A first defeat of the season for a table-topping team rarely has such repercussions.
As Middlesbrough departed Ewood Park with three well-deserved points to leave Nottingham Forest with the Championship's only unbeaten record, Blackburn's mediocrity ensured Steve Kean failed to hit his own target. The Rovers manager was charged by the club's owners, Venky's, with earning 16 points from the first seven games and Lukas Jutkiewicz's double means the manager has fallen two short.
For the first time in his reign, Kean is relying on results to stay in a job and although the supporters, who have neither forgotten nor forgiven his role in last season's relegation, have been consistent in their criticism, a change in the club's climate means his unpopularity may now spread from the stands to the boardroom. A sequel to this sorry show could see the fans who sang "Kean out" finally get their wish.
"I think we will get promotion," he said with typical defiance. "We are still top of the league and averaging two points a game. If we do that over the season we'll probably be champions." That is the requirement. With expenditure comes expectations, not least from his employers. Kean has been allowed to invest more than £15m in transfer fees, paying a club record fee for Jordan Rhodes.
Yet though Fabio Nunes clipped the bar with a wayward cross, the only efforts on target from a side with an £8m striker came from central defenders, with Grant Hanley halving the deficit in the 89th minute. After that, Rovers could have completed a comeback when Justin Hoyte tripped Rhodes. "We feel as though that was a penalty," Kean said. "If we get that, we get something."
Yet a draw would have been flattering in the extreme. As their 100% record at Ewood Park was ended by a side who had lost each of their previous games on the road, Rovers were abject for long periods. Their fine start to the season – indeed, their best since a championship-winning campaign under another Scottish manager, Kenny Dalglish, in 1994-95 – had been notable more for the quality of results than performances.
On this occasion they delivered neither, while Middlesbrough produced both. "We showed great determination and character," their manager, Tony Mowbray, said. They displayed ability, too. Grant Leadbitter outclassed and outpassed Danny Murphy in midfield, Mustapha Carayol and Marvin Emnes had the pace to be a menace on the counterattack and Jutkiewicz, who had only scored three times in his first eight months on Teesside, struck twice. "He did what I bought him for, to score goals and give us a focal point to play off," Mowbray said.
The opener justified his decision to change tactics following Tuesday's 4-1 defeat at Blackpool and field a pair of strikers. They combined superbly when Jutkiewicz directed a flick-on into Emnes' path and then accelerated on to the Dutchman's return pass to drill a shot past Paul Robinson.
His tally was doubled with a looping header from Carayol's cross. It was the ninth goal Blackburn have conceded in four games. Defensive difficulties have been a constant over the best part of two years. So, too, has discontent among the support. Kean is living dangerously.
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image: © joncandy