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A Chat With The Opposition: Blackburn Rovers

In light of Manchester United’s final game of 2011 at home to Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve, I thought it’d be good to chat to Blackburn Rovers fan Mark Ashworth @he6rt6gr6m to talk about Blackburn’s calamitous season so far.

First question, It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for Blackburn so far. You’re currently sitting 20th in the table after losing to Bolton on Tuesday night – Can you stay up?

Mathematically, yes. Realistically, we’ve gone beyond the point of no return by losing three points against West Bromwich Albion, and look destined for a scrap at the bottom.

One of the reoccurring themes of this season, as it was towards the end of last year was the unpopularity of your manager Steve Kean. I have to admit looking on as a neutral it does look as the Scot’s been treated unfairly. Just why do Blackburn fans dislike Kean so much?

As of writing, two wins this season, and something like 20pts garnered by Blackburn under Kean’s twelve-month tenure here. 32pts would be guaranteed relegation, probably in 20th. His tactical ineptitude, inability to correctly use substitutes, refusal to acknowledge what he is doing wrong, and persistent ‘positivity’ in press conferences.

Sooner or later, the manager has to admit that it’s not going well, but he still thinks, after one amazingly lucky win against Arsenal and an expected win against Swansea, that Blackburn will win the nine games needed to get out of the mess we’re in.

How do you think the players feel about the protests and booing of Kean? Do you believe that they really care about Kean and that the harmony inside the dressing room is good or is it just a matter of them sticking by the manager to avoid being dropped from the team?

I’m purely speculating about how the players feel about it, but I would think that a couple of them probably feel the fans are undermining them by booing a man they support. Scott Dann previously worked with Kean at Coventry, and must have a decent relationship with him to have come to Blackburn under Kean’s guidance.

Yakubu has been a revelation for us, and is a Steve Kean signing, with the pair celebrating his first of four goals against Swansea to a chorus of boos as they high-fived. However, Yakubu went nowhere near Kean for the other three goals.

Gael Givet’s drink-driving conviction after the Norwich game gave us more insight into the dressing room morale, as it stated he had been out having a private meeting with other players to discuss what was happening at the club. A meeting to discuss these things WITHOUT the manager? Sounds like a player’s revolt.

Your Indian owners the Venky’s have hardly helped themselves have they. When they sacked Sam Allardyce last season, you were sitting 13th in the table. Going back to that day when you heard the news what was the first thought that entered your head?

Under Big Sam, we were looking up. All the promises from Venky’s that he’d be supported better than the Walker Trust did further enhance our excitement about the future. We even dreamed of taking the last European place, and realistically could have achieved it.

The day he was fired, I switched on the TV and just sat there wondering why they would do such a thing after saying that they wouldn’t change anything, and Sam was safe. Of course, part of me thought this was part of their vision, and that they might attempt to bring in Martin O’Neill or Mark Hughes to send us forward with their ambition of Champions League football.

But as I looked at the odds of the next permanent manager at Ewood Park, Steve Kean (at 10/1 at the time) stuck out like a sore thumb as the one person in the list that nobody would have bet on. Yet, here we are…

One shining light of this season for Rovers has been Yakubu. Many pundits thought he would be a luxury player who was ‘past it’ but he’s been a real threat for you and his form’s been so good he could go onto score 18-20 goals in a team that looks set to go down. What are your thoughts on the Yak?

As I said before, he’s been a revelation. £1.5m for a player of that calibre is unheard of today. He’s sharp, he’s lively, he’s passionate. I was going to say he’s hungry, but we don’t need any weight jokes.

He can score 20 goals a season, but he won’t do it at Blackburn Rovers this season unless a creative midfielder can be bought to thread the ball through to him, and Olsson and Hoilett on the wings. It’s fair to say he will play a massive part if we’re to escape the drop, along with Paul Robinson and Chris Samba.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s game, there’s a lot of history between the two sides. What are your memories of the great battles the side’s had in the inaugural Premier League seasons and of your historic 1994/95 title winning side?

So many memories, and fantastic games of football for both team’s fans and neutrals to enjoy.

I was about five or six when the Premier League came to form, and watching talent like Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes up front for United was inspiring. Alan Shearer, Kevin Gallagher and Mike Newell for Blackburn weren’t too bad either. Jack Walker had taken over at Blackburn after making millions from the Walkers steel business he owned, pouring his heart, soul, and money into the machine to make it compete.

But even with Jack, I always felt more confident going in as the underdog, rather than an equal, and as I look back, we’ve performed better as the underdog, rather than like-for-like in the days of Shearer and co. That probably has more to do with pressure, than anything else.

If you could take three players from that great team and put them into your current side who would they be and why?

Without a doubt in my mind, Colin Hendry. The man oozed Blackburn Rovers. He still does. He didn’t have the best of times at Manchester City, but either side of that move, he was a magnificent player for us.

As a kid, I admired Tim Sherwood. Creatively, defensively, and as a captain, the man was an integral part of the way we were back then. We miss a man like that in midfield these days.

Finally, who wouldn’t pick Alan Shearer? 31 goals in 93/94 and 95/96, and those vital 34 goals in 94/95. 130 goals in 171 appearances at Blackburn Rovers. £3.3m well spent.

Morten Gamst-Pedersen seemed destined for big things after he joined you and he had a knack of scoring goals against United. What in your opinion have been the reasons why his form has dipped in the last 2-3 years as at one time he looked to be a leading candidate to replace Ryan Giggs at Old Trafford?

Morten’s a lovely guy and an excellent footballer when his head is in the game. Whether it is because he’s aging, or just complacent, I don’t know. He’s seen five managers at Ewood Park now, and all had their different styles, but I feel Pedersen flourished under Hughes partly because Hughes wasn’t scared to drop him if he under-performed.

He’s never really had a threat on his position, and has always been the first-choice winger at Blackburn, and I think he knew that, so his performance dipped over the seasons.

These days, he’s sitting more central, creating from the middle and distributing to Martin Olsson, who has shown to be a more-than-adequate replacement for Pedersen on the left. He’s still giving the ball away more than I’d like, and his tackling (or lack of) is frustrating.

Which teams do you think will finish in the Top 4? And who do you think will get relegated?

Arsenal and Chelsea keep blowing their chances up there, and Tottenham Hotspur are working hard to break that “Big Four” stigma. Both Manchester clubs will be up in the top two, with Spurs and Liverpool fighting it out for the remaining automatic Champions League places.

Northern football remains supreme, even if northern clubs go down too.

Wigan will be dragged back into the dog-fight, Bolton currently stuck at the bottom of the league, and I think January will tell us who out of Blackburn, QPR and Wolves will take the final spot. As it stands, QPR’s ability to spend will see them through, and McCarthy will squeeze a good run out of Wolves, while Blackburn could still have Kean and a poultry (no pun) £5m budget to buy four players. It doesn’t look good for us.

Finally looking forward to the game on New Year’s Eve, are you willing to give Blackburn a chance at Old Trafford where of course last season you lost 7-1?

Not a chance in hell. Even with a new manager, the squad is scarily thin and packed full of attack-minded players. With Scott Dann out for six weeks, Ryan Nelsen still unavailable and Michel Salgado’s apparent spat with Kean, defensively, we’ll be ripped apart. I wouldn’t say it’ll be another eight-goal-thriller, but you can expect something like 4-0.

Thanks for that Mark!

For your team’s sake I do hope you can somehow emerge out of the mess that you’re in at the moment!

Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87

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