Thursday, April 15, 2004
Game of the Week
Blackburn Rovers v Leicester City
Ewood Park plays host to a veritable six-pointer on Saturday as Graeme Souness's Blackburn Rovers meet Leicester City, with both teams fighting tooth and nail to avoid the drop to Nationwide League football.
The form book, and league table, suggests that 16th placed Blackburn should be too strong for a Leicester outfit, which after winning just one game this year, finds itself 19th in the league and four points adrift of safety.
But, while Blackburn arguably have the better squad, they have only won three times this year themselves. Their most recent victory came earlier this week at Loftus Road, where they managed to out-battle Fulham to notch a creditable 4-3 triumph.
Whether Monday's away victory will be enough to foster some much-needed team spirit in the Rovers dressing room is an impossible conundrum to answer.
Reports of dressing room and training ground spats have hardly helped to galvanise the team, but the resilience displayed against Fulham suggests a hitherto unseen determination.
And it is determination that Rovers now require if they are to avoid a repeat of their ignominious relegation from the top flight back in 1999.
Souness has a number of good ball players within his squad, particularly in Emerton and Tugay, but the manager's task must now be to encourage a less than elegant 'muck and bullets' fighting spirit.
It is a dearth of such doggedness which has seen them lose against relegation rivals Portsmouth and Leeds - two teams who have no aversion to scrapping.
If Blackburn can marry resilience in their play to their existing qualities as a footballing side they should be able to prove themselves too good for relegation.
But, unfortunately, things are a little more complicated for Souness than simply addressing morale and motivational tactics.
Apart from set-tos with Cole and Yorke one of the few constants in Rovers' season is that they have shipped goals. Only Leeds and Wolves have leaked more, and making matters worse; their home form is abysmal.
In 2004 Blackburn have managed to notch just two points from seven games, that's equal to 19 dropped points.
All of which adds up to great news for Leicester, who, with 26, are the league's third highest scorers away from home and are particularly useful at set-pieces - one of the key failings of Rovers all-too generous defence.
Another factor in Leicester's favour is that the Foxes beat Rovers 2-0 at the Walkers Stadium earlier in the season, and at this stage anything that can provide a team with even the slightest psychological edge is of benefit.
When struggling against relegation, luck, belief and determination are of utmost importance. Frustratingly, these are the same qualities that clubs in the mire are generally lacking.
Leicester are not without fight, but they are without luck, which has a knock-on effect for their belief.
Recent result have been frustrating for Leicester. Of the 14 Premiership games they have played this year the Foxes have won just one, lost six and drawn seven - that Micky Adams' team have been unable to convert at least two or three of those drawn matches into victories has been of considerable frustration.
While the draw against Liverpool is particularly creditable, the 4-4 thriller at Tottenham must go down as a win thrown away after Defoe's last-gasp equaliser. The 3-3 away draw at Middlesbrough was also a chance squandered. Two stoppage time goals, including an OG, left Adams dejected.
Earlier this week a solitary goal was enough for Manchester United to condemn Leicester to a third successive defeat, but City's luck might be about to turn.
Those three defeats have coincided with the absence of Les Ferdinand, the club's top scorer with 12 goals, but despite a recurring knee injury Adams will turn to the marksman dubbed Sir Les.
'Les will be wheeled out in some capacity whether he likes it or not!', said Adams. 'He will be in the 16 at Blackburn. He is struggling with his knee but he has decided himself that he is fit enough to be able to be involved this weekend. He has been superb for us.'
Whether Ferdinand's return will be enough for Leicester at Ewood Park is anyone's guess, as is whether the win at Fulham will be enough to buoy Rovers. What is sure is that the outcome of the game will have a significant bearing on both club's futures.
Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.