCarthy tucks it away
With Stoke still reeling from the first goal, things got a whole lot worse in the eighteenth minute, the experienced Jason Roberts being left with a simple finish after a poor clearance from Shawcross fell straight to him after some neat Blackburn passing in the Stoke half.
Roberts celebrates doubling Blackburn’s lead
As Stoke began to get something of a grip on the game, Richard Cresswell and Amdy Faye both hitting long range efforts, Stoke fans may have begun to entertain thoughts of a comeback akin to the one seen at St. James’ Park two weeks ago, with the Potters salvaging a point from a seemingly desperate situation. Any such hopes were dashed just before the half hour mark, as McCarthy hit his second of the afternoon and sixth of the season. Robets stung the palms of Simonsen with a good effort before McCarthy pounced on the rebound, firing home to send the 18,000 Blackburn fans present into raptures.
Half time came with Stoke in dire straights, and the second half started with little indication that improvement would come. Ten minutes into the half, Pulis opted for much needed changes, bringing on usually lively duo Tom ”Arto” Soares and Michael Tonge for the ineffective pairing of Rory Delap and Pericard.
With Stoke pushing for a consolation, Ricardo Fuller, Glenn Whelan and Abdoulaye Faye all saw half chances miss before McCarthy was denied his hat-trick by just a few inches, after his powerful low effort took a slight deflection off Stoke substitute Seyi Olofinjana and crashed into the frame of the goal. The Nigerian midfielder the went close for Stoke, forcing Robinson to save well from a well-struck long-range volley.
With Blackburn enjoying themselves and Stoke wanting to just get away from the ground and onto the next match, the half drew towards its close. One last chance for the visitors did fall to Cresswell though, as the woodwork came to a defence’s rescue for the third time in the match, a combination of the Stoke man and defender Cristopher Samba steering the ball onto the upright, after some good play by Soares.
Cresswell had Stoke’s best chance late on
Roberts could have added some extra gloss to the scoreline, and netted his second of the game deep in injury time, his shot being well saved by Simonsen after an impressive run by the striker.
All in all, it was a disappointing result, but one that always seemed on the cards after the appointment of Allardyce. With some bizarre team selection from Pulis, it is little wonder we floundered on the day, with several players playing out of position, and more still playing with knocks. Hopefully fitness will come soon enough for the likes of Salif Diao, Andy Griffin, Andrew Davies and Dave Kitson for them to play some part in Boxing Day’s obviously tricky encounter against newly crowned World Club Champions Manchester United.
As a result of other result over the weekend, we drop two places in the Premier League table to fifteenth and are just two points clear of the relegation zone. While anything gained against Manchester United has to be seen as a bonus, good form must be found over the next few matches, including a trip to West Ham and a home clash with Manchester City, as the December/January period is always so vital to a team’s eventual achievements over a season.
Stoke Side: (4:4:2)
Shawcross Sonko Abdoulaye Faye Higginbotham
Delap Amdy Faye Whelan Cresswell
Substitutions: Tonge for Delap & Soares for Pericard (59), Olofinjana for Amdy Faye (75)
Subs Not Used: Sorensen, Pugh, Davies, Wilkinson
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