Robbie Keane has forged a career on scoring goals at vital times for a variety of teams but his glaring miss, two minutes from time at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday has defined this relegation scrap and has all but sent the Hammers tumbling towards the Championship while preserving Rovers Premiership life for one more season at least.
It was a strange afternoon in East London. You could smell the tension in the air as we walked the length of the Barking Road towards Upton Park. Obviously four Lancastrains kept a very low profile making their way to the ground but the conversations all around us focused on a must win game if there was any chance of survival. Rovers fans were in good voice and confident of a successful outcome.
From early on, we were in the driving seat and in cruise control. The team had been set up just right to counter West Ham's only threat which was the long ball. Samba and Givet were outstanding and Jermaine Jones who has proven to be a shrewd loan signing showed further evidence why he should be offered a permanent deal when the season closes. Although we did not offer much threat going forward which has been a familiar theme all season, we were more than comfortable until the wide outlet of Junior Hoilett was forced to retire.
We then played with total defensive system to try and preserve the lead. This however resulted in us playing for too narrow and subsequently allowed the not so happy Hammers back into the game. By the final whistle, Jermaine Jones resembled a 70's throwback player with shin guards discarded and operating up front due to him being absolutely exhausted.
So we survived by the skin of our teeth and after safely leaving 'West Ham country', we settled down to see Blackpool once again falter in the dying embers of a game and throw away 2 crucial points. The discussion turned to whether we were safe and the camp was split. I have banged on in recent weeks how our goal difference will count in our favour and in effect acts as an extra point. This will be our salvation. So who will face the drop?
Let's assume West Ham are down. This leaves Wolves, Wigan, Blackpool, Birmingham and ourselves in the mix. Unfortunately I think we will be saying goodbye to Blackpool. They may end up getting 3 points against Bolton but will succumb at Old Trafford regardless of it being party time or Fergie resting players for the Champions League Final 6 days later. It is then a toss up between Wigan and Wolves and I fancy the latter to escape by the smallest of margins.
Many fans are comparing the game against United on Saturday to that when we played City in May 2000. This was a Division 1 fixture where City needed a point to go up to the Premier League. It was the last home game of the season and City supporters besieged Ewood and could be found in all four corners of the ground. Some Rovers supporters had sold their tickets onto City fans at hugely inflated rates and this led to an unsavoury atmosphere and much provocation.
Rovers fans were excellent given the circumstances and I hope that this Saturday we don't get a repeat scenario of the scenes that day. The club have quite rightly intimated that any City fan being overtly provocative in the Rovers sections will be ejected and that the person who bought the original ticket will be banned from buying tickets again.
Saturday has a strange feel to it with the Cup Final kicking off just 20 minutes after the final whistle at Ewood. I understand that with the Champions League Final taking place at Wembley the FA face fixture congestion at Wembley but we could have the bizarre situation of the United being crowned Premier League Champions on the day City win the Cup. What an anti-climax for a competition that once reigned supreme and was the biggest day in the football calendar. The FA couldn't do anymore to squeeze the life out of it.
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