By Chris McQuade
The NelsenSambanator BR1000 – it will not stop
In the end, Blackburn Rovers enjoyed a successful season – survival was their primary aim. They achieved this (and more) as they were never dragged into a relegation scrap alongside the likes of West Ham and Wigan. Though a European place was never in reach and their early exit from the FA Cup a disappointment, Blackburn’s highlight of the season was their performance in the League Cup, where they defeated Chelsea and too part in a ten-goal thriller at Villa Park. A league double over bitter rivals Burnley also gave the fans good reason to cheer.
The bullet points:
• Ewood Park was a tough place to visit in the League, with only three teams leaving with all three points
• Like Birmingham, Blackburn’s success was built from the back, with Ryan Nelsen and Chris Samba the team’s twin towers
• Scoring was the big problem for Rovers. No player reached double digits in the league
Goalkeepers: The once unreliable Paul Robinson improved his consistency over the course of the season. Bar a few mistakes (for instance the very late lapse in concentration in the League Cup against Chelsea) he has regained his mojo and was perhaps unlucky not to make England’s provisional World Cup squad. Jason Brown continues to serve as a reliable back-up. Blackburn do not need to strengthen between the posts this summer.
Defence: Blackburn’s strong home record was built upon a reliable defence. The central pairing of Samba and Nelson provided extremely powerful and committed play on both the ground and in the air. Gael Givet made the left side his own with some dynamic performances throughout the season. The right side was more problematic with several players filling that role over the course of the season. As such Sam Allardyce will need to recruit a player who can fill the role consistently. Luke Young will be available from Aston Villa but does not quite fit into the physical template of Blackburn’s defence. A more appropriate addition would be Tottenham’s out-of-favour Alan Hutton. Sam often has a continental view in his transfer policy so you know he will keep an eye on strong, tall defenders at the World Cup this summer.
Man City winger Martin Petrov, seemingly unwanted at Eastlands, would be an excellent addition to Rovers’ squad
Midfield: Blackburn are well stocked in midfield with some good young players. The arrival of Steven N’Zonzi has been a big success as his tireless work – and the odd wonder strike – have endeared him to Rovers fans. The creativity and goals of a revitalised David Dunn (especially in the first half of the campaign) were much appreciated too; however, concerns linger over his fitness. Blackburn have still not properly replaced David Bentley. El Hadji Diouf and Morten Gamst Pedersen had poor seasons. One option for Big Sam would be to continue his good relations with Chelsea and take the highly rated Miroslav Stoch (who just won the Eredivisie with FC Twente) on board for some Premier League experience. With Stephen Reid departing, Allardyce may look to the free-agent market to help strengthen his midfield. Australia international Mark Bresciano is still only 30 and would be a good addition, whilst Man City’s Martin Petrov would also be a welcome addition out wide.
Forwards: Niko Kalinic has not yet adapted to the Premier League and Franco Di Santo looked out of his depth. If Blackburn wish to move up the table they need to add a proven goal scorer to their squad. Robbie Keane would meet these expectations – his scoring record in the Premier League is good and given his current status in the Tottenham pecking order he would be willing to move for first-team football. Failing this, a move for Lille’s Robert Vittek might be a cheaper option than Keane.
Sam Allardyce has proven that both he and Blackburn are Premier League stalwarts. If they can build on this season’s solid home form and take more risks away from Ewood Park, a top-seven finish next season is possible, if unlikely.
Signing of the Season: Steven N’Zonzi
Flop of the Season: Nikola Kalinic