Date: 26th December 2006 at 9:24am
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It`s Boxing Day and the traditional sets of fixtures are set to throw up a few stories. Expect few festivities as a battered black and blue Rovers aim to respond from the knockout blow suffered at the hands of Arsenal with a strong display against Rafa Benitez`s bullish Liverpool side.

Craig Bellamy is back in town and will walk out at Ewood Park again only this time with the aim of scoring against Rovers. The Liverpool front man has finally come into some form after he netted his first league goal for the Reds against Rovers earlier in the season. He has now bagged four goals in his last five games.

Whilst all of the attention will most certainly be focused on Bellamy, Hughes will feel his side have more pressing issues to resolve rather than concentrate on the limelight reserved for a former player.

After Saturday`s drubbing at the hands of Arsenal, Rovers need to pick themselves up ready to do battle against Rafa Benitez`s inform side.

With Benni McCarthy returning and Shabani Nonda, Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley all returning to form Rovers will feel they have every chance of haltering Liverpool`s promising run.

Lady Luck appears to have missed Rovers off her Christmas card list but it is about time the blue and white halves had a gift or two. Benitez will certainly be hoping for a similar present to the one received at Ewood last season, although I doubt the same referee`s assistant will turn up. Could Boxing Day be the day when Rovers` luck changes?

Vital Quotes:

Mark Hughes after the Arsenal game: “We`ve had a real go and we`ll pick ourselves up for the big game against Liverpool at Ewood on Boxing Day.

Mark Hugfhes on Bellamy: “He did an excellent job for us at Blackburn. We embraced him and he embraced us and what we were about, that’s why it worked. Captaining his country was also important to Craig. He likes to be recognised as one of the more important, senior players.

Blackburn Rovers Team News:

Mark Hughes has a number of faces available again after missing recent games. Benni McCarthy is expected to go straight back into the side after his one match suspension ensured he missed the drubbing against Liverpool.

Zurab Khizanishvili or Stephane Henchoz could come in for Andy Todd but Hughes has to make a late decision on the fitness of Shabani Nonda who is struggling with a hip injury.

Rovers from: Friedel, Neill, Todd, Ooijer, Gray, Emerton, Savage, Kerimoglu, Pedersen, Bentley, Nonda, McCarthy, Brown, Derbyshire, Mokoena, Henchoz, Peter, Khizanishvili.

Player to watch: Benni McCarthy

Benni McCarthy will be back in the starting line-up and Rovers will be looking to exploit his goal scoring capabilities. With a lot of talk surrounding the impending return of Craig Bellamy to the club that rescued his career, it remains obvious that his approach to the game and presence hasn`t been replaced. Benni will be hoping for the kind of display that has everyone talking about him come five o` clock and how he is the main man at Blackburn Rovers.

Liverpool Team News:

Rafa Bentiez doesn`t have any fresh injury concerns but is sweating on the fitness of Steven Gerard and Craig Bellamy. They will both have late fitness tests to see if they are fully fit to play.

Peter Crouch could return to the side to replace Dirk Kuyt, who has been playing well but failing to score.

Liverpool from: Reina, Finnan, Agger, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Pennant, Gonzalez, Gerrard, Alonso, Luis Garcia, Aurelio, Bellamy, Kuyt, Crouch, Fowler, Dudek, Warnock.

Player to watch: Craig Bellamy

Craig Bellamy, need I say more? Despite the obvious reasons he will have to be watched because of his pace, movement and creativity. He is back amongst the goals and would love to add another strike to the tally at Ewood Park.

Match Facts & Stats

It`s over ten years since Rovers managed a victory against Liverpool at Ewood Park when two Chris Sutton goals and a strike from Jason Wilcox gave the blue and white halves a 3-0 win on the 3rd November 2006.

Rovers have not lost on Boxing Day since 2001.

Liverpool are unbeaten in 16 Premiership matches against Rovers.

They come into this game on the back of four straight wins and unbeaten in seven.

The last time Liverpool lost on Boxing Day was in 2001.

Ref Watch:

Rob Styles is the man in the middle. In his 12 games this season he has produced 42 yellow cards and 1 red. This will be the first time that he officiates a Rovers game.

Match Prediction:

A tough and closely fought game will provide Mark Hughes with some festive cheer. Rovers are due some luck in the Premiership and are certainly due some against Liverpool. Last season Liverpool enjoyed consecutive 1-0 victories against Blackburn with both results shrouded heavily in controversy.

However, the gloves will be off and they will need to be. Rovers have the ability to beat teams as demonstrated earlier in the season and today will be the day when Hughes charges take their first top four scalp.

With McCarthy back and Nonda on song, goals will arrive. Rovers to win 3-2.

Next Fixtures:

Middlesbrough at Ewood Park on 30th


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