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1985 - 1995: A stroll in the Park

Posted: Fri 20 Jan 2012
Author: rovers.co.uk

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At the beginning of the 1985-86 season Saxton was the manager of an ageing team which struggled to find any semblance of form.

Things were so bleak during that season that it needed a 3-1 win over Grimsby in the final match of the season to bring a last minute reprieve from relegation.

By Christmas 1986 the club were once again bottom of the division and this time the board reluctantly decided to dispense with Saxton's services. 

After an upturn in form under caretaker manager Tony Parkes, the first of many such interludes, new manager Don Mackay was able to maintain the improvement and a respectable 12th position was finally attained. 

The season was memorable for the club's run in the Full Members' Cup. Victory over Chelsea in the semi-final meant a first trip to Wembley for over a quarter of a century. Almost 30,000 supporters followed the team to Wembley to watch Rovers defeat Charlton Athletic by the only goal of the game scored by Colin Hendry. 

85-95a Full Members Cup
The jubilant team set off on their lap of honour after winning the Full Members Cup against Charlton A in 1987. From left to right are Ian Miller, Chris Price, Simon Garner, Simon Barker, Glenn Keeley, Vince O'Keefe and Alan Ainscow.

Fortunes on the field were turned round as Rovers finished 5th in Mackay's first full season. The manager's signing of big name players such as Steve Archibald, Ossie Ardiles and Frank Stapleton boosted the club's public image and restored some of their credibility. 

Even so promotion to the top division always seemed to lie tantalisingly just out of reach. Three consecutive fifth place finishes led the fans to question whether the club really wanted promotion.

Failure to strengthen the team during the latter stages of these seasons upset the fans and the controversial tactic of playing only one out and out forward during the home play off game with Swindon in 1990 only served to increase the number of dissenting voices. Rovers reacted badly to their 1990 play-off defeat finishing only 19th in 1990-91.

85-95b Jack Kenny
Jack Walker welcomes Kenny Dalglish to Blackburn Rovers

The arrival on the scene of one man, Jack Walker, was the catalyst for a change in Rovers fortunes on a seismic scale. With the team once again struggling in the league Don Mackay was shown the door and Kenny Dalglish was appointed in his place. The Scot, who had left Liverpool several months earlier, was charged with leading Rovers back to the promised land and this time a lack of resources would not handicap the Blackburn manager.

Dalglish's reign began with a 5-2 victory over Plymouth Argyle and his first four games in charge brought eight points. Taking advantage of Rovers new found wealth Dalglish was soon active in the transfer market. Alan Wright was signed from Blackpool and Colin Hendry brought 'home' from Maine Road.

A first ever seven figure fee secured the services of Mike Newell from Everton. Newell announced his arrival by scoring the third goal in a 3-0 win over Barnsley and he went on to form a deadly strike partnership with David Speedie. 

By mid December Rovers had risen to third place in the division. The untimely death of chairman Bill Fox was the low point of the season, a sad reminder that there are more important things than football.

As the New Year progressed Rovers appeared promotion certainties until an injury to Newell was followed by a catastrophic run of six consecutive defeats. For a time it looked as if they had missed the boat. On the final weekend of the season Rovers had to beat Plymouth in order to qualify for the play-offs. A 3-1 victory thanks to a David Speedie hat-trick saw them scrape into the top six.

In the play-off semi-final they were pitted against Derby County. Confidence was high but two Derby goals in the first 15 minutes at Ewood Park meant Rovers were on the brink of failure. A Scott Sellars goal around the half hour mark brought Blackburn back into the game and just before the half time interval a Mike Newell strike squared the match at 2-2. In the second half Rovers took command of the game and two goals from David Speedie meant that Blackburn travelled to the Baseball ground with a two goal lead. Although Derby cut the deficit in half a 2-1 defeat was not enough to deprive Rovers of a place in the final. 

Only Leicester City now stood between Blackburn and a return to the top division. A hard fought match was ultimately decided by Mike Newell's first half penalty, awarded following a Steve Walsh challenge on David Speedie.

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Mike Newell scores the decisive penalty at Wembley

Rovers were now able to take their place as founder members of the brand new Premier League. The signing of Alan Shearer underlined the scale of the club's ambitions, they were not there just to make up the numbers.

85-95d Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer scores his first goal on his debut for Rovers against Crystal Palace 15/08/92

Their first season was a triumph as Blackburn finished in a highly commendable fourth place thirteen points behind champions Manchester United. The following season saw Rovers reduce this gap to eight points as United were again crowned Champions with Blackburn runners-up. It was their highest league position for almost eighty years.

Rovers did not rest on their laurels however and Chris Sutton was signed from Norwich to boost the attack. The star studded team now included England regulars such as Shearer, Batty and Le Saux.

At the start of the 1994-95 season the question oneveryone's lips was who, if anyone, could stop Manchester United from completing a hat-trick of Premier League wins? A 0-2 defeat by United in the Charity Shield suggested that Blackburn still lagged behind United. 

The league season itself began in fine style as the SAS strikeforce of Shearer and Sutton lived up to expectation. A single Shearer goal brought victory in the first game against Southampton whilst Sutton scored his first goal for the club during a 3-0 victory over Leicester City at Ewood Park. A goalless draw against Arsenal was sandwiched between a 4-0 thrashing of Coventry and an emphatic 3-0 victory over Everton. 


85-95e Chris Sutton
Sutton celebrates another goal for Rovers

A first league defeat of the season at Norwich was balanced by a thrilling 3-2 victory over Liverpool. 

When Manchester United visited Ewood Park the game was already being billed as a championship decider. Paul Warhurst gave Rovers an early lead but to their consternation a controversial penalty and sending off decision against Henning Berg, subsequent replays showed Berg had played the ball first, allowed Eric Cantona to equalise.

Rovers regained the lead through Colin Hendry but the ten men were unable to hold United at bay and three late United goals sealed a 4-2 victory for the away side.

Blackburn bounced back from this disappointment in tremendous style, a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest began a run of eight successive victories. The return game with Manchester United turned out to be another tense, hard fought affair decided by a single Eric Cantona goal. Home wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon kept Blackburn in front at the top of the table.

A sudden dip in form resulted in a 2-3 home defeat against Man City, followed by a two goal defeat at Upton Park. With the end of the season fast approaching Blackburn were struggling to overcome their nerves.

An Alan Shearer goal in the final home game of the season was enough to see off a dogged Newcastle side and so everything hinged on the final game of the season. Rovers, with a two point advantage, travelled to Anfield to face Liverpool while United were away to West Ham.

An early goal from Shearer put Rovers in the driving seat and news of an early goal for West Ham had the Blackburn fans dancing with delight. Liverpool with only pride to play for began to take control of the match. Barnes equalised for the home side as news filtered through that United too had equalised
 
A late Jamie Redknapp strike piled on the agony for the Rovers fans. However United couldn't force a winner against West Ham and so Blackburn's defeat became academic. Rovers were crowned Champions of England for the first time in 81 years.

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Kenny Dalglish with captain Tim Sherwood

They were in the European Cup for the first time and had regained their position as England's premier club.