Well after a week of intense speculation I think it is fair to say that a collaborative huge sigh of relief was exhaled by Rovers fans across the globe when Kevin Keegan made his much publicised return to football at the world`s ‘biggest` club.
The links with Mark Hughes the vacant boiling seat at St. James` Park were becoming unbearable with many quarters suggesting that he will take the job and that he indeed should.
Alas, he didn`t because he wasn`t approached and he can now focus on the task at hand at a club where he is “happy and proud to be manager”.
However, I can`t help but worry that this intrusive speculation will have had a detrimental affect on Rovers` preparations for the game against Middlesbrough on Saturday. I`m also concerned that WE ARE playing at Saturday at 3 O`CLOCK! Whether or not the players are used to playing at that particular time zone remains to be seen; after all we saw what happened last time we kicked off at three on a Saturday – Wigan anyone?!
Back to matters in hand and Hughes has been vociferous in stressing that our home form is paramount if we are going to mount a challenge for Europe. When the stats say we have secured more points away from home it is a little worrying.
This is a winnable game, but it won`t be easy considering Boro`s current form, especially away from home. Rovers have a tremendous record against Boro in recent years, in fact ever since they mauled us 4-0 at Ewood in 2004. We also have an impressive contemporary track record against clubs from the north-west but I worry that these runs have to end somewhere.
We have already secured the double over Sunderland and Hughes will be hoping for a second season double over Boro. A win could theoretically put Rovers in fourth but this isn`t likely. However, a win keeps us in contention!
Mark Hughes on Jason Roberts: ‘We are pleased for him scoring in the last game. The best way to get rid of frustration is to take it out on the opposition against Bolton when he came on.
‘He has to be ready to make an impact whenever he is involved, be it from the bench or from the start of games.
‘He has done his case no harm whatsoever in as much as that he’s come on and made a positive impact, he’s very much in my thoughts.‘
Hughes on facing Boro: “We’ve got some good games coming up, starting with Middlesbrough at home, which is obviously one that we are looking to win, because we have a decent record against clubs from the North East.
“We also seem to always do well against Middlesbrough. We won up at their place, so have the opportunity to do the double over them, which would be pleasing.‘
Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate: ‘To be honest I am sick of shaking Mark Hughes’ hand, going for a beer with him and telling how well his team have played.
‘We know they have held the upper hand against us recently but every game is different and we have to go there looking to maintain our recent form on the road.
‘We’ve won three and drawn two of our last six games away from home and that shows a resilience in the side. We will need it at Blackburn because it’s a tough place to go.
‘Two wins in a row can give us immediate breathing space, while we also know that two defeats will pull us the other way.“
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
The main news for Rovers is the fact that Brett Emerton and Tugay have both shrugged off their injuries and are back in contention. However, Hughes could be tempted in keeping with the same players that won so valiantly at The Reebok against Bolton on Sunday.
This could leave him with a selection headache especially in attack. Just two weeks ago we were talking about a different selection headache in attack, now Hughes must decide whether or not to drop prized possession Benni McCarthy, who is horribly out of form, for the bulldozer Jason Roberts. His sensational winner against Bolton would deserve a starting place in most teams whoever, he may have to be contented with a place on the bench.
Rovers from: Friedel, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock, Khizanishvili, Ooijer, Emerton, Bentley, Pedersen, Dunn, Reid, Tugay, McCarthy, Santa Cruz, Berner, Derbyshire, Gallagher, Olsson, Rigters, Roberts, Treacy, Brown.
Player to watch: Roque Santa Cruz
He started this fixture on the bench on opening day but he will undoubtedly lead the attack on Saturday now he is firmly established as Rovers` primary striking threat. He scored the equalizer within minutes of coming on against Boro and he will be looking to add to his impressive mid-season haul of 14. His aerial prowess should cause Boro problems but it is his link up play that will hopefully present some chances for Rovers two out of form players, Gamst and Benni.
Middlesbrough Team News:
Gareth Southgate was boosted by the return to training of three key players this week, Mido, Jonathan Woodgate and Emmanuel Pogatez, however, the game at Ewood Park might have come too soon for Mido. Julio Arca has served his suspension and could regain his place in the midfield at the expense of George Boateng.
Boro from: Schwarzer, Turnbull, Young, Pogatetz, Grounds, Woodgate, Huth, Wheater, Riggott, O’Neil, Boateng, Rochemback, Arca, Downing, Johnson, Tuncay, Aliadiere, Lee.
Player to watch: Tuncay
I singled out this lad in my preview at the start of the season as a real bargain buy. It has taken him time to settle but it just goes to show what a goal can do to transform one`s confidence. He has looked like a different player, the player I waxed lyrical about earlier this season. His movement is key to his game and he will need to be watched closely.
Match Facts & Stats
Rovers have won twice as many league games as ‘Boro (10 to five); the Teessiders have won more league games on the road than at home (three to two).
Mark Hughes’ side have won their last six league games against north-east clubs; Gareth Southgate’s team have not beaten a north-west club this season.
No club has been given more red cards in the Premier League than Blackburn; Middlesbrough have been shown none.
Blackburn are chasing a 50th league win over Middlesbrough, and a sixth in succession.
Kevin Stroud is the man in the middle.
This is very much a winnable game but Boro will feel this too. They are currently enjoying one of their best spells of the season and will present Rovers with plenty of problems. However, if the service to Roque and his partner is good Rovers will have chances to score. This is paramount, as well as keeping a close eye on Tuncay and Downing.
Rovers to replicate the score at the Riverside but add one for the road; 3-1.