Blackburn secure deals for Pongolle, Bentley

January 31, 2006

Blackburn have signed striker Florent Sinama Pongolle from Liverpool on loan until the end of the season while also wrapping up a permanent deal for David Bentley.

The 21-year-old Frenchman has struggled to break into the first team at Anfield this season and now has a chance to challenge for a place up front at Ewood Park.

Bentley, also 21, who spent the first half of the season on loan with Mark Hughes' side from Arsenal, has now made the move permanent, signing a three-and-a-half-year contract for an undisclosed fee.

Blackburn boss Mark Hughes is expecting more sparks to fly when his side face Manchester United for the third time in 22 days tomorrow.

The Carling Cup semi-final showdown with United produced two feisty games, with Sir Alex Ferguson's side emerging 3-2 aggregate winners, and now the two sides go head to head again in the Premiership.

More notably, though, Robbie Savage ended up stealing the headlines for his clashes with Wayne Rooney and Alan Smith in the first leg at Ewood Park, and then Rio Ferdinand in the return at Old Trafford.

In the initial encounter three weeks ago, Savage took exception to a Smith lunge which sent him flying, and after Rooney followed in, the midfielder grabbed the United striker in a headlock.

Referee Rob Styles, who fell as he attempted to intervene, ended up booking all three players.

Then last Wednesday, and in the words of Hughes, Ferdinand `clipped' Savage as the players made their way off the pitch at half-time.

That prompted the Welshman into confronting the United centre-back in the tunnel, although with referee Graham Poll making no mention of the incident in his match report, no action will be taken.

However, the scene is set for another lively encounter, one Hughes is relishing.

'I hope it would be a similar game because I thoroughly enjoyed the other two,' said the former United striker. 'I thought they were excellent cup ties. I think everybody enjoyed the cut and thrust of games that swung from one side to the other.

'They were well competed, and if the game tomorrow is played in the same manner then it will be a good one for everybody.'

Hughes is demanding no let-up from his players in their intensity, adding: 'I would expect all my players to have a spark. We all need that in our play, and I think we've had that for the majority of the season. We expect to compete.

'But when we have the opportunity to play, we do that as well, as we have proved this year.

'We have received a lot of plaudits for the way we have approached games, and the attacking play we have shown, and I think that will continue from now until the end of the season.

'All the players have been playing well up until this point. When they have been doing that you just send them out and tell them to do exactly what they have been doing because they've been effective.'

But when asked if there were likely to be any repercussions between Savage and Ferdinand, particularly as the latter played in midfield for Sunday's FA Cup win at Wolves, a defiant Hughes replied: 'No.'

With Rovers out of both cup competitions in the space of four days - as they were also dumped out of the FA Cup at West Ham on Saturday - the goal now is a top-six league finish, and with it a place in next season's UEFA Cup.

'We want to get into a European spot,' confirmed Hughes, who is again without key strikers Craig Bellamy and Paul Dickov through injury.

'We've set targets this year and we think they're realistic and obtainable, and we're on track at this moment in time.

'We have set ourselves a points tally that ordinarily, in most seasons, would get us a European spot. We're working on that basis.

'We may need more, we may need less. But we're hoping we've picked the right number and we can have a real go. If we can maintain our form then we will go very close.'

Blackburn have also captured 17-year-old Swedish defender Martin Olsson for 'a small transfer fee' from Hogaborgs BK.

'Martin is another young player who impressed us during a recent trial and we feel he will go on to prove to be a big asset for Rovers for many years to come,' manager Mark Hughes told www.rovers.co.uk.

Rovers striker Paul Gallagher has extended his loan at Stoke, however Hughes can recall the 21-year-old in 28 days' time.