Will Blackburn finish ninth?

LIFE is never more absurd than when it imitates satire. When Blackburn lost 1-4 at home to Coventry in the FA Cup third round last month, When Saturday Comes marked the event on its front cover.

Just in case your eyesight is inexplicably not on a par with that of a hawk which has just had laser eye surgery, I will tell you what it says in the speech bubbles on the front cover, reproduced below.

Morten Gamst Pedersen: I’m glad that’s over.
Brad Friedel: Now we can concentrate on finishing ninth.

Now here’s the (maybe not so) absurd part. A glance at this morning’s Premier League table shows that Blackburn were indeed ninth… two points behind eighth-placed Portsmouth (who hosted Sunderland today), two points ahead of tenth-placed West Ham (who were at Fulham).

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There are few more soul-destroying articles a sports journalist has to write than the ‘half-a-million match’ story. (And I know, because I’ve written them.)

Let me explain: the ‘half-a-million match’ story is the one a reporter writes when previewing a meaningless end-of-season Premier League game, where the only thing at stake is the possibility that one (or if you’re lucky, both) of the teams involved may move up one place in the table – thereby winning an extra £500,000 in their end-of-season prize money.

While I acknowledge that this kind of thing is very important to the clubs, who can use that extra cash to sign a Danish left-back, it is of no interest to anyone else whatsoever.

And yet because the prize money for rising one Premier League place is only £20,000 less than the amount a top-flight club receives for reaching the FA Cup semi-finals, there is a huge temptation for chairmen and managers to concentrate on the league.

So for that reason, Blackburn have more motivation to finish ninth than they do to have a serious crack at the FA Cup. They finished 10th last season, so coming ninth this time round would give them a huge increase in prize money (especially given the extra cash on offer thanks to the three-year worldwide TV rights deal that kicked in at the start of the campaign).

If the race to finish fourth in the Premier League can be built up into an exciting event, then I don’t see why Blackburn’s bid to finish ninth can’t be either.

So for the rest of this season, I shall be following their progress on this blog, asking the question: Will Blackburn Rovers finish ninth?

I shall crank up the excitement with plenty of meaningless statistics to create a false sense of history being made. (Did you know that Blackburn have not finished ninth in the top flight since 1906?) I hope to throw in some player and manager quotes too, some of which may be made up. (“Climate change is a very serious issue, but the important thing right now is that we get the three points at Reading, which is never an easy place to go.”)

STOP PRESS… Dramatic late developments at Craven Cottage, where Nolberto Solano’s late winner means that West Ham leapfrog Blackburn into ninth place. High drama. Incredible scenes.

So that means Blackburn will now begin their 12-match run-in at home to Bolton tomorrow lying 10th. Will they be able to bounce back from that hammer blow? Watch this space…

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