The losing streak is over and Rovers received some festive cheer with their controversial equaliser against Man City that ended Sven Goran Eriksson`s unbeaten home record. Now a timid Derby outfit, lashing out amongst embarrassing criticism stand in Rovers` way and their first win in almost a month.
Alas, this won`t be won at a canter, something many teams have managed this season and Mark Hughes needs to fully prepare his charges to ensure no quarter is given and a first league maximum is achieved.
Derby have rallied in recent weeks with die-hard displays against Newcastle and Liverpool, which despite only returning a single point, will see confidence increase.
In many ways they have nothing to lose or fear anymore as they have been consigned to relegation already and usually teams with that frame of mind are incredibly difficult to play against.
Yet, Rovers themselves will be feeling more confident after Wednesday`s result. And perhaps the most important ingredient is the improved performance of Benni McCarthy. Roque Santa Cruz is in the form of his career but I`m sure many will agree Benni is still a more talented striker on his day, and that day will surely arrive soon.
This match won`t be a stroll in the park but it is certainly one there for the taking for Rovers. Hughes will also be hoping to sign off the year with three points as the perfect preparation for 2008.
Derby boss Paul Jewell: ‘We have to get into peoples’ faces; otherwise we will be really embarrassed. There are things we must do to give ourselves a chance, and that is application and effort.
‘We have not been good enough in too many games, and that is why we are bottom of the league. It is not poor refereeing decisions, but what we are doing.‘
Rovers boss Mark Hughes on Santa Cruz:
‘There’s a lot of pressure on him but he’s leading the line well and leading the fight for us.
‘He’s getting his goals and he’s doing it when he’s still not 100% fit.
‘He’s come here and made a huge impact, not only on us but the Premier League. I think everybody likes watching him play and we’re benefiting.’
Hughes on the importance of your best players performing: ‘This is a demanding stage. If you have a situation where key players are below par at the same time then it becomes very difficult to win games at this level.
‘However, if you can get eight or nine at the peak of their powers and the other two or three hitting somewhere close then you have a real chance.“
Derby County Team News:
Derby are reeling courtesy of a lengthy injury list that is curtailing any continuity amongst the team. However, a ne found together is galvanising them. Stephen Bywater and Stephen Pearson (both shoulder) have both been added to the list.
The other absentees include Andy Griffin, Rob Earnshaw (both calf), Matt Oakley (thigh), Andy Todd (back), Claude Davis (knee) and David Jones (groin).
Derby from: Price, Edworthy, McEveley, Leacock, Johnson, Barnes, Mears, Moore, Feilhaber, Holmes, Teale, Lewis, Miller, Howard, Fagan, Macken, Hinchliffe.
Player to watch: Giles Barnes
The talented youngster has finally started to demonstrate his potential in recent weeks, especially with his goal against Newcastle. He is fast and has decent vision. His desire to come inside will need to be monitored.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Rovers welcome Stephen Warnock back from suspension and Robbie Savage. However, it is unlikely Savage will make the starting eleven, especially if rumours are to be believed that Hughes is going to allow the fiery Welshman to leave Ewood Park.
Hughes is also likely to revert back to a 4-4-2 formation for this away trip.
Rovers from: Friedel, Emerton, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock, Khizanishvili, Bentley, Dunn, Tugay, Reid, Savage, Pedersen, Santa Cruz, McCarthy, Roberts, Derbyshire, Mokoena, Berner, Olsson, Brown.
Player to watch: Benni McCarthy
Hughes claims that he is returning to form and his smile has never left him and he certainly rejoiced at Santa Cruz’s goal at Man City but the time is now for Benni to start celebrating his goals again. He has endured a torrid spell but he is bigger and better than that and he should be looking to make the headlines against Derby.
Match Facts & Stats
Derby did the double over Blackburn, when they last met in the 2001-02 Premier League season; Rovers have not won a top-flight victory on Rams’ turf since a 4-5 triumph on 20 November 1926.
Peter Walton is the match day official. He officiated Rovers success at Sunderland earlier in the season and has brandished two red cards in his eleven games to date.
This is going to be a difficult game for Rovers. A month ago Derby were a club there for the taking, much like a Wigan side we recently encountered. Back then, Wigan were poor but Rovers underestimated them with a horrendously slack opening half and paid the consequences. If the players aren`t careful the same fate could await against Derby. There is also the slight psychological element that Derby are going to have to win sooner or later! Alas, if the confidence is returning and Rovers play like they did and can, prevalent earlier in the campaign, then there is a strong possibility they can win. It is of paramount importance that defending is impeccable and that chances we create are taken. Rovers to win 2-1.
Sunderland come to Ewood Park for the first game of 2008 on January 2nd.