x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Blackburn's survival hopes rest on Hoilett's young shoulders

The Canadian's pace, trickery and eye for goal equip him to perform on grander stages than Blackburn, though, and he is unlikely to extend his stay at Ewood Park beyond this summer.

Junior Hoilett's contract expires in the summer. Olly Greenwood / AFP
Junior Hoilett's contract expires in the summer. Olly Greenwood / AFP

Even at the happiest of hunting grounds, the bugle can sound a warning as well as a celebration. In Steve Kean's traumatic time as the manager of Blackburn Rovers, Molineux has proved a rare place of unalloyed joy for the Scot.

Victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of last season preserved Blackburn's Premier League status; another three points on the same turf on Saturday elevated Rovers to 16th place, their highest position since September, and increased their chances of a second escape from relegation.

Yet even as Blackburn kept a belated first clean sheet of the season in a confident, controlled display against immediate rivals, an impressive victory contains cause for concern. Both goals were taken superbly by Junior Hoilett, also a scorer at Molineux last May.

Then, however, the Canadian winger was one of five players who played pivotal roles in the final four games to ensure Rovers' survival. Two of them, Phil Jones and Brett Emerton, left last summer; another two, Jason Roberts and Christopher Samba, have already departed in 2012.

Now, from that famous five, only Hoilett remains and his days at Ewood Park are numbered.

His contract expires in the summer. A new deal - described as "imminent" by Kean last summer - remains unsigned. Nor will it be. Hoilett's pace, trickery and eye for goal equip him to perform on grander stages and Blackburn, both crisis club and selling club under the disastrous ownership of Venky's, have given him few reasons to commit his future to them.

None of the other stars of the spring of 2011 have been properly replaced. Only Roberts, given Yakubu's prolific form, has not been missed. The squad has been downgraded, some would say subject to asset-stripping, and it is a process that will probably continue in the summer.

It is why survival, even with fewer points, would be a greater achievement this year than last and why, should Blackburn stay up, the relief of an escape that long looked improbable should swiftly give way to worry about the future.

Because Hoilett has provided rare vindication of Kean's judgement. The Canadian was a fringe player under Sam Allardyce and soon promoted to the role of regular starter by the Scot.

Now he is a bona fide match-winner, offering a glimpse of salvation to a struggling side. But even as he blew Wolves apart in an explosive display, he is Blackburn's ticking time bomb.

sports@thenational.ae