Early Doors

Cold War at Ewood Park as survival hopes grow

Early Doors

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There is a rather astounding rumour doing the rounds in football that when Venky's purchased Blackburn Rovers they were completely unaware of the existence of the system of relegation.

Despite this apparent lack of due diligence, and perhaps more by accident than design, following a 2-0 win over Sunderland it now appears likely that, despite all expectation to the contrary, they will not have this harsh reality brought home in brutally practical fashion.

It took him 50 games, but last night Steve Kean finally enjoyed back-to-back wins as Blackburn manager.

That he has lasted this far into his reign is as much due to the stubbornness of Venky's as his own resolve under considerable fire, but finally it appears Blackburn have stumbled across a formula that, while far from perfect, may prove sufficient for now at least.

The win over Sunderland takes Blackburn six points clear of relegation with nine games remaining. Given the paucity of quality at the bottom of the table, that could almost be enough.

Certainly, cautious optimism appears to have replaced overwhelming pessimism as the prevailing emotion around the club.

"Not only have we got back-to-back wins but back-to-back clean sheets," Kean said on Tuesday night. "We have worked hard on that aspect. I think we can catch (the teams above) and with confidence and consistency in the team, which we can feel with abundance, we can start to look up.

"There is still a lot of football to be played and we looked at this month as an opportunity to put points on the board and possibly put a little bit of gap between the teams around us. Looking now at the last 11 games we have got 17 points and to keep chipping away and keep adding points is encouraging."

If Blackburn do avoid what, before Christmas, appeared to be almost certain relegation, there is no doubt it will be a huge achievement for Kean, who earlier this season felt he had to employ a bodyguard following antagonism from disaffected Blackburn fans.

He remains a man with a public approval rating that would make Nick Clegg cower in fear, and ironic cheers of "Kean for England" were still heard on Tuesday evening.

Yet, for now at least, there are no chartered planes flying over Ewood Park with banners reading "Steve Kean out!" trailing behind them; no home-made posters in Pune calling for his dismissal; and the dog with a "Taxi 4 Kean" tabard - a fine sartorial choice for any discerning canine - also remains in the dog house (incidentally, say what you want about Blackburn's protests this season, but they have been nothing if not imaginative).

Kean has been subjected to some of the most sustained, vitriolic abuse ever seen in the Premier League from fans who never wanted him, never trusted him and are still laced with scepticism.

And despite Blackburn's recent renaissance, they have every right to remain cynical.

Clearly promoted above his station, the manner in which Kean replaced Sam Allardyce still seems a touch unsavoury, while as a Venky's appointment he is the public face of an organisation that no longer responds to its fans or gives them the clarity they deserve.

Kean may keep Blackburn up, but can you really make the case that they are in a better position than they would have been had Allardyce remained in charge?

Early Doors recognises Kean probably felt he could not turn down the chance to manage a Premier League club - and that's fair enough, relatively few get such an opportunity after all - yet the stigma of his early months in charge, when he all too readily seemed to assume the shape of a Venky's stooge, will prove hard to shift.

The end of last season was horrendous, as was the first half of this one, yet Kean, always obedient to his bosses, was incredibly handed a new contract.

It was that moment that so perfectly crystallised concerns amongst supporters that the partnership of Venky's and Kean was somewhat detached from reality. Which other clubs would have dished out an improved contract despite such a wretched run of form? Not many, ED suspects, and for good reason.

His public statements have also been suspect on occasion. When Kean claimed in June that Blackburn would be in the Champions League in three or four seasons it appeared to be more clumsy rhetoric from a man who had swallowed the promises of the club's owners, promises that rightly seemed ludicrous to fans expecting a prolonged relegation battle.

It was borne of the same mentality that saw Venky's confidently assert they were going to sign Ronaldinho or David Beckham. No one believed it at the time, and it looks more and more ridiculous in retrospect.

Yet despite all the antagonism, the public relations failures and the numerous defeats, Blackburn and their beleaguered manager have stumbled through, thanks in no small part to the goals of Yakubu and the electricity of Junior Hoilett, and suddenly salvation is within their grasp.

Kean has attributed an improved run of form to a more collegial atmosphere at Ewood Park.

"I think the fans are seeing the just rewards for their efforts in getting behind the team," Kean said on Tuesday night. "We win together and lose together but they are starting to see some performances and some points.

"There's been times this season when [the atmosphere] has been a bit fragmented. But, of late, over the last 11 games the amount of points we have picked up, all the way back to Liverpool away and Manchester United away, the travelling fans and the atmosphere inside the ground has been exceptional. That gives us a platform to go and perform."

Hostilities have been suspended to a degree for now, but back-to-back wins, and likely survival, will not paper over the cracks for long while Venky's and Kean remain in charge.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Did we lose?" - After regaining consciousness, Fabrice Muamba asks his father Marcel the result of the FA Cup sixth-round tie that was postponed after the midfielder suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch.

FOREIGN VIEW: "You have few players who dominate like this, but he does it. You can compare him perfectly to (Michael) Jordan. The day that Leo Messi overcame Cesar, we've had a game from that era. Leo has entered history. Those who knew Cesar have told me that he was exceptional. It's all been said before about Messi. He doesn't only score goals, he scores great goals; each one is better than the last. We are seeing the very best in action. I'm sorry for those who try to take his throne but this kid is different, better, we are excited to have him." - Pep Guardiola rightly waxes lyrical about that man Messi after the Barcelona forward broke the club's all-time goalscoring record with a hat-trick against Granada last night. He now has 234 for the club and just the 54 this season.

COMING UP: We put Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson under the microscope, while we spend 60 Seconds with former Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli and Jim White also files his latest column at 1pm.

There are plenty of games on tonight, the most important of which sees Manchester City host Chelsea in the Premier League at 7.45pm as Carlos Tevez prepares to make his return to competitive action. Tottenham host Stoke, Liverpool travel to QPR and Arsenal take on Everton.

There are also three games in the Championship and, in Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo will try and turn the attention back on himself when Real Madrid visit Villarreal at 9pm. We will have live coverage of all these games.

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