Date: 25th February 2007 at 11:50am
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After the heartache of Thursday it is back to business as an important Premier League fixture against Portsmouth faces Rovers.

The lads are out of the UEFA Cup for another year after an exciting journey and they will be keen to replicate their success on foreign shores by qualifying for the competition through the direct league route.

Hughes has stated this week that the Intertoto Cup could be an option for Rovers next season but a strong push towards the end of the campaign will be what he has in mind.

Rovers come into the game on the back of two nil-nil draws, but with contrasting performances. Hughes and his troops will see this as a winnable fixture and will also have revenge in mind following Rovers` humiliation on the opening day of the season at the hands of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth themselves are still sitting well within contention for an automatic UEFA Cup birth. After a strong start to the season performances and results have fluctuated a little. They are still working from a solid defensive platform and it will be important for Rovers to take their chances when they are created and with all of his main strikers fit, Hughes has a welcome headache.

Vital Quotes:

Mark Hughes on the remainder of the season: “We’re not going to dwell on going out of the Uefa Cup, our season doesn’t end here. We still feel there are enough games left to get into a decent position and if results go for us we may well be in the Uefa Cup next year. It’s a big ask but we’ll work as hard as we can until the end of the season and hopefully get in the competition.

Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp: “Blackburn are one of the teams we have to keep below us in the table. It certainly doesn’t do us any harm that they’ve had so many games already. Fatigue starts to bite at this stage. You have got to get full benefit from the kind of rest we have just had. I can sense they are all up and ready to get back on with it again.

Blackburn Rovers Team News:

Mark Hughes has a welcome selection headache in attack with all of his strikers available. Shabani Nonda and Jason Roberts are both pushing for a start and with Benni McCarthy off form he could be dropped.

The rhythm man that is Chris Samba is likely to return to the centre of the defence alongside Ryan Nelsen after being singled out for praise by his manager in the week. Bruno Berner is also available as is Aaron Mokoena.

Rovers from: Friedel, Emerton, Henchoz, Khizanishvili, Nelsen, Samba, Todd, Warnock, Berner, Bentley, Tugay, Mokoena, Dunn, Pedersen, McCarthy, Roberts, Nonda, Brown, Derbyshire, Gallagher.

Player to watch: Rovers’ Strikers

The strike force for Rovers will be important today. In three of the last four games Rovers have failed to score and McCarthy in particular, is looking off form. Rovers are going to need more goals from the front men from now until the end of the campaign.

McCarthy has a healthy return of 15 goals so far, Nonda is on six and Derbyshire is on five. Jason Roberts is still looking for that elusive first goal for the club as he continues his return to full fitness. He would love to score that first one against a club where he endured a tumultuous short spell.

Portsmouth Team News:

Whereas Rovers` news is all about strikers, Portsmouth`s is about defence. Linvoy Primus is struggling to be fit and Lauren is almost certainly out after a slight tear to a leg muscle, however, it isn`t expected to keep him out for a while. Noe Pamarot will deputise. There are also question marks over the fitness of Dejan Stefanovic.

Midfield work engine Pedro Mendes could return after making good preogres from the injury at the foot of Joey Barton a few weeks ago.

Portsmouth from: James; Johnson, Primus, Pamarot, Campbell, Traore, O’Neil, Mendes, Davis, Taylor, Kanu, Lualua, Cole, Benjani, Hughes, Kranjcar, Douala, Mvuemba, Ashdown.

Player to watch: Sol Campbell

He has been a revelation this season and Harry Redknapp has certainly brought the best out of him. If he is on song and at his formidable best then Rovers will have a busy afternoon trying to break the visitors down.

He has been solid, alert and imposing this season for Portsmouth and has formed a strong defensive back-line with Glen Johnson and David James behind them.

Match Facts & Stats

The last time the two teams met, Rovers finished the game with nine men after the departed Lucas Neill and defunct captain Andy Todd were both dismissed. Portsmouth also missed a penalty in that game.

Rovers have bad habits of conceding late goals and surrendering leads.

Rovers have scored 16 league goals at Ewood this season, and conceded the same amount.

Portsmouth need four more points to match their highest ever total for an entire Premiership season of 45 in 2003-04.

Portsmouth are not travelling well at the moment. They have just one point from a possible nine on the road recently.

There are a number of potential landmarks on Sunday. If named in the 11, David Bentley will be making his 50th Premiership start for Blackburn. Also, Tugay will be making his 150th Premiership start for Rovers and Ryan Nelsen will be making his 50th League appearance in a Blackburn shirt.

Ref Watch:

Chris Foy will take charge of a Rovers game for the second time this season. In his 15 matches to date he has issued a single red card and 33 yellows.

Match Prediction:

Rovers need to bounce back with a win to increase any slim chances of qualifying for Europe through the league. However, the excursions on the squad over the past couple of weeks could mean the players are feeling a little jaded.

Portsmouth will be keen to get their form back on track too and will fancy their chances at Ewood. They arrive with a solid defence and with Rovers firing blanks at the moment it is difficult to see where a goal will come from.

However, in the shape of Morten Gamst Pedersen, Rovers have a match winner and I feel he will be the difference today if the strikers aren`t firing again. 1-0 to Rovers.

Next Fixtures:

The F. A. Cup reply on Wednesday against Arsenal at Ewood Park.


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