It's crunch time for struggling Rovers

Thursday 4th April 2013 8:43

Blackburn: Face a battle, on and off the field

Blackburn: Face a battle, on and off the field

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Blackburn's FanZoner Gaz Williams highlights his concerns over the future of the club, both on and off the field.

The next few months are critical to the future of Blackburn Rovers, with fans preparing for the unthinkable: back-to-back relegations and into the third tier of English football for the first time in 33 years.

Rovers currently sit perilously close to the drop zone in the Championship, with only their superior goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three, and face a relegation six-pointer at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

The team are without a win in nine league games and have had six managerial changes to contend with this season. Caretaker manager Gary Bowyer faces the seemingly impossible task of repeating his performance in the role at the turn of the year, when Rovers won three and drew one of his four games in charge.

Off the field, the club is in turmoil. Boardroom battles for power are rife, nobody seems to be in control of the club and the owners remain silent - apart from claims that Rovers is a "lifelong commitment" (we can only hope and pray that isn't true) and that "we still have a chance to go up". Just the kind of comment that demonstrates the owners lack of football knowledge.

The fans are either restless or resigned to the club's fate. The Rovers Trust has reported a huge increase in membership since the sacking of Michael Appleton, while Wayne Wild (co-chairman of the Trust) has written to MPs urging an investigation into the part Venkys have played in the decline of the club - something I called for in my last blog. Other fans have simply had enough and won't go back to Ewood until the Indian owners sell up.

The threat of relegation and the future of the club is very real. The heart and soul of the club has been destroyed. Attendances are down dramatically and will only fall further still should the club find themselves in League One next season.

Bowyer faces a daunting task. The players responded to him in January but he has a very different playing squad at his disposal this time. There has been a huge change in personnel at Ewood this season. Each manager has tried to make their mark but Appleton accelerated that change more than anyone.

The majority of players he brought in haven't had enough of an impact.

Appleton often claimed he needed to rebalance the squad, that he had "too many number 10s". Bowyer will be hard pressed to find a single "number 10" available to him.

Meanwhile, Ruben Rochina is on loan at Real Zaragoza and Simon Vuckevic and Mauro Formica have been sold. None of those players lived up to their billing at Ewood but we sorely lack creativity now. The goals have dried up with just 5 in those 9 games without a win.

To add to Bowyer's problems, Jake Kean and Paul Robinson are out injured for the rest of the season meaning Grzegorz Sandomierski will make his first start for the club at Hillsborough. Some baptism of fire for the Polish keeper.

Of the seven remaining games, Rovers face promotion-chasing Watford and Palace as well as relegation six-pointers against Wednesday and Huddersfield. Games against Derby, Millwall and Birmingham offer little respite.

Four of those games are away. For a side without an away win in the league this year, that is some run-in. The performances are mirroring those of last season, when Rovers went down without a fight, losing eight of their last nine.

The players need to take some responsibility. Performances have been awful. Even with all the off-the-field dramas and boardroom bickering, this group of players should have enough to survive in the Championship.

The ill-informed will claim we should not have hounded Steve Kean out, pointing to the fact we were in the play-off positions in September, but the real problem goes all the way back to Kean's appointment as manager in 2010 and the subsequent departure of Chairman John Williams. The club hasn't been the same since.

The fans can only hope that performances and results can be delivered, that the club can find enough to stay in the Championship, and that a huge clear out can be made on and off the field in the summer. But this has been a recurring theme for Rovers fans over the last three seasons. They are still waiting for the desired changes - of ownership, in the boardroom, in the dug-out and (most importantly) on the field.

Relegation would be disastrous. The fans cannot handle any further heartache. We already have the largest budget in the Championship - in League One, Rovers would have a crippling wage bill. Parachute payments from the Premier League would see the club survive in the interim but attendances would dwindle further and the relationship between the fans and the club would reach an all-time low.

It is often said that things get worse before they get better, that you have to hit rock bottom before bouncing back. If that means relegation and Venkys selling up, plenty of supporters would accept that.

The problem is, the club's worth would suffer from another relegation and Venkys would make a huge loss on their investment (something they seem unwilling to do). The quality of managerial candidates and player recruits would also deteriorate. Even if we stay up, this becomes a problem in the summer if the owners remain: who in their right mind would want to work for Venkys, for a club who change their manager at will?

The best-case scenario is Rovers finding enough points to stay up, for Venkys to walk away in the summer and for the club to rebuild from top to bottom in the summer. I won't hold my breath. The alternative is unthinkable. But Rovers fans are preparing for the worst.

By Gaz Williams, FanZone's Blackburn Rovers blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @CircoW - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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