Blackburn Rovers vs Stoke: Gary Bowyer attracting the right sort of headlines with FA Cup quarter-final place

Manager restores sanity to former crisis club as King hat-trick secures Cup quarter-final place

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The Independent Football

It says something for the chaos into which he walked but one of Gary Bowyer’s priorities when he became manager of Blackburn Rovers in 2013 was “to keep out of the papers”.

On Saturday evening, this quietly spoken, modest man failed spectacularly to keep to his brief. Since they passed from the family of Jack Walker, a man who loved the club to its bones, Blackburn have been many things but never until now have they been thought of as heroic.

Mostly, under the ownership of the Indian poultry conglomerate, Venky’s, the headlines have been mocking and derisive. To run the club, they put their faith in a football agent, Jerome Anderson – “a man who could not pick his nose” according to Sir Alex Ferguson. They stuck by Steve Kean, who promptly relegated the club, and then got through four managers in a calendar year.

When they kicked off against Stoke for a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals the club was £80m in debt. Within 10 minutes they were a goal down.

That Josh King, a 23-year-old brought up in Norway and signed by Ferguson for Manchester United, then eviscerated Stoke 4-1, scoring a hat-trick and winning a penalty, created the kind of headlines Blackburn have not known since Mark Hughes took them to League and FA Cup semi-finals.

That Hughes was on the touchline watching his Stoke side, which had seemed a good outside bet to win the competition, disintegrate before him, only added to the moment.

“When I took over, the main aim was to keep out of the papers because the headlines were for all the wrong reasons,” said Bowyer, who had run Blackburn’s Under-18s when Hughes was in charge at Ewood Park.

“But this has to be the proudest moment of my time here because, hopefully, we are going to get some positive reports for our football.” Asked how he would celebrate, Bowyer said: “My daughter climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last week and celebrated with a Mars bar, so I might try that.

“I think the owners understand that they have made mistakes but they are learning and, if you look into the money they still pump into this club, without them we would be struggling.”

There are not many advantages of working for a firm based in India, whose knowledge of football has proved sketchy, but Venky’s have allowed Blackburn to keep hold of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes, strikers who have interested a host of Premier League clubs.

Now, after his display of lethal acceleration and a sniper’s finish, some will be linked with King, especially as his contract expires at the end of the season in June. “We are in talks with Josh, we are trying to take care of that,” said Bowyer. “Full credit to the owners because they stuck to their valuation with Jordan Rhodes in the August window and with Rudy in this one.”

The one factor that clubs might bear in mind when preparing an offer for King is that he does not do this kind of thing very often. His hat-trick on Saturday makes up 30 per cent of his career goals total.

When Blackburn last knocked Stoke out of the FA Cup in 1962, it was in front of a crowd of 50,000 at the Victoria Ground, many of whom had come to watch Sir Stanley Matthews, who was about to turn 47 years old.

Blackburn have been one of the stories of this season’s FA Cup but they eliminated Swansea and Stoke at Ewood Park in front of a combined audience of less than 20,000. That is the problem with keeping out of the papers – people forget who you are.