Rovers up next

Tuesday 5 February 2002

From Ian McCulloch

After getting off to a decent start on their return to the Premiership, Graeme Souness' Blackburn have endured a wretched run that has seen them sink to seventeenth place, one position and goal difference above the relegation zone. Rovers now find themselves staring over the precipice after West Ham sent them crashing to a ninth defeat in eleven league outings on Saturday.

Fourteen weeks ago Rovers humiliated West Ham 7-1 and reached eighth in the table, since then they have picked up only thirteen points from the available forty-eight.

Blackburn won the Premiership seven years ago, but found themselves back in Division One only five years later. The Club looked to be in terminal decline but the turnaround in fortunes since Graeme Souness took over has been startling.

Only Jean Tigana's magnificent Fulham team kept them from the First Division title last season and Rovers will be desperate to get back to winning ways against their fierce rivals at the weekend. The defeat at Ewood Park that saw the ten-man Whites effectively win the title must surely still rankle with the Blackburn faithful and they will be well up for the game.

Rovers have made it through to the Worthington Cup Final at Cardiff at the end of February, and this may well have caused them to take their eye off the ball in the League somewhat.

The Team

During the first third of the season, one of the key factors in Rovers' solid start to the campaign was their defensive stability, a quality which saw them lose just three of their opening 14 league games.

Currently, Martin Taylor and Nils-Eric Johansson occupy the centre of defence, but the experience of Craig Short and Henning Berg has been desperately missed in a back four which has been leaking too many soft goals.

Souness' £7million summer signing of Corrado Grabbi to play up front alongside Matt Jansen has not worked out, and the Italian has moved on loan to Messina for the rest of the season. In his place has come England international Andy Cole from Manchester United.

In Jansen, David Dunn, Damien Duff and John Curtis, Rovers have some fine young talent which should bode well for their future. Dunn has been out injured but is expected to return for the Fulham game.

Blackburn are rumoured to be putting together a bid for Sunderland target Mantas Uselis from Lithuanian side FK Ekransas.

From The Past

The last time Fulham entertained Blackburn in a top-flight game was in August 1965 and it was a real cracker. Fulham ran out 5-2 winners after being 4-0 up at half time, with two goals apiece for Stan Brown and Johnny Key and one for Terry Dyson.

More recently, was a December game in the 1976-77 season. Goalkeeper Gerry Peyton had just been signed from Burnley to replace the injured Peter Mellor, and crowd-favourite Teddy Maybank was due to play the last game of his loan period from Chelsea. George Best and Rodney Marsh had been signed to join Bobby Moore and were providing fine entertainment as well as pulling in the crowds.

The programme of the day contained an advert for Diddy Dave's Christmas Party with David Hamilton (Admission £1.00), and noted that current Sky pundit Andy Gray was the First Division's top scorer with sixteen goals.

Fulham played superbly in what was something of an up and down season for them. Maybank scored the first goal, converting a Les Barrett cross, and Best sealed the win with a fantastic individual run and shot from the edge of the area. Fulham's form that season went from the sublime to the ridiculous, with performances like the televised 4-1 victory over Hereford and the demolishing of Oldham and Orient by five and six goals respectively being balanced by humiliations such as the 5-1 reversal at home to Notts County and five goal defeats away to Wolves and Swindon.

After the game, Fulham announced changes that were to be the precursors of the Club's downfall. Manager Alex Stock left, to be replaced by Bobby Campbell, and, more importantly, Guy Libby was appointed Chairman in place of Tommy Trinder, a move that triggered a chain of events that would leave Ernie Clay in charge of the Club by the beginning of the next season. The rest is history as Clay spent the next ten years bringing the Club to its knees.

Fulham finished in seventeenth place with Blackburn in twelfth. Keeper Peyton kept clean sheets in his first three games, injured his shoulder in the next game against Chelsea, and went on to make 395 appearances for the Club. Maybank was signed permanently the following March, but despite forging a popular and fruitful partnership with John Mitchell, was sold to Brighton in November. He returned to Fulham two years later but was sold again only nine months later, this time to PSV Eindhoven. He scored 19 goals in 50 appearances for the Whites.

Bobby Moore retired at the end of the season. Best's career at Fulham gradually petered out and he left in acrimony the following year. Marsh lasted only the one season in his return to his first club. Clay, of course, took the money and ran.

He Wore Both Colours

Don Mackay began his career as a goalkeeper with Forfar, Dundee and Southend. After coaching spells with Bristol City, Coventry, Rangers and Nolesundby in Denmark he ended up as manager of Blackburn. In his four years there he twice took them to the play-offs before being replaced by Kenny Dalgish as they pushed on to the Premiership title.

He joined Fulham in 1992, replacing the ineffectual Alan Dicks. Initially, his re-organisation of a Club in turmoil promised good things, but it was another false dawn and his weak management style saw the team plummet to relegation and the obscurity of the Third Division. The side were virtually managerless during his reign as discipline evaporated completely, and the sight of Chairman Jimmy Hill getting involved in playing matters became more and more common, until the fateful day away to Orient in 1994 when Hill stormed down to dressing room and sacked Mackay at half time.

Not Many People Know That

Blackburn fielded more players with international caps than any other First Division side last season.