Lee Clark has urged his side to finish with a flourish in front of the home fans.
Blues complete their npower Championship season with the Saturday lunchtime fixture against Blackburn at St. Andrew's, kick-off 12.45pm, and can clinch a top-ten berth with victory over Rovers. Whilst the boss accepts that that doesn’t represent a successful season, he feels that given all the obstacles that they have had to overcome during the last nine months then it would still be a decent outcome.
Clark took over at Blues last summer aiming to emulate the achievements of previous manager Chris Hughton, whose team secured fourth spot and a shot at the play-offs. Blues have struggled to find the same consistency this term, hampered by injuries to key players and the club’s financial situation limiting the manager's ability to bring in reinforcements. Instead Clark dipped into the academy ranks to supplement his squad and slowly and surely his ‘young and hungry’ mantra has paid dividends. Blues have been one of the form sides during the second half of the campaign.
“I want to send the fans away happy,” said Clark, looking ahead to the clash with Gary Bowyer’s men. “I want three points, which would guarantee us top ten. And don't think I will be satisfied with just finishing tenth - that's never my goal, never my drive - but I know under the circumstances if we were to do that, it will have been not a bad season.
“I tried to continue what Chris had done really well last year and put the team in the play-offs, but if I’m being brutally honest I had a completely different scenario than Chris had. It’s the first time I’ve said that. I think sometimes you have to come out and be honest with everyone and be transparent.
“You talk about some of the young boys I put in the team. They were on really short-term contracts because the previous management team didn’t even know if they were good enough to be at the club. That just shows the comparisons in terms of what Chris had and could do and what I had and could do as well. There has been a real upturn for me and everyone, I think, can see that.”
Blues and Blackburn both know that they will be playing Championship football next season but Clark will ensure that his players don't just go through the motions in their season send-off. “There is a lot to play for,” he insisted. “Whatever position you’re in in the table, every time you step out as a professional sportsman your own personal pride should want you to deliver a performance.
“Whether they are playing for their futures with me next season, to see if they get in the team, or whether some of those that might not think they’re going to be a part or don’t want to be a part of what we’re doing here, there will be people in the stands watching them from other clubs. Ultimately you’ve got to have a mentality of being a winner, so I’m expecting us to be right at it.”
Blackburn looked in distinct relegation danger just four weeks ago when they were slumped in the bottom three. But under the caretaker leadership of Bowyer, tomorrow’s opponents have collected ten points from the last 15 available to drag themselves out of trouble. “It will be a tough game,” admitted Clark. “They’ve under-achieved. They’ve had problems of a different type to me. Their problems look like they’ve been caused by themselves. But they’ve got top quality players all over the pitch and it’s going to be difficult.”
Saturday’s visitors have the division’s second highest scorer in their ranks – a man that Clark knows only too well having signed him when he was the Huddersfield Town manager. The Blues boss said: “I sit and watch Jordan Rhodes now and what he does for Blackburn and it makes me extremely proud, that I bought a player that when I sat down with my board of directors at Huddersfield they didn’t have a clue who I was on about.
“But I persuaded them and we gave Ipswich a decent-sized fee at the time. I think the initial payment was something like 300,000, but with the success we had there were other add-ons, but getting £8m in return wasn’t too bad. He’s gone to Blackburn and kicked on again. I thought he would be scoring the goals that got them promoted but he’s scored the goals that have kept them in the league.”
Season ticket holders are asked to retain their cards after Saturday’s game as the same card will be used and re-engaged for next season, should you decide to renew.
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