Thursday, 23 December 2010

Once upon a time

I would just like to say that I haven't written today's post myself. It was posted by Craig Haydock on Facebook. After reading all these posts about our beloved club's imminent doom, this post was like a fresh breeze on scourging summer day.

On Thursday, 16th September 2004, Blackburn Rovers appointed Mark Hughes as long-term successor to the departed Graeme Souness. While Sparky was undoubtedly the peoples’ choice having finished his playing career at the club and had achieved relative highs as Wales coach, he was still an unproven prospect with no prior experience at neither coaching or management at club level.

He took on the challenge with Rovers lying 19th in the Premiership and without a win from their opening five games. A late, and by that stage rare, Matt Jansen goal from the subs bench claimed an opening victory in his first match – although Rovers wouldn’t win again under their new boss for two whole months, including 4-0 hidings at Middlesbrough and Chelsea and an embarrassing penalty shoot-out exit at home to Bournemouth in the League Cup.

Despite a plucky start, Hughes was afforded patience to stamp his mark on the side, owed in no small part to the backing of the fans and their obvious affinity for a player who had rolled back the years via the club’s League Cup Final success two years previously, filling in for suspensions and injuries in a holding central midfield role.

From a team that had shipped 29 goals in their opening 14 games, Hughes managed to carve out a disciplined side (they would only concede 14 goals from their next 24 games), unearthed an unknown New Zealand defender from the MLS on a free transfer in Ryan Nelsen and infused the side with the combative qualities of Robbie Savage and Aaron Mokoena, two players who may as well have been cut from the same stone as Hughes himself.

Perhaps Hughes’ greatest legacy to the club that season was to be found in the lost-property box at Ewood, allowing a young Morten Gamst-Pedersen the opportunity to shine and subsequently score for fun in the FA Cup, which would see the club reach the last four of the competition for the first time in 45 years – including the winner over Burnley in the dying stages of a Fifth Round Replay.

Rovers would go on to finish 15th with their top-flight status long-secured; rather disappointingly, they had once peaked at 11th in April only to see a small squad stretched by a long season, petering out without a win from their last five games.

The rest they say, is history. In seasons to come, the club would enjoy 6th, 10th and 7th finished places respectively, including two forays into Europe and a host of impressive and surprisingly economical signings that saw the likes of Craig Bellamy, David Bentley, Stephen Warnock, Chris Samba, Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz pull on the famous blue and white halves.

Given time, patience, ambition, a belief that an inexperienced manager needn’t always be a negative nor a hindrance – and evidence that success can be achieved without excess, the future could be rosy after all. Red rosy, with Arte Et Labore underneath. 

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