PRESSURE: Relegated club and manager feel the heat from Indian owners
BLACKBURN midfielder David Dunn admits Rovers boss Steve Kean and his players are under intense pressure from the club's Indian owners Venky's to secure an immediate return to the Premier League.
Rovers will play their first match in English football's second tier since 1999 when they travel to Ipswich today and long-serving star Dunn knows Venky's won't tolerate a repeat of the chaotic campaign that ended with relegation from the top flight in May.
Kean spent most of last season engaged in a fruitless battle to inspire a team whose confidence was badly affected by the poisonous atmosphere that pervaded Ewood Park once the fans turned against the manager and then Venky's.
Relegation was the inevitable result, yet Kean has somehow managed to keep his job and has been granted the funds to sign a group of experienced stars he hopes will ensure a one-season stay in the Championship.
Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu have arrived from Fulham to bolster Blackburn's central midfield, while Portuguese striker Nuno Gomes and Turkey's Colin Kazim-Richards are expected to add penetration to the attack.
Yet Kean has been unable to escape negative headlines on the eve of the new season after former Malaysia defender Shebby Singh, now employed as Blackburn's global director, claimed the Scot would be sacked if he lost three successive matches and described Rovers winger Morten Gamst Pedersen as a "pensioner".
With that kind of a tense atmosphere, it is no wonder Dunn concedes Blackburn will need to make a strong start and last the pace in the promotion race to keep Venky's and the fans happy.
"Everyone wants to have a real push for promotion, not just to go up, but hopefully to go on and win it," Dunn said.
"The owners have spent a little bit more money than they have previously and I hope we can bring a few more in. I think if we don't go up, it will be a failed season."
Rovers are regarded as one of the leading promotion contenders, but Bolton and Wolves -- the other sides relegated from the Premier League last season -- will also be expected to mount strong challenges.
Bolton look in especially good shape despite the news that midfielder Fabrice Muamba has been forced to retire following the cardiac arrest that left him fighting for his life last season.
Owen Coyle's side have added Republic of Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews as Muamba's replacement and the loan signing of Arsenal striker Benik Afobe should add firepower to go along with Kevin Davies's physical assets.
"I'm always reluctant to look back but in the last 11 Premier League games we picked up a lot of points and we still have that group of players," Coyle said.
"From the squad we can add Lee Chung Yong and Tyrone Myers, who are both now fit. So I think that tells you the strength we have."
Wolves, under new manager Stale Solbakken, face a more uncertain future as they try to keep star striker Steven Fletcher and winger Matt Jarvis out of the clutches of Sunderland and West Ham respectively.
Blackpool, beaten by West Ham in last season's play-off final, may struggle to emulate that run. But there are a host of other clubs who harbour realistic dreams of a lucrative place in the Premier League.
Birmingham and Cardiff, both play-off semi-final losers, will believe they can bounce back, while Middlesbrough, Leicester and former European champions Nottingham Forest, backed by the Kuwaiti Al-Hasawi family, could also be contenders. AFP