Weekend review: Wolves make the best of small-time exile


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The Independent Football

Shortly after Labour had disastrously lost the 1992 general election, which since Neil Kinnock is a rugby rather than a football man is best described as a series of missed penalties under the posts, one of his colleagues was told by a Conservative Cabinet minister: "Don't worry, the first 13 years in opposition are always the worst."

For clubs like Blackburn Rovers there is the growing realisation that their absence from the chauffeured limousines of the Premier League might be indefinite. For those Leeds fans travelling to Leicester, the first nine years outside the top flight have been the worst.

There are some relegations that can feel like a relief. After the agonising collapse of Brian Clough's regime, Nottingham Forest played a season in what is now the Championship with their fans wearing T-shirts proclaiming they were "on loan from the Premier League". Sunderland's single campaign in the old Third Division in 1987-88 seems in hindsight like a lot of fun, especially since it ensured that the loathed figure of Lawrie McMenemy had been exorcised from Roker Park.

For the 19,000 crowd, big enough to delay kick-off at Molineux, Wolves' first season in the third tier of English football since Steve Bull propelled them out of the division in 1989 might be something to enjoy – especially as for the first time since Mick McCarthy's dismissal the club have employed a credible manager.

It may not be coincidence that Kenny Jackett has managed to turn Leigh Griffiths into a forward capable of scoring twice in the 4-0 win over Gillingham. Given that Griffiths has in the past been accused of racism, shoplifting and head-butting the Hibernian manager, Pat Fenlon, that is quite some achievement.

There is nothing remotely like the same sense of froth at Ewood Park. Attendances matter far more outside the Premier League because they account for a greater percentage of revenue. Despite what appeared – wrongly as it turned out – an attractive fixture against Nottingham Forest, Blackburn's crowd was the fourth lowest in the Championship. Had Blackpool and Huddersfield squeezed in slightly more, only Yeovil would have drawn a thinner gate.

This time last year, the reviled Steve Kean was still clinging on in the dug-out but the club's owners, Venky's, had, belatedly, begun to spend serious money epitomised by the £8m fee paid to Huddersfield for Jordan Rhodes. It seemed reasonable to assume that Blackburn might only be on loan from the Premier League.

Four managers and a dozen months later, the civil war at Ewood Park between the club's director of global operations, Shebby Singh, and the chief executive, Derek Shaw, may have subsided but so too has the spending and the optimism. Jay Spearing was too expensive to sign from Liverpool and the midfielder has now joined Bolton.

James McClean was expected to join Blackburn when Sunderland chose to let him go. He will play for Wigan. Morten Gamst Pedersen, Gaël Givet and Mauro Formica will not be retained for reasons of finance rather than ability. In the wake of the 1-0 defeat by Forest, Blackburn's latest manager, Gary Bowyer, was asked if he felt under pressure after just two games. It is the sort of question put to managers at Real Madrid or Barcelona. There are, however, no other similarities.

Ferguson's mantra holds true elsewhere

The pitch invasion that followed Preston's victory over Blackpool was a reminder that this is one of the least known of the English derbies. However, all those clubs who completed what we have to call acts of giant-killing (even though Ipswich, Blackpool, Blackburn and Brighton are only moderately tall) in the League Cup failed to win on Saturday.

Stevenage and Carlisle have yet to record a point, Preston have yet to score a goal. It is a sign of Sir Alex Ferguson's character that whenever Manchester United lost he would remark his opponents would lose their next game because victory had taken so much out of them. It is a rule of thumb that holds good away from Old Trafford.

Managers in good mood shocker

Leeds manager Brian McDermott and Leicester's Nigel Pearson were in surprisingly upbeat moods after what was an interminably dull 0-0 draw between their sides.

Coupled with last week's win against Brighton, Leeds have now taken four points from two of last season's play-off semi-finalists, leaving McDermott to say: "This is not an easy place to come. It's nice to get off to a decent start."

Pearson said: "You credit Leeds for how they went about it and that was how games are in the Championship – very tight and there for the taking." Expect that theme to continue all the way to next May, but probably without the good moods.