The survival specialist skills of Big Sam Allardyce were once again proven as he pulled off a minor miracle to keep Middlesbrough in the Premier League in 2022/23. But his finest work yet would be required after simming ahead to Christmas 2023.
Bottom At Christmas Season 3
Surprisingly, Middlesbrough weren’t bottom of the league this time around. In fact, they sat in the heady heights of 14th. Instead, the team propping up the table was Blackburn Rovers, who had a meager 9 points from 18 games. They’d lost 7 on the bounce and all but 2 of their last 13. And were all but doomed. However, they were only 5 points from safety.
Prior to getting stuck into signings, Big Sam had two huge home games to take charge of. First up, a Tyrhys Dolan double inspired a 2-0 win over Watford on Boxing Day then they took a 5-0 battering at home to West Ham on New Year’s Day.
It was pretty obvious why Blackburn had been struggling. They only signed two players in the summer, Riechedly Bazoer and goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, and they only had an 18-man first-team squad! Of those 18, only Bazoer was considered good enough to be a “decent” Premier League player and half the squad was considered League One standard. Like Middlesbrough, it’s baffling that they managed to get promoted!
There was £7 million to work with but only £100k of wage budget wiggle room. So this was going to be tough!
Some might say that Big Sam’s first two signings as Blackburn boss were signs of absolute desperation. But the new boss pointed to 36-year-old Jamie Vardy, who arrived for £200k from West Ham, having excellent technical and mental qualities that made him perfect for the deep-lying forward role. He also identified Dimitri Payet, also 36 and signed from Goztepe for £31k, as a magnificent set-piece taker. Then another old boy followed as left-back Ricardo Rodríguez arrived from Torino for £200k.
A much better signing was striker Tyrese Campbell, who looks really good and has scored goals for Stoke through this save, for £2.5 million upfront. He was followed into the club by Oriol Busquets for £600k from Lyon. On deadline day, they wrapped up loan deals for two much-needed defenders in blog-favourite Josha Vagnoman from Arsenal and Ethan Amapadu from Chelsea.
Then, in the very last hour of deadline day thanks to selling two poor backup players, Big Sam boosted the midfield by bringing in Thiago for £350k from Liverpool, Sandry for £3 million from Santo and Granit Xhaka for £500k from Arsenal.
Chasing a much-tougher survival
Some new arrivals made their debuts in a big home clash with 19th-place Fulham, in which a Bazoer goal was enough to nick a 1-0 win before he got sent off! That wasn’t ideal as the next three games saw them take an 8-0 mauling at 2nd-place Liverpool thanks to Erling Haaland scoring four!, lose 4-0 at home to leaders Man United despite stopping Kylian Mbappé from scoring, then 3-0 at Arsenal.
The rot didn’t stop as the games got easier and the new signings bedded in as they lost 2-0 at home to Southampton and Aston Villa, which saw Vardy get sent off. Five straight defeats without scoring left Blackburn eight points from safety with 11 games remaining. Surely they were doomed?
They finally ended the rot with a 2-2 at 6th-place Newcastle thanks to a Campbell double. The striker was on the scoresheet again and created the other for Bazoer as a win finally arrived at home to Leicester. And they were suddenly only four points from safety with nine to go!
However, any outside dreams were dashed as their miserable away record continued with a poor 2-0 loss at 18th-place Brighton. They then welcomed Big Sam’s former miracle rescuees Middlesbrough and played out an absolutely dreadful 0-0.
Things started to fall apart with another tough run of games. They took a 4-1 battering at home to Everton with DCL obviously scoring two headers, only lost 3-0 at Chelsea then got thumped 7-2 at Man City! But at least Vardy got his first goal for the club at City…
That meant the so-called ‘relegation scrap’ wasn’t much of a scrap at all, as Blackburn were now seven points off safety with four games remaining. And they needed a miracle.
But a miracle wasn’t incoming as a Xhaka red card (shocker) left his team in the lurch and they lost 3-0 at home to 11th-place Spurs. They showed some fight with a brilliant 4-2 win at rivals Burnley led by a Campbell hat-trick and another Vardy strike, which was just a 2nd away win all season.
But relegation was confirmed by a 4-0 thumping at Watford, before they finished the season with a 1-1 draw at home to Sheffield United, who were also relegated as a result.
That left Blackburn in 19th with just 24 points. They conceded a ridiculous 93 goals to finish the season with a -63 goal difference. Liverpool won the title in a close scrap that saw them finish one point ahead of Man UFC and two points ahead of City.
The only positive of this season was Campbell, who top-scored with 7 in 16, while Vardy finished the campaign well with a 7.06 rating in the last 5 games. But the signings of Thiago, Xhaka and Payet were, unsurprisingly, absolute disasters.
However, Blackburn have solid finances with £70 million in the bank and a £28 million transfer budget. They also have several really good youth prospects, so expect to see them back in the Premier League in two years.
Join us on Christmas Day as Big Sam returns to the Premier League for a fourth time by taking charge of whichever club is bottom at Christmas 2024!