Under-fire Kean banking on season of goodwill
At Ewood Park
Steve Kean is convinced he will celebrate Christmas as Blackburn Rovers manager - a prime example of the optimism that sustains the Scot in these dark days at Ewood Park.
And it was pitch black for Kean on Tuesday as Bolton Wanderers traded places with Blackburn at the bottom of the Premier League with a win that relieved pressure on their own boss Owen Coyle but shifted almost unbearable strain on to his counterpart.
Kean started his night with a plea for a show of unity from all with Blackburn's best interests at heart, only to see this fragile attempt at a truce fractured in five minutes when Mark Davies set Bolton on the way to a vital 2-1 win.
It ended with Kean defying logic by insisting that he will stay in his job long enough to fashion a revival as furious protests provided background noise to his words, with hundreds of supporters gathering outside the stadium's reception area demanding his sacking.
Kean mixed defiance with denial as he swept aside suggestions that his future will be decided in discussions held between directors on Wednesday, claiming he would be "100% shocked" if a run of only seven wins in 38 games ended in dismissal.
And yet it is hard to see how Kean can keep his job, not just because of results but as a consequence of the naked hostility and anger directed at him. The vilification started early and continued long after the game as fans waited in the rain to see if their wish to see Kean out of a job had been granted.
Such an outcome would seem a merciful release given the treatment he was subjected to from his own support, who turned on him en masse once Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker had given Bolton a lead they never relinquished.
Talk of possible successors, from Mark Hughes to Dave Jones, Avram Grant and Graeme Souness swirled around Ewood after the game, but the man in charge insists the job will remain his.
Kean has become a lightning conductor for the disapproval of Ewood Park since Blackburn's Indian owners Venky's appointed him to succeed Sam Allardyce, a decision taken in haste and one they may now repent at leisure.
If Tuesday's second successive home defeat was an unpleasant night for Kean, he did a dignified job of not showing it, refusing to condemn Blackburn's fans for their toxic reaction to his presence and outlining plans to add to his squad in January. If it was an act, an attempt to put on a brave face, it was Oscar-winning stuff.
It is hard to know what reward Kean currently gets from his post. He is being deserted in droves, from his paymasters preferring to watch a live feed in Pune rather than be at his side in his hour of need to calls from his local newspaper and local MP Jack Straw to step away before Blackburn tip over the precipice.
Kean had to endure another uncomfortable night at Ewood Park. Picture: Getty Images
No matter what passions are aroused by football, watching Kean stand alone in the dugout with the abuse of thousands ringing in his ears made for an uncomfortable experience. Once Davies opened the scoring after five minutes the mob ruled - Reo-Coker's second was simply the cue for even noisier revolt.
Yakubu gave Blackburn hope but Chris Samba's late header was the last opportunity. Only time will tell, possibly very quickly, if this was the final act of Kean's tenure. The deafening jeering at the final whistle ensured Ewood Park's verdict was damning.
Blackburn's supporters have every right to express discontent at a dislocated ownership dictating policy from afar as Kean presides over what appears to be an increasingly dysfunctional club.
But it is a hard heart that could not feel for Kean in the poisonous atmosphere that pervaded Ewood Park, not a stadium known for such naked hostility until the Scot was appointed.
The argument goes that supporters pay their money and have the right to air their opinion, but even seasoned observers felt unease at an individual coming under such a barrage. It is called the human element.
Blackburn managers did win approval at Ewood Park - but none was Kean. Hughes, linked with a return, received the most vociferous support and even Allardyce, a taste plenty failed to acquire during his time at the club, was flavour of the night for some.
From "Stand Up If You Hate Kean" to "You're Getting Sacked In The Morning" (from both sets of fans), to unfurled banners calling for manager and owners to leave town and finally some Rovers colours flung in his direction at the final whistle, it was unrelenting.
Kean was asked, with genuine concern, in his post-match media inquisition whether it was really all worth it and whether his family - his wife was in attendance - should have to suffer through his own misery.
He was unmoved, reeling off the casualty list he feels has caused the crisis, and maintaining that the return of men such as Ryan Nelsen, Martin Olsson, Scott Dann and Gael Givet will add ballast to his squad.
Sadly for Kean, though, the statistics stack up against him. Blackburn are 11 points down on their total after 17 games last season and have failed to keep a clean sheet since beating Bolton in April - their worst sequence in the top flight for 80 years.
Bolton manager Coyle, himself in the spotlight before this win, was greeted with a hug from his chairman Phil Gartside, a vocal source of support, at the end. Kean, in sharp contrast, was a solitary figure disappearing down the tunnel.
He remains convinced he will be in the technical area at Anfield on Boxing Day. The coming days will determine whether his apparently endless reserves of optimism are misplaced.