Buoyed by Mark Hughes’ overachievement and shrewd signings, Blackburn had been living in a fantasyland of consistent contention for Europe. Paul Ince transported them rudely back to small city reality. Blackburn took an admirable risk, hiring the Premier League’s first black manager, but, in this instance, it clearly backfired. You know things are dreary when Sam Allardyce becomes Midas.
Form: Sam Allardyce has revolutionized Blackburn. Since he took over Dec. 17, the club has won or drawn ten of their thirteen matches, a noticeable improvement from Ince’s brief reign. Of the three losses, two came in no shame affairs away to a resurgent Arsenal and Manchester United. Aston Villa gave them their only home defeat. Characteristic of an Allardyce team, they will battle in every match.
Schedule: Blackburn have a reasonable run of games to get points. Their home ties against Tottenham, Wigan, Portsmouth and West Brom are all winnable. Their away fixtures are a bit tougher, traveling to Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Stoke City. Though, given the Allardyce style, it’s not inconceivable they trip up a similarly physical Liverpool or Chelsea side.
Injuries: Injuries could play a role for Blackburn, where they need help, scoring goals. Benny McCarthy is probably questionable with his hamstring injury. Roque Santa Cruz seems keen to return against Tottenham, with just four goals in 17 appearances leaves much to be desired when he is fit. Diouf could help out, so could Morten Gamst-Pedersen, if he rouses from his season-long doze.
Prognosis: Blackburn will not go down. They are a comfortably mid-table team placed in a whole because of Ince. Cynical Sam’s style evokes neither beauty nor romanticism, but it’s effective. For Blackburn this season, it will also be lucrative, keeping them in the league. Newcastle may climb out, but not at Blackburn’s expense.