|Blackburn Rovers||(1) 2 – 0 (0)||Norwich City|
|Formica 41, Hoilett 49|
|Referee: K. Friend||Attendance: 23,218|
Victories at Ewood Park, once proudly known as a fortress, have become as rare as hen’s teeth since the arrival of our poultry experts from India and their favoured Glaswegian son. With eleven defeats already in the bag, a win over Norwich City ought to have been cause for celebration and yet I left Ewood Park in deflated mood. Indeed, my mood was even gloomier a couple of hours later with news that QPR had enjoyed another win, under former Ewood favourite Mark Hughes, and were surely destined to win the battle for survival.
On the day, the Rovers played well. Unlike the abject surrender at the Liberty Stadium last week, the players rose to the challenge and kept their Premier League status alive for at least another week. The restoration of Gael Givet was greeted with universal approval and there is no doubt that Scott Dann and the defence as a whole benefited from the return of the French warrior. However, the sight of Givet’s heroic defending probably explained my mood at the end of the match. If only we had utilised the squad properly all season, we might well have avoided the fate that now surely awaits us in the next couple of weeks.
Instead, the owners and their puppet in the dugout have embarked upon a cost-cutting exercise that has seen players ostracised, the services of experienced players dispensed with at the drop of a hat, an influx of mediocrity that, for the most part, even Kean seems too embarrassed to select and the continual attempts to force square pegs into round holes with all too predictable consequences. Ultimately a Premier League existence that has been nurtured so carefully for so long has been frittered away so easily by people who have no feeling or understanding of the club and the community it serves. It’s the sheer folly of the ownership and team management that makes me weep in despair and the realisation that the past twenty years have been undone at a stroke by a family in India who would appear to have no love for the club which we hold so dear.
This was a must-win game and win it we did against a Norwich side that appears to be finally hitting the wall that the majority of newly promoted clubs hit at some point. Fortunately, for both Norwich and Swansea, they have accumulated sufficient points to be clear of the relegation battle and now have the luxury of looking forward to a second season of top-flight football.
With Givet restored to the defence, the Rovers had a more solid look about them and it was noticeable how much more comfortable Dann looked with the Frenchman alongside him. With Bradley Orr at right-back, Jason Lowe moved into the midfield slot vacated by Steven Nzonzi. Kean explained that the youngster had been rested, but there were strong rumours pre-match of a training ground incident with a member of the coaching staff — not the manager I hasten to add — that might also have explained his absence.
Norwich started brightly and might well have taken an early lead but for James Vaughan missing his kick in front of goal. Fortunately, the Rovers gradually gained a foothold in the game and started to make inroads into the visiting defence. Dann came near to opening the scoring with a flicked header from a cross by David Dunn, but the visitors also came close to finding the net when Jonathan Howson struck a fierce long-range effort that Paul Robinson did well to tip over the bar. Howson had been able to run some distance unchallenged before getting in his shot as the Rovers midfield went missing once again.
The Rovers responded with a brilliant piece of athleticism by Yakubu when Junior Hoilett’s cross was nodded down to him by Morten Gamst Pedersen at the back post. The former Everton striker, with his back to goal, acrobatically managed a back somersault that saw him connect with both feet and send the ball goalwards with the ‘keeper completely wrong-footed. Unfortunately, this superb piece of opportunism went unrewarded as the ball struck the post and rebounded to safety.
However, the Rovers were not to be denied and on 41 minutes the breakthrough came thanks to a very good piece of play down the left wing. The ball was played down to Yakubu, who broke down the flank but, with nobody in the middle, was forced to hold the ball up before laying it back into the path of Pedersen. The Norwegian international swept over a pin-point cross to the opposite side of the area where Mauro Formica raced in and volleyed the ball into the back of the net. It was a super piece of football and brought back memories of when Pedersen used to deliver crosses like this on a regular basis.
Four minutes after the break the Rovers doubled their lead thanks to a wonderful piece of individualism by Hoilett. The young Canadian collected the ball on the left touchline, jinked his way inside and then curled a 25-yard right-footed effort past John Ruddy into the top corner of the net. It was a brilliant goal which only Hoilett of the present squad is capable of producing.
On 54 minutes Hoilett almost set up his fellow striker, but Yakubu was unable to reach the ball as it curled away from him. Once again the move had been begun by a break down the left with Hoilett racing clear before delivering his cross.
Both managers used their full complement of substitutes with Dunn, Hoilett and Yakubu all being withdrawn as a precaution due to previous injuries.
Norwich fashioned a few late scares but, in truth, looked like a side that was coming to the end of a long, hard season. They have accomplished what they set out to do, which was to retain Premier League status, and they have done it with ease. For the Rovers these three points just about keep them in the relegation battle, but QPR’s win over Spurs means that unless our rivals lose every match, we will need another six or seven points to avoid the drop.
Givet was named “Man of the Match” and Hoilett again demonstrated what a hole he is going to leave in the squad when he departs in the summer. Pedersen was much improved in midfield, while Orr and Dann gave better performances in defence. The midfield continues to be a problem with David Dunn’s ageing legs having to be used sparingly, while Jason Lowe again looked completely out of sorts in the centre of the park. Radosav Petrovic gave an impressive cameo during the short time he was on and looked far more impressive than Lowe had done. However, neither looks as impressive as an on-form Nzonzi.
We must now hope that Bolton lose at Villa Park in midweek and that the Rovers can return from White Hart Lane with at least a point and hopefully more. The sad fact is that survival is no longer in the club’s own hands and we are relying on others to get us out of the mess that Venky’s and Kean have put us in.
Paul Robinson; Bradley Orr, Scott Dann, Gael Givet, Marcus Olsson; Mauro Formica, David Dunn (Martin Olsson 62), Jason Lowe, Morten Gamst Pedersen; David “Junior” Hoilett (Radosav Petrovic 82), Yakubu (Anthony Modeste 76)
Subs not used: Jake Kean (gk), Steven Nzonzi, Ruben Rochina, David Goodwillie
Manager: Steve Kean
John Ruddy; Russell Martin, Ryan Bennett, Elliott Ward, Adam Drury; Elliott Bennett, Jonathan Howson, Andrew Surman, Wesley Hoolahan (Anthony Pilkington 59); James Vaughan (Steve Morison 59), Grant Holt (Aaron Wilbraham 66)
Subs not used: Jed Steer (gk), David Fox, Bradley Johnson, Kyle Naughton
Manager: Paul Lambert
Blackburn Rovers – David Dunn
Norwich City – Jonathan Howson
Join in the discussion on the forum here.