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May 7, 2012

Fowl day of damnation for Rovers

As a tale of cowboys and Indians reached a suitably bloody climax, there was a starring role for a chicken. That is Blackburn Rovers, a club where the sad and the surreal mix, where relegation came coated in rancour and where the image of an ignominious campaign came when the farmyard met the football field.

With seven minutes gone, the chicken smuggled into the Darwen End was released onto the Ewood Park pitch. Draped in a Blackburn flag and the most ingenious protest yet against the continued, calamitous ownership of the Indian poultry firm Venky's, it waddled around the Wigan box and into the goal, safe in the knowledge it would be untroubled by Rovers' shots, before being retrieved by Yakubu, who withstood the temptation to eat it.

It was one way of delaying the inevitable, but it could not be postponed indefinitely. Blackburn, champions in 1995, one of only four clubs to win the Premier League, were demoted. While Roberto Martinez's renascent, remarkable side earned their place in next season's Premier League, Blackburn's demise was the product of mismanagement at every level at Ewood Park.

In fact, their 11-year stay in the top flight ended on May 7, 2012. Their downfall, however, can be dated back to November 19, 2010, when Venky's bought the club, and December 13, 2010, when they sacked Sam Allardyce and promoted the unsuitable, unsuccessful, unpopular Steve Kean to replace him.

In 18 months of farce and fury, this Faustian pact has unravelled. Having talked of the Champions League, they have piloted Rovers into the Championship. Having aimed for Ronaldinho, they signed Radosav Petrovic. Having been bequeathed a well-run club, they have turned Rovers into a laughing stock.

A bizarre, yet somehow predictable, twist arrived after the final whistle when Kean stated he expects to remain in charge next season. "I'm a great believer in my ability," he said. Few others are. He sidestepped questions about the causes of a proud club's demise. "I don't think it is about apportioning any fault or any blame," he insisted.

The majority point the finger squarely at him. A night of demonstration and devastation was notable for barrage of noise, featuring non-stop chants directing at Kean and Venky's, concluded with a pitch invasion. The angry headed for the manager, who had to be ushered down the tunnel by his bodyguard. Yet the notion that this is a hate mob ignores the reception granted to Paul Robinson, who completed a lap of the ground applauding the supporters without being endangered. Like them, he is blameless. They know it.

Unpleasant as some find the scale of the opposition, the Rovers faithful were quickest to spot the destructive effect Kean and Venky's have had. Doing and saying nothing while their Rovers sleepwalked into trouble would have been a greater dereliction of duty to their club. They have been crying foul - and fowl - for 18 months.

With Kean-baiting East Lancashire's most popular sport, it added to the medieval air to the occasion, including the chicken that seemed to be sacrificed to feed the Yak. His Rovers colleagues did too little to supply the striker. After their baffling, appalling, shot-free display at Tottenham, Blackburn did not had an effort on target until the second half. Once again, it was as though they had not looked at the league table, let alone considered the need for victory.

Then they stirred. Yakubu had a goalbound shot blocked by Gary Caldwell, Emmerson Boyce appeared to foul Junior Hoilett in the box and Ali Al Habsi became busy. Yet Wigan, with their slick, quick passing, were the more composed side. Robinson made a double save to deny Victor Moses and James McCarthy and then, with three minutes remaining, Jean Beausejour's corner was headed in by Antolin Alcaraz.

So the great escape was sealed by Alcaraz. It was Wigan's sixth win in eight games and Blackburn's seventh defeat in the same time. These local rivals are polar opposites, with Athletic a well-run club with a sense of unity that stretches from boardroom to the pitch. They have produced performances of character and class when it mattered most and have been managed brilliantly by Martinez. Having promised, when they were at the foot of the table, to take it to the final day of the season, the Spaniard apologised. "We disappointed everyone," he said. "Staying up is an incredible achievement."

Safety has been secured stylishly. And as for the relegation firefighter Blackburn axed? Now in charge of West Ham, Allardyce is 90 minutes away from a return to the Premier League. He won't face Blackburn there.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jean Beausejour - Provided the goal and troubled down Blackburn on their problematic right flank. The Chilean has been a revelation since his January signing from Birmingham and has slotted in wonderfully at left wing-back.

BLACKBURN VERDICT: Awful. It was a game to sum up their season. Their transfers in the last 12 months have amounted to asset-stripping with every arrival, Yakubu excepted, worse than the player he replaced. Nonentities and mediocrities such as Petrovic and Anthony Modeste were never the men for a great escape. The local lad, David Dunn, could hold his head highest and will hurt most. Kean inherited a team with a well-drilled defence and has turned them into a shambles at the back. Their biggest buy, Scott Dann, has been an unmitigated disaster.

WIGAN VERDICT: They didn't touch the heights they reached against Newcastle, but they were deserving winners. McCarthy and James McArthur passed the ball well in the midfield and Moses was the brightest attacker on show. The final word, though, should go to Martinez. "This group of players deserve huge credit," he said. "To beat Man United, Arsenal away and Liverpool away is remarkable. Eight seasons [in the Premier League] is something remarkable for our football club and I think it is time to celebrate."

• Follow Richard Jolly on Twitter @RichJolly

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