Football: Blackest day for Hodgson

Blackburn Rovers 0 Southampton 2

Oakley 4, Basham 89

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 22,812

ROY HODGSON'S 18-month reign as manager of Blackburn Rovers was brought to an abrupt end at Ewood Park yesterday after defeat by Southampton consigned the club to the bottom of the Premiership table. Hodgson himself failed to appear in front of the press after the game but, in a short statement, Blackburn's chief executive, John Williams, said: "Following the run of recent poor results, Jack Walker and Roy Hodgson have agreed that Roy will be leaving the club. The club are disappointed at this outcome but feel the decision is inevitable and is in the best interests of Blackburn Rovers." It is believed that Tony Parkes, Hodgson's assistant, will take over in a caretaker capacity.

Hodgson was appointed by Walker, Blackburn's multimillionaire owner, before the start of last season having just taken Internazionale to the Uefa Cup final and second place in Italy's Serie A. Before that, as Switzerland manager, he qualified for the finals of both USA 94 and Euro 96. His credentials seemed impeccable and after his first season in charge Blackburn, still hankering for the glory days of their 1995 Premiership success, found themselves back in Europe. This was despite falling away after a bright start when they were praised for their style as well as their results.

Since then Hodgson has spent over pounds 20m in reinforcing the squad but his biggest purchase - the striker Kevin Davies, bought from yesterday's opponents for pounds 7.5m - has yet to score for his new club, even though other big signings such as Christian Dailly from Derby and Nathan Blake from Bolton have settled in well.

But it was the departure to Rangers of Scotland's World Cup captain, Colin Hendry, on the eve of the season, something Hodgson could do little about, that Blackburn fans will point to as the biggest stumbling block. Hodgson was unable to remedy the subsequent weakness in central defence, which has been exposed by conceding 22 goals in 14 Premiership games this season.

Even so, Hodgson's name was still being mentioned in connection with Glenn Hoddle's job as England coach as recently as a month ago. Furthermore the German Football Federation revealed they had been on the point of talking to Hodgson about succeeding Berti Vogts as German manager.

While speculation will immediately link the former manager Kenny Dalglish with the new vacancy at Ewood Park, it is unlikely that Hodgson will be out of work for long. He remains a highly respected coach on the Continent even though his first stab at top-level management in his native country has come to such a disappointing conclusion.

Having your name bracketed with the job of England coach is the kind of flattery that, in recent seasons, has deceived other Premiership managers such as Frank Clark and Gerry Francis. Like Clark and Francis, Hodgson has not enjoyed the best of fortune with injuries which yesterday deprived Blackburn of five first-team players in addition to the suspended Chris Sutton. But, as Hodgson himself was fond of pointing out, it is a wealthy club thanks to Walker and ought to be able to cope with such problems.

Sutton's absence at least was offset by the return of Kevin Gallacher from injury and senior players such as Gallacher and Tim Sherwood, playing his last match before he too is suspended, set a worthy example to their young team-mates with industrious performances. But Southampton, off the bottom for the first time this season, rode their luck and took advantage of Blackburn's defensive frailties, with Matthew Oakley's fourth-minute goal providing the platform.

Taking Carlton Palmer's back-heeled return pass in his stride, the England Under-21 international ran into the Blackburn area and shot past John Filan with a confidence that belied the fact that this was only Southampton's second goal away from the Dell all season.

Blackburn responded well, Damien Johnson and Sherwood had shots parried by Paul Jones while Blake's header was knocked off the line by Scott Hiley. He doubled his credit just before half-time, blocking Gallacher's close- range effort.

After the interval the game was played almost exclusively in the Southampton half. Dailly fired over when he should have done better and Blake, Sherwood and Johnson spurned half-chances before a 65th-minute reflex save by Jones from Blake's header turned out to be the turning point.

The fight seemed to go out of Blackburn after that, not that Southampton could be sure of the points until the substitute Steve Basham made the most of Dailly's mistake to rub salt in the wounds of Blackburn, and ultimately Hodgson, in the last minute of normal time.

ROY HODGSON

PLAYING CAREER

1965-75: Crystal Palace, Maidstone Utd, Berea Park (South Africa). Honours: None.

MANAGERIAL CAREER

Halmstad (Sweden, 1976-80): Two championships.

Bristol City (1982): In charge for 27 games until club were relegated to old Fourth Division.

Malmo (Swe,1985-90): Five consecutive championships, two Swedish Cups.

Neuchatel Xamax (Switz, 1990-92).

Swiss national team (1992-1996): Qualified for 1994 World Cup finals, first in 28 years, and qualified for Euro 96.

Internazionale (Italy, 1995-97).

Blackburn Rovers (June 1997-Nov 1998): Finish sixth in 1997-98 Premiership, qualify for Uefa Cup but are knocked out in first round by Olympique Lyon. Go bottom of Premiership after losing 2-0 at home to Southampton. Hodgson leaves "by mutual consent".

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