x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Blackburn Rovers are given a helping hand

Blackburn Rovers beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at Ewood Park to climb to seventh in the English premier League – their highest position of the season.

West Brom’s Gabriel Tamas heads past his own keeper to gift Blackburn their opener.
West Brom’s Gabriel Tamas heads past his own keeper to gift Blackburn their opener.

BLACKBURN // Own goals have become sadly synonymous with Blackburn Rovers recently, whether with the sacking of a successful manager or the series of PR gaffes that rendered a proud club a laughing stock.

Yesterday, however, another took Rovers to new heights. They awake this morning in their highest position of the season, seventh, aided by an unintentional but unstoppable finish by West Bromwich Albion's Gabriel Tamas.

In fairness, a stunning strike from Junior Hoilett was equally significant. Blackburn's lofty standing is not merely the result of others' failings. It reflects well upon the recently appointed manager Steve Kean, who signed an extended contract this week and who, in turbulent times behind the scenes, has won four of his last six matches.

The Scot's remit includes making Rovers' easier on the eye and Hoilett's first league goal certainly had aesthetic appeal.

Whether a transformation into elegant entertainers is being effected is a moot point - Kean selects more attack-minded personnel than the dismissed Sam Allardyce, though a significant proportion of the chances still result from Morten Gamst Pedersen's corners and long throws - but he is earning results.

West Brom are not. Their seventh defeat in eight games occurred despite some pleasing football, with the sharp Jerome Thomas repeatedly beating his immediate opponent, Michel Salgado, until Kean ended the experienced Spaniard's suffering by withdrawing him.

Thomas had already tested the in-form Paul Robinson thrice while Peter Odemwingie forced a save after 30 seconds and, after the break was fouled in the box by Jermaine Jones.

"Apart from the referee, everybody else thought we should have had a penalty," Roberto di Matteo, the Albion manager, said. "It's happening on almost a weekly basis. It's incredible."

Nevertheless, a generosity at the back has been another constant for a club without a clean sheet since August. It is no coincidence that Albion have a share of the Premier League's worst defensive record.

Indeed, Blackburn's initial experience was that defence was the best form of attack. Boaz Myhill parried smartly from two members of the Rovers rearguard, Martin Olsson and Christopher Samba, within the space of a minute before the giant Congolese drilled a second shot wide. However, it was one of the Albion centre-backs who provided the breakthrough.

Tamas was challenged by Nikola Kalinic for David Dunn's high-quality cross, but that does not fully explain his powerful header into his own net. "It's a bizarre own goal," Di Matteo added. "The defender mistimed his jump and got it all wrong." The excellent Myhill was given no chance.

Indeed, he was equally helpless when Blackburn doubled their lead. Cutting in from the left flank at pace to accept Kalinic's chested pass, Hoilett hammered a swerving shot in from 20 yards.

"He's a quality player and a match-winner on that form," said Kean, who expects Samba to follow club Ryan Nelsen, the captain, in signing a new contract.

"I think that would be massive," he added. Both were critics of the decision to dismiss Allardyce but have undergone a change of heart.

Instead of losing the pair, Rovers welcomed two new arrivals to Ewood Park. The returning Roque Santa Cruz was granted a generous ovation on his second full debut, while the American Jones slotted in neatly in the midfield.

In the parallel universe the owners, Venky's, inhabit, it could have been David Beckham, Juan Roman Riquelme or Ronaldinho who were making their Blackburn bows.

But while Ewood Park remains far more Ronnie Clayton, the long-serving wing-half of the 1950s, than Ronaldinho, the meeting of two of the Football League's founder members nonetheless contained a record of 22 different nationalities. The global game's reach has never been greater.