Date: 22nd September 2006 at 8:51am
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Following Stephane Henchoz’s claims that he is indeed the man to tighten up the Blackburn Rovers defence some interesting points would be made; one such point got me thinking…

Vital Blackburn Journalist James Watson (also known as roversman) would post the following comment which in particular would get me thinking about possible alternative defensive options with pace on their side, in terms of switching people around currently in the side, or merely using those also available to the club:

My concern is once again a lack of pace.

We are devoid of any great pace in our back four, Neill and Emerton aren’t bad but none of our central defenders can keep up with the majority of pacey strikers, unfortunately the same applies to Henchoz.

I know he talks about using your head which is very useful but it’s that fear of once our defence has been turned then there is no catching the attacker.”

The simple truth is, and Henchoz alluded to this himself that once you get older, no matter how quick you once were you lose this pace. If you never had it, which unfortunately most, if not all of the currently recognised and used central defenders at the club never did have you are in trouble.

With the European game generally played at a slower tempo Rovers are well suited to this (again as highlighted by roversman) however when faced with the likes of Theo Walcott, Thierry Henry and Craig Bellamy to name but a few, who are renowned for their pace among other obvious qualities Rovers will always suffer unless changes can be made.

Ryan Nelsen is currently out injured, and despite not possessing blistering pace himself he is no slouch, yet his mere presence seems to install more believe in the back four. In his absence Zurab Khizinashvilli and Andre Ooijer are the currently preferred pairing, although Andy Todd and Lucas Neill have been paired, as have Khizinashvilli and Todd themselves. What other options are available? More than you might think really…

With Dominic Matteo seemingly out of the equation and lacking pace, Andy Todd not favoured but also lacking pace, and with Henchoz not fully fit, but once again himself lacking pace, the obvious choice would be to switch Lucas Neill back to a central role having looked so comfortable when playing their in the World Cup for Australia. Neill, who is not short of speed, has more than proved he is more than effective in such a role and would leave the left side free for a number of potential suitors…

…Michael Gray being the obvious left-back choice, but we mustn’t forget the other left sided options. Jay McEveley, he’s played there many times and is after all an International with Scotland at U21 level, formerly with England at a similar level. Youngster Andy Taylor, yet to make his senior debut but the 20-year-old has already played for England at U19 and U20 levels and is very highly rated, so his debut would have to come at some time. Although unlikely, he can also play in a central role, so an outside contender for that position.

Another candidate for a central defensive role would be Aaron Mokoena who can, and has played as a defender many times for Rovers and South Africa, he can also move a little, although personally I think he is better as a defensive midfield cover to the back four.

What about Eddie Nolan? At 18-years-old if he is slow then you worry! He has made tremendous progress through the youth and reserve sides, with Eddie a regular in the reserves despite his young age. Hughes rates him highly and hasn’t been afraid to bring him into squads, he would in fact be on the bench for the UEFA Cup 1st leg tie in Austria so Sparky has no qualms over him. So much like Taylor if he’s good enough, which he clearly is he’s got to start a game sooner or later, maybe why not sooner?

With all the options available unless he opted for those mentioned including Nolan or even Taylor, either of whom I wouldn’t mind seeing given a chance, surely the most obvious would be Neill? With Hughes giving Khizinashvilli and Ooijer their chance to impress it all boils down to which one would be left out to accommodate this? Both can play at right-back so they wouldn’t have to be sacrificed although Brett Emerton would.

Basically with a left-back coming in I’m left with Neill in a central defensive role alongside Khizinashvilli or Ooijer, with whichever one I favoured less in the central role playing alongside Emerton at right-back with Rovers having twelve men! I’m unwilling to drop Brett you see, and not sure I’m brave enough to call between Khizinashvilli and Ooijer…

But as you can see there are options available to Hughes, the joys of being a football manager Sparky!

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14 Replies to “Rovers’ Central Defensive Options?”

  • This is a great article. I would be brave enough and drop Ooijer. I don’t want everyone jumping on my back because he is still new to the club but I feel Neill and Khizanishvili in the centre would be a better combination. They each other’s game better plus I think Zurab has played well this season. I’m also excited by our youth prospects. I’ve known about Taylor for a while but very little about Nolan. I would be prepared to give them a game, perhaps a couple of sub appearances first in games that we have a lead in and see how they do.

  • great article! lets give henchoz ago! can some one please tell me why we still have matteo, can we not sell him! he plays once in a blue moon and when he does he lacking in all departments.

    also we should give mokoena ago i think he has not had a proper chance so far!

  • Thanks roversman! You are entitled to your opinion, and it makes sense, maybe it would be easier for Ooijer to continue his settling in period from the bench, or maybe the reserves? Taylor and Nolan will do a job, hopefully this will be at Rovers in the future and not elsewhere?

  • Thanks to you also SGL, much appreciated! Henchoz will get his go soon, maybe the European game, an outsider for Middlesbrough? Matteo is on good money, and not everyone can, or is prepared to match this. It could boil down to him taking a pay cut or satying put, or having his contract paid up. Mokoena will play from the start tomorrow I’m sure.

  • im sure the Neill to the middle of defence is a good option as as was said we do have cover on the left, I personally would like the kids to get a chance, because a club like Blackburn, while trying to climb the league can afford to play the younger english players to get them ready for the 1st team, before they drop a divsion to get football

  • I reckon Mokoena will start against Boro as well. It’s nice to see people backing him as he does get quite a bit of stick. I really do think our younger defenders should get a chance like Peter has in midfield. Also we do have another option at left-back…Olson the young Swedish fella. Maybe Hughes sees him as the long term left back but is using makeshift options in the mean time.

  • good article lads, however – I don’t think Zurab has bossed the back line enough. He’s okay when partnered with Todd or Nelsen, but you always need a “back four” boss – Chelsea have it in Terry, Man U have Rio, Nelsen was our boss and when not him Todd, there is probably more to the Todd situation than we reliase perhaps Hughesy is punishing him for revelations in the Panorama program (coincidence how Harrison also represents Lucas Neill!), so I say why not play Henchoz until Nelsen’s back. I also like Mokey – he is solid in defence but i’d play him more in a holding / defensive midfield. Put Mikey Gray back in at Left Back.

  • Every great defence has always had that boss at the back haven’t they, Arsenal in Tony Adams, Bruce at Man Utd, Hansen at Liverpool along with the others you mentioned, without that you struggle. Todd would be that but his days are numbered, but Henchoz should also be able to do so. Interesting point on the Harrison reprenting both, I have an “interesting” article lined up on this with my thoeries but have to make sure I’m not over stepping marks before I post it, so I’m checking it out completely before adding it!

  • Your point about the need for pace at the back cannot be stressed enough. How often in the modern game are defenders found wanting because they are deficit in this area?

  • This is true but we have no natural pace. If Hughes is looking for a new defender come Jan then I would like to see somone who has pace. Excellent comment about every defence needing a leader and although Zurab isn’t he is a good defender. that has to be a great point. I think Ooijer is a leader but he isn’t settled enough yet. WE NEED NELSEN!!!!

  • I like Clints point about giving the kids a chance, the Rovers’ future primarily is based on their own produce, so why not give them the chance? Otherwise they will slip away to lower league sides before getting their chance they deserve with a Premiership side to Rovers’ cost!

  • Without pace you will get found out, the likes of the legadary Bruce’s, Hansen’s and Adams’ got away with it as the game was much slower back in their day, even now, despite their quality I think their lack of pace could see them troubled, although having that quality up top can add a few yards pace to your game. Rovers do NEED NELSEN indeed though roversman, it can’t be stressed enough can it.

  • yes we do need nelsen but maybe Henchoz will be a supprise he might get our back 4 back into shape you never know what couls happen its football

  • Very true marshinrover. Hughes wouldn’t have brought him back if he wasn’t going to use him so he’ll get the chance, which he’ll be looking to take.

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