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[Archived] News Article -> 2011/12 Match Report: Sunderland 2 Rovers 1

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Sunderland (0) 2 – 1 (1) Blackburn Rovers
Vaughan 84, Larsson 90 + 2 Vukcevic 17
Referee: P. Walton Attendance: 39,863

Family circumstances meant that I was unable to travel to the Stadium of Light and thus missed my first game of the season, having instead to settle for the coverage on Sky. It was interesting to watch a game "live" via television rather than in the stadium, but despite the result it is not an experience I would wish to repeat too often. Television really doesn't show the team pattern — or, in the case of the Rovers, the lack of any pattern whatsoever — and little can be seen of what is happening off the ball. You also miss the reaction of the crowd to events not to mention the camaraderie of being amongst Rovers fans. Judging from the low number of Rovers fans at the game, it would appear that I wasn't the only one who was not able to make it to the north-east. Television also gives you a view of things that you don't see in the stands and quite frankly the sight of Paul Agnew greeting Steve Kean prior to the match was a sight I could well have done without. In view of only having watched the match on television, I have refrained from producing a detailed match report as such and simply offer some observations about events as highlighted by the cameras of Sky.

After forty-five minutes the Rovers looked to be in a strong position. One attack had produced a goal and, in fairness, had seen another chalked off incorrectly by the referee. Perhaps the one advantage of watching on television is the fact that replays show exactly what happened instantaneously whereas at the match it becomes a matter of discussion until you get home to watch the highlights. The home side, although looking distinctly average, had squandered some excellent opportunities to score, most notably when Jason Lowe contrived to allow the ball to pass between his legs and leave Kieran Richardson with a seemingly open goal. Somehow Paul Robinson read the situation and managed to smother Richardson's shot. It was typical of the lax defending that has earmarked the Rovers play for so long and which Kean has failed to rectify.

The Rovers' goal was from a typical Sam Allardyce set-piece. Kean, despite his boasts to the contrary, continues to rely increasingly on set-pieces to produce chances and why not when it clearly is a strength in a team that has, in reality, so few strengths. Morten Gamst Pedersen's free-kick found Chris Samba on the edge of the area and the big man showed a deft piece of footwork to control the ball, sidestep the bemused Wes Brown and fire a shot across the goalkeeper, who could only push it out to Simon Vukcevic, who stooped to head home from close range.

Four minutes before half-time the Rovers might well have grabbed a second goal from a Pedersen free-kick when Kieren Westwood came to collect the ball but ran into a crowd of players, one of which was Samba, and allowed the ball to go over him and onto the head of Scott Dann, who nodded home. Inexplicably, Peter Walton blew for a foul against Samba, although replays of the incident showed that it was a perfectly good goal.

The loss of Gael Givet, to a rapid heartbeat, brought the return of Martin Olsson as substitute, but long before the end of the half he looked unhappy with a recurrence of his hamstring problem. Michel Salgado, who had been recalled into the unfamiliar role of wide midfield, had struggled for much of the first half after receiving a heavy blow to the ribs.

At half-time Adam Henley replaced Olsson and it wasn't long before Grant Hanley had to enter the fray to replace Salgado. After the debacle of rushing Ryan Nelsen back too soon and then setting back his recovery for many months, one can only hope that Olsson has not met a similar fate. Suddenly, the Rovers seem an accident waiting to happen with regard to injuries and surely this is something that must be addressed. There is surely some reason why players who had previously avoided injury have suddenly become budding Vince Grellas!

In the second half Kean's game plan seemed to revolve around getting everyone behind the ball and leaving Yakubu up front on his own. Even the commentators on Sky were bemused by this approach and, considering that the injured players were defenders, it begs the question as to why the midfield and attack were so impotent on the rare occasions that they ventured over the half-way line. If Jason Roberts had been the lone front man, it was a plan that might have been more successful than it was. While Roberts is no finisher, he is mobile and the game plan seemed to require the lone front runner to be exactly that, particularly in the second half. Yakubu, who was a danger in the first half, became increasingly detached from the rest of the team during the second forty-five minutes.

Admittedly the manager had few options on the bench, but replacing Salgado with Hanley seemed a strange move to say the least. The young Scot has endured a torrid time of late in his normal position of centre-half, but to bring him on at right-back was asking for trouble and Martin O'Neill quickly spotted the weakness and had his own substitute, James McClean, exploit Hanley's lack of pace. One might have hoped that Roberts would have been introduced for Salgado with Formica, who did a decent shift defensively, moving to the right of midfield and allowing Roberts to support Yakubu and actually give the home defence something to think about.

With the Rovers opting to defend deep in their own half, Sunderland merely poured forward in greater numbers and completely dominated the game. The defending became ever more desperate and Robinson was called upon to make more and more saves. However, with six minutes remaining, he could do little about David Vaughan's thunderbolt after Henley's weak header landed at his feet. The goal was no more than Sunderland deserved and, in truth, justice was done when they got the winner that their second-half performance deserved in the closing minutes. Mauro Formica inexplicably handled on the edge of the area and Seb Larsson whipped a delightful free-kick over the wall and into the net with Robinson unable to get anywhere near it.

There was only time for Jason Lowe to be stretchered off after Larsson seemed to catch him with a leading elbow, but by this time the Rovers looked a well-beaten outfit.

This was the fourth of Kean's six "Cup Finals" and thus far we have taken four points out of twelve — hardly an earth-shattering return and not the type of return needed to ensure Premier League survival. Six points from the next two games is essential with visits to Anfield and Old Trafford over Christmas likely to render little in the way of points.

While there is no doubt that injuries completely decimated any plans with regard to substitutions, the fact remains that our squad is wafer-thin at best and for that the finger of blame can only point at Madam Desai, the keeper of the purse strings. Opportunities to strengthen the squad in the summer were spurned because of the unwillingness of those in Pune to spend serious money on acquiring Premier League players. We are now paying the price for that ineptitude.

Some might say that the Trust failed to invest, but the Trust invested in the personnel that they had at Ewood Park. Money, although tight, was made available whenever possible and, of course, in the likes of Souness, Hughes and Allardyce we had managers who knew how to spot a bargain and in John Williams and Tom Finn we had administrators who could keep the bank onside and keep the club afloat despite spending very little. Sadly, the Rao family look as if they will be unable to deliver one complete season of Premier League football, never mind competing in Europe and winning cups. The Trust delivered ten years of Premier League football, the longest spell of top-flight football since 1936. The Trust is gone but certainly not forgotten. In the words of Joni Mitchell:

"Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

'Til it's gone"

Reports in the Sunday papers, which have since been denied by Venky's, suggest that the club may well be sailing into stormy financial waters. If, as rumours suggest, Madam Desai is not prepared to invest the family money into the club, then the sooner Blackburn Rovers is rid of the clan from India, the better. They came into the club with a plan, albeit a rather questionable one involving agents, and when that fell apart, there would appear to have been no backup plan in place. With seemingly no coherent management structure at the club, it is left to Steve Kean to face the brunt of the criticisms regarding the running of the club. Whilst the overwhelming majority of fans would like to see Kean replaced — and goodness knows his record is one of abject failure — the reality is that Kean is merely a symptom of the problems which surround our dysfunctional owners. Sacking Steve Kean, whilst it would no doubt appease the overwhelming majority of fans, is not a solution in itself. It is undoubtedly the first step for many, but ultimately our problems will only be solved when the owners adopt a far more professional approach to running a football club and employ experienced people at all levels. There also needs to be a realisation that to remain a Premier League club we need to buy Premier League quality players in January and not a host of cheap foreign imports who may or may not adapt to English football.

Unless Madam Desai and her brothers accept the need to pump large amounts of the family money into the club and find a manager who is capable of spending it wisely, the outcome, I fear, is going to be all too predictable. Relegation is becoming more likely by the week and there is nothing to suggest that the club would be able to withstand the economic consequences were the worst to happen. Whilst one hopes for the best, one fears that the club may become just another casualty to the flirtations of big business and professional football.



Kieren Westwood; John O'Shea, Titus Bramble, Wes Brown, Philip Bardsley; Sebastian Larsson, Jack Colback (James McClean 76), David Vaughan, Kieran Richardson; Stephane Sessegnon, Connor Wickham (Dong-Won Ji 76)
Subs not used: Trevor Carson (gk), Matthew Kilgallon, David Meyler, Ahmed Elmohamady, Ryan Noble
Manager: Martin O'Neill

Blackburn Rovers

Paul Robinson; Jason Lowe, Chris Samba, Scott Dann, Gael Givet (Martin Olsson 22 / Adam Henley 46); Michel Salgado (Grant Hanley 51), David Dunn, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Simon Vukcevic; Mauro Formica; Yakubu
Subs not used: Mark Bunn (gk), Nick Blackman, Jason Roberts, David Goodwillie
Manager: Steve Kean


Sunderland – John O'Shea, Stephane Sessegnon

Blackburn Rovers – Michel Salgado, Chris Samba

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