Winner takes all, loser faces the sack

Blackburn Rovers 1 West Bromwich Albion 2: Kean can only keep job with victory tomorrow

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The Independent Football

For Steve Kean and Owen Coyle there may be only one game left and tomorrow night's encounter between Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers will see two drowning men grasping for a single, fragile straw.

It was approaching 10.30pm in Pune when the final whistle went at Ewood Park as Paul Robinson abandoned his goal to dash forward in search of an equaliser as he had done in the desperate 3-3 draw at Wigan that represented another station of Kean's cross.

The greatest danger for the club's owners, Venky's, may not be if they lose tomorrow but if they win. Defeat should have a single decisive outcome, dismissal and a new manager. Victory will be altogether more complex.

In those circumstances a manager, in whom few in the stadium from the dressing rooms to the Ronnie Clayton End has any confidence, will have to be backed through a Christmas programme that sees them travel to Anfield and Old Trafford with what should be predictable results.

Even Jason Roberts, who has been Kean's most public backer among the players, conceded that the constant protests were wearing the team down and dragging them under. West Bromwich Albion were vastly superior and a more ruthless side might have won by a humbling margin.

The argument for more time can still be made during the long slog through January but soon it will be April, the month of reckoning. In football it is always later than you think.

It was November 1998 when Roy Hodgson heard the chimes of midnight at Ewood Park, sacked in the immediate aftermath of a home defeat to Southampton that left them bottom after 14 games. His dismissal sparked an improvement of sorts, Blackburn were second bottom when the season finished.

This time last year, Hodgson was entering his final days at Liverpool that ended with a 3-1 defeat at Blackburn, one of the few games Kean has won. The abuse Hodgson received was not on the scale of the sustained campaign at Ewood Park this season but it stung. "That is the way the game has gone," Hodgson said. "That has been the way forward for the Barclays Premier League. You have to be mentally strong and you have to accept this is the way of the world. There is no point railing against it. If you want to be in this job, you come into it with your eyes open. When I came to West Brom, the fans' expectations were not too strong and there didn't seem to be much irritation if we were not winning. It was almost semi-jocular: 'Boing Boing, we're going down but don't worry we'll be back next season.'

"You finish 11th and then when you lose to Tottenham after playing quite well the verdict now is that we haven't played well because the expectation now is that we should be moving onwards and upwards."

Hodgson is a trouper, who recognises that sackings and abuse are hazards of an occupation in which the new money of the Premier League makes it almost acceptable to turn on the man in the dugout or on the pitch. If Kean is fired on Wednesday morning, he may not have to work again, although he may not be asked to. "This is something we share with other forms of entertainment," he said. "The money will attract some degree of jealousy, especially in these hard times when people find it hard to make ends meet. It might not be nice but we should never forget we are the privileged ones."

Scorers: Blackburn Dann 72. West Brom Morrison 52, Odemwingie 89. Substitutes: Blackburn Roberts 6 (Vukcevic, 62), Hanley 5 (Dunn, 62), Goodwillie (Rochina,

79). West Brom Dorrans (Scharner, 81), Thomas (Morrison, 89), Dawson (Odemwingie, 90). Booked: Blackburn Pedersen. West Brom Scharner.

Man of the match Morrison. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Blackburn 46% West Brom 54%.

Attempts on target: Blackburn 14 West Brom 6.

Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Attendance 22,909.