Former giants Forest, Rovers in third-tier peril
LONDON: Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers, both once leading clubs, enter the final round of the season on the brink of relegation to the third tier in England.
Forest’s 2-0 defeat by Queens Park Rangers at the weekend, allied to wins for Blackburn (1-0) against Aston Villa and Birmingham (2-0) against Huddersfield, left the Midlands club one place above the Championship drop zone and ahead of Rovers on goal difference alone.
Now Forest, who are at home to Ipswich on Sunday, must at least match Rovers’ result at Brentford if they are to stay in the second-tier Championship.
“It’s an honest group of players we’ve got,” said Forest manager Mark Warburton, himself controversially sacked by Scottish giants Rangers earlier this season.
“They have a responsibility to themselves, their families, the supporters and the club — we all do.”
It is all a far cry from Forest’s glory days of the late 1970s when, under inspirational manager Brian Clough, the club were promoted from the old Second Division and twice won the European Cup all within three years.
Forest went up in 1977 and, remarkably, took the old First Division title the very next season in a league featuring perhaps the best of all the Liverpool teams that between them won five European Cups and 18 domestic Championships.
Yet what happened next was just as extraordinary, with Forest winning back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980 as the team built by Clough and assistant Peter Taylor, featuring a mix of world-class players such as England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and previously underachieving journeymen including winger John Robertson, stunned the football world.
Clough, later beset by alcoholism, arguably stayed too long and his 18 years at the City Ground ended with Forest’s relegation from the inaugural Premier League in 1993.
There was a brief return before, in 2004, the club became the first former European champions to descend into their domestic third tier.
Forest returned to the Championship and had become established in the division by the time the Kuwait-based Al-Hasawi family bought the club in 2012.
They were eyeing promotion when, after a 4-2 win over Leeds United that December, manager Sean O’Driscoll was sensationally sacked, with Forest citing the need for a boss with Premier League experience.
That man was Alex McLeish, yet just 40 days after taking charge he had left, with the Scot the first of six ‘permanent’ Forest managers in the past four years.
Controversial foreign owners have also been a feature of Blackburn’s recent struggles.
One of English football’s leading clubs in the 19th century, Blackburn had long since ceased to be a major force when lifelong fan Jack Walker, who had made a fortune in the steel industry, bought them in the 1990-91 season and promptly sank millions of his own money into a club he had loved since boyhood.
After a couple of near misses, Rovers won the 1994-95 Premier League in dramatic fashion when, with England striker Alan Shearer up front, they pipped Manchester United to the title despite losing to Liverpool, manager Kenny Dalglish’s former club, in their last game.
Rovers never hit those heights again, suffering relegation in 1999 but returning in 2001, the season after Walker died.
In 2010 they were bought by the Indian poultry firm Venky’s, who sacked experienced manager Sam Allardyce.
Relegation followed in 2012, with Steve Kean, Allardyce’s successor, dismissed the following season as Rovers, like Forest, embarked upon a managerial merrygo-round.
Venky’s, who’ve spent millions on player wages, are highly unlikely to get their money back if they try to sell Rovers as a thirdtier club.
“We go to the last day — that’s what we were looking to do,” said Rovers manager Tony Mowbray.
Now all connected with Blackburn