Football: Injuries force Blackburn to call up reserves

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The backbone of Blackburn's Pontin's League team will tonight be asked to achieve what the club's Premiership-winning side signally have failed to do - win a Champions' League game.

For their European Cup swan-song, at home to Rosenborg Trondheim, Blackburn will be without at least nine squad members. Colin Hendry, David Batty and Graeme Le Saux are all suspended after the Moscow fiasco; Lars Bohinen, Billy McKinlay, Graham Fenton and Niklas Gudmundsson are ineligible; while Chris Sutton has joined long-term casualties Ian Pearce and Jason Wilcox on the list of walking wounded.

A further two of the players who opened Blackburn's ill-starred Group B campaign, Lee Makel and Mark Atkins, have left, leaving defenders Nicky Marker, Adam Reed and Marlon Broomes in line to face the Norwegians. Marker, formerly of Plymouth, has limited first-team experience. Reed, a pounds 200,000 buy from Darlington, and Broomes, a graduate of the FA National School, have not yet had that dubious pleasure.

Paul Warhurst, the defender-turned-striker whom Ray Harford has tended to use in midfield, is likely to revert to the back four. Another fringe player, Kevin Gallacher, is expected to start for the first time since the opening day of the season after what Blackburn's manager described as a "torrid time" with injuries.

With a record of one point and one goal (by Mike Newell in Trondheim) in five games, Harford showed masterly understatement yesterday when he said: "We haven't done as well as we would have hoped. But I believe everyone at the club is a little wiser for the experience. You have to learn as you go along - if you don't, you're a fool."

Blackburn's principal folly, apart from aberrations such as the Batty- Le Saux punch-up, has been a lack of tactical flexibility. Rosenborg offer a more "British" approach than Spartak Moscow or Legia Warsaw, but Harford would not have used the match to experiment anyway. "Despite our selection problems, we won't be changing the system," he said.

In contrast, Rangers, who have also been eliminated, will be at virtually full strength for their visit to Borussia Dortmund. The Scottish champions found temperatures of -3C and flurries of snow on landing in Germany, though it is the Bundesliga leaders who seem to be under the weather. Matthias Sammer (bronchitis) and Julio Cesar (flu) may have to sit out the game with the suspended Jurgen Kohler.

Unlike his Blackburn counterpart, the Rangers manager, Walter Smith, can reasonably expect to be back in the European Cup next autumn. He is therefore anxious that Paul Gascoigne, Richard Gough, Stuart McCall and John Brown each avoids the yellow card that would make the offender unavailable for the first match of the 1996-97 competition.

Three places in the last eight are still up for grabs. Bobby Robson, coach to Porto, could maintain a modicum of English interest, although in order to qualify, his team must overcome Sepp Piontek's Aalborg in Denmark and hope that Nantes lose against Panathinaikos.