Recent performances have shown a vast improvement on what Sam Allardyce left when he was released on 13th December. With Sam came a very positive home record and results that satisfied many fans in the stadium and watching at home; especially against huge opposition opposition such as Chelsea and Arsenal. The away form, however, was abysmal. Whether Sam’s mentality was to get as many points at home and just travel to away games and keep fit, I don’t know. It certainly seemed that way, given the results we have seen away over the past few years. Steve Kean has instilled a different look at the fixture list, assessing them all evenly, and even taking it to the top-dogs and getting goals and points out of it.
The past two games in the Premier League have pitted us against extraordinarily strong opponents. A memorable win over Liverpool at Ewood Park exclaimed not only the problems that Liverpool had but also that Blackburn Rovers still are a team that can punch above their weight with the right man steering the team in a more positive direction. Ten days later and Rovers are through to the 4th Round of the FA Cup with another tie against Aston Villa, who are going through their own problems as of late, and a trip to Stamford Bridge resulted in a very fortunate 2v0 win for Chelsea which still showed the positives of the Rovers squad; particularly ticking the boxes in regards to counter-attacking. It showed too, that players like Michel Salgado will throw everything in the mix with an extra helping of commitment for this club when called upon. Michel’s performance was a delight against the class of Chelsea. I’m sure that for a few moments, Michel thought he was back in the Champions League and a few years younger on Saturday. He certainly performed like he was.
Another stand-out performance was that of Gael Givet. Vital tackles and strong defending from Salgado’s left full-back instilled confidence and pride in my heart. When called upon, Gael, like Michel, would sprint to full-speed in a matter of milliseconds to make sure that Didier Drogba and the Chelsea attacking-midfielders couldn’t be as fluid as we know they can be. A particularly impressive tackle on a seemingly offside Drogba, where Didier takes three touches from 40 yards out to take himself into the penalty area, about to release a shot from the right-side of the 6-yard box, but a sliding Givet who started the move about two or three yards behind Drogba, made the distance up and slid in with his right foot to make an excellent tackle, taking the ball out of Drogba’s line and out for a corner. Jonathan Pearce described it perfectly as an “excellent challenge from one of Blackburn Rovers’ most consistent players.” It’s a shame that his colleagues at BBC-HQ didn’t share the opinion, focusing on Drogba more than the challenge, which was deemed to be “decent” by Shearer and Hansen.
At 11th in the league currently on 28 points, it’s a slight improvement over last season, where Rovers found themselves in 12th position on 24 points. Another positive tidbit is the improvement defensively. Last season, at this point in the year Blackburn had a -16 goal difference, compared to this year: a -8 difference. One can only think of the results against Manchester United at Old Trafford and the loss to Sunderland on New Years Day when looking at that negative goal difference. Replace those with more acceptable results, let’s say 2v1 to United and 1v0 to Sunderland, and Rovers are up to 10th with a 0 difference. Rovers finished last season in 10th, dead-on 50 points. Using this as a marker for this season, being four-ahead of last season, we would be finishing on 54 points. With the tightness of the Premier League table right now, that COULD bring European Football back to Ewood Park. And who said Venky’s idea of 4th or 5th was stupid?
West Brom are next at Ewood Park in a game that has seen cut-price tickets for every seat in the stadium. With the sort of confidence the team is playing with right now, not only should Rovers fans without a season ticket consider a day out to see the blues, but they should also be very happy come the final whistle on Sunday evening and we should be sitting comfortably on 31 points. That isn’t where it should end though. Major ties with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United aside, games against Wigan, Newcastle and Aston Villa in February, Fulham and Blackpool in March, Birmingham, Everton and Bolton in April and West Ham and Wolves in May are all winnable and would enable Rovers to realistically end the season comfortably in 7th at least! Let’s get away from the whole “Big Club, Small Club” debate that seems to rear its ugly head frequently and face facts. Look at the table as it is right now. Everyone from 5th downwards is beatable. Blackburn have already proved this with results against Everton, Blackpool, Wigan, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Wolves and Liverpool. And look at the influx of youth coming through to make their debuts. Players that will be given more of an opportunity if these games can be put to bed midway through the second half, and if we can remain in the FA Cup.
This January transfer window is a pivotal part of the season for many teams, especially ours. It’s going to decide whether we can get that Europa League spot. No doubt Roque Santa Cruz is going to score a goal or two. I’m sure that the addition of Jermaine Jones is a player that is going to break up the play with his ability to sucker in players to making fouls, and is going to bolster the defensive aspect of the midfield, helping out Nelsen and Samba, if he remains at the club. I have no concerns personally in regards to Givet or Salgado for this campaign. A decent back-up for Michel, if not both, would be advantageous. But for Europe? We could be needing another five or six in for next season.
What a wonderful feeling it is though, to be looking up under Kean, instead of down with Allardyce. Let’s keep the support behind the lads and keep our optimism high. Keep having a peek at the ones below but take a serious look at the ones above, because we can take ‘em!