Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Kean left only with delusional defiance
Richard Jolly, Ewood Park
They hope it's all over; surely it is now. To a soundtrack of strident, ceaseless opposition, Steve Kean's ruinous reign reached a new low. It was the sort of inverted achievement in which he specialises, to complete, and probably curtail, an era of almost unparalleled ignominy.
At any other club, his position would already be untenable. At Blackburn Rovers, that epitome of dysfunctionality, it only remains for Venky's to realise what everyone else already knows. He, and they, are doing a fine club grave harm.
This was Kean's perfect storm, an excruciatingly embarrassing evening, even by his standards. Literally and metaphorically, he has hit rock bottom. By losing at home to the Premier League's basement club, Blackburn replaced them at the foot of the division and, in the process, they made it back-to-back defeats to relegation rivals at Ewood Park in the space of four days. Courtesy of a startlingly shocking first-half display, they were behind in five minutes and effectively beaten in 30, meaning the match was conducted to the repetitive, rhythmic strains of "Kean out".
And it all happened in the presence of his predecessor, Sam Allardyce, who was showcasing his punditry skills on Sky. The advice from the Bolton fans - "you should have kept Big Sam" - was then echoed by their Blackburn counterparts. It is patently obvious they should have. A skilled relegation firefighter and a ruthless pragmatist, Allardyce is precisely what Blackburn need. In a fit of idiocy, Venky's sacked him a year ago, following defeat to Bolton. A repeat result should prompt the same reaction, but the context has changed.
Kean's tenure has been 12 months of rather more vitriol than victories, of talk of the Champions League and a plummet towards the Championship, of ridiculous rhetoric, strange signings, demoralising defeats and humbling after humbling. One who tends to derive imaginary positives from unpromising results has overseen seven wins in 38 league games and, at an established Premier League club, that is nothing short of disastrous.
Kean insisted: "We can get out of it by sticking together." Yet this is the most fractured of clubs: owners and manager on one side of the great divide, supporters on the other, ignored by the decision-makers but correct in their criticisms, however spiteful. Not, perhaps, since Ian Branfoot has a top-flight manager been so hated. It makes matches at Ewood Park public displays of baiting, throwbacks to medieval days. The atmosphere was poisonous. "It's nothing new," said Kean, without realising relations have deteriorated still further.
He denied Venky's, who watched the game in the early hours in India, will hold a Wednesday board meeting. His answers to the straighter questions were terse. Does he expect to be in charge for the Boxing Day game at Anfield? "Yeah." Would it be a complete shock if Venky's sacked him "Yeah, 100%." The fans' opinions can be reversed "by winning games." It is a conviction few, if any, in his audience shared. In its own way, his was an astonishing performance as he exhibited a delusional defiance, one based on the theory that supporters can be won over and he is the man to do it.
The contrast came from Bolton. Their manager was imperilled, but embraced and supporters chorused Coyle's name even before they led. The injured Stuart Holden, Owen Coyle's finest signing, was in the away end, surrounded by the Father Christmases while fired-up and focused players completed a united front. They were getting their kicks up the A666.
With Blackburn shambolic from the off, they were granted huge amounts of space. Bolton swept forward, carving their hosts apart. Nigel Reo-Coker and David Ngog combined in the inside-right channel. Paul Robinson saved initially the initial shot, but the not the second as Mark Davies, supplied by Ngog, drilled in.
The second had an element of fortune, but was the reward for a bright break. Reo-Coker himself led it, releasing Martin Petrov and meeting the winger's low cross. As Morten Gamst Pedersen challenged, the ball ricocheted in off Reo-Coker.
But these are two teams who cannot defend, as Bolton illustrated as Blackburn rallied. The deficit was halved when Junior Hoilett picked out Yakubu, who finished calmly. The terrific Hoilett was twice close to an equaliser while Christopher Samba headed narrowly wide in injury time. It was not close enough. "I do believe we can get back on the right track," Kean said, in between bemoaning defensive injuries time and again.
"Stevie Kean is a terrific manager," said Coyle, rather implausibly. But he and Kean are represented by the same agency and that, perhaps, is where Blackburn's problems began.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Nigel Reo-Coker - Involved in the first goal, scorer of the second and a bundle of energy throughout. Bolton's summer signings have generally disappointed, but one of them produced a big performance when it mattered most.
BLACKBURN VERDICT: It was symbolic that Samba, Hoilett and Yakubu were the men who almost salvaged something. They represent the bright spots in this team but, with the midfield's inability to press, makeshift full-backs and a defence that cannot keep clean sheets, the problems run deep. As their next two games are away at Liverpool and Manchester United, they are likely to reach the half-way point in the season with 10 points.
BOLTON VERDICT: "A massive three points," said Coyle. After 18 defeats in their previous 21 games, victory stopped them being cast adrift. Instead, with two home games to come, they have a chance to climb the table again. They were excellent in the first half but the second showed their frailties. They will need to defend better against superior sides and the loss of the excellent Marcos Alonso, with a suspected broken foot, is a major concern.