x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Rovers battle back to share honours with Blackpool

Junior Hoilett's deserved injury-time equaliser took Blackburn from 17th to 13th in a stroke, depriving Blackpool of two points and taking them down two places.

Elliot Grandin of Blackpool holds off Steven N'Zonzi of Blackburn at Ewood Park. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Elliot Grandin of Blackpool holds off Steven N'Zonzi of Blackburn at Ewood Park. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Blackburn 2 // Blackpool 2

BLACKBURN // With eight teams separated by three points, the relegation battle is even more crowded and complicated than before. As the concertina effect takes hold, Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool provided a marvellous microcosm of the struggle for survival.

It was absorbing but inconclusive. Junior Hoilett’s deserved injury-time equaliser took Blackburn from 17th to 13th in a stroke, depriving Blackpool of two points and taking them down two places.

“It might be the two we lost get us relegated,” said their manager, Ian Holloway. “I don’t know yet. I’m finding it absolutely enthralling. It’s the tightest division it’s ever been and there’s about 12 teams that can go down.”

Different conclusions can be drawn by the minute, let alone the game. For the Lancastrian rivals, there were reasons to be optimistic – a spirited response from Rovers and the Seasiders’ enduring ability to create chances. But the match also offered evidence why they could go down.

Blackburn’s unconvincing first-half display and Blackpool’s ongoing defensive difficulties should be a cause for concern, along with their recent form.

Steve Kean’s side have taken just two points from six games. Holloway’s men have won only twice in 2011. If resistible object met movable force, the frantic finale ensured neither prevailed. “It was an excellent fightback,” Kean said. “That shows the determination and the team spirit.”

Blackpool were initially the more assured. They led with a penalty awarded for Ryan Nelsen’s challenge on Gary Taylor-Fletcher.

“Was it a penalty?” Holloway asked rhetorically. “No. The referee [Howard Webb] had a stinker.”

Charlie Adam, the classy catalyst, nonetheless converted calmly. A second set-piece in four minutes, curled home delightfully by the Scot after he was fouled 20 yards out, doubled their advantage and their captain’s tally.

“I’m sure [Lionel] Messi is quite important to Barcelona and Charlie is quite important to us,” his manager said.

Blackpool could have had more. Luke Varney had two goals disallowed for offside; Holloway arguing that the striker was onside for the first.

But, put under pressure, Blackpool buckled. Rovers failed to muster a shot on target in the first half. Yet after desperate blocks to deny Hoilett and Mame Biram Diouf, Christopher Samba drilled a shot in to halve the deficit.

Martin Olsson also struck the post in a second-half offensive. While Blackburn attacked with urgency, Blackpool betrayed a sense of peril every time the ball was thrown into their box. Samba’s header was cleared off the line by Stephen Crainey and Hoilett’s backheel bounced off the post before, finally, Paul Robinson’s punt forward was punched weakly by Richard Kingson and Hoilett headed the ball back in. “Junior was exceptional,” Kean said. “He’s a great player and he’s a real match-winner.”

Yesterday, he was the match-saver, but it was a timely intervention. Kean’s own position is the subject of speculation and, when a chorus of “sacked in the morning” rang around Ewood Park, both sets of supporters joined in.

He lives to fight another day. Whether either Blackburn or Blackpool will survive for another season is altogether more unclear.

sports@thenational.ae