Football: Kidd instils confidence in Rovers' united front

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 1 Leeds United 0

BRIAN KIDD'S sixth match in charge, the seventh since he was appointed manager and Blackburn, apparently in disarray when Roy Hodgson was asked to leave, still have not lost. So what is his secret?

Part of the answer is that he is a shrewd cookie. As Martin Edwards lamented, when Kidd delivered his bombshell to Manchester United last month, Alex Ferguson's No 2 simply wanted to be a No 1. But not just anybody's No 1.

Remember Manchester City and how hard they tried to lure Kidd away from Old Trafford? Not a flicker of a chance. But Blackburn, champions only five years ago? Now that was an opportunity worth considering.

Unlike United's hapless neighbours, Blackburn were genuinely in a false position at the wrong end of the Premiership. Football clubs invariably change managers because they are beset with hard times but, as Kidd was fully aware, Hodgson's only real failing was that he was unlucky, not that he had turned Blackburn into a poor side.

These are early days, of course, and Blackburn are not the first team to respond positively to the fillip of a new manager. But Kidd is no ordinary new manager. As Ferguson's trusted lieutenant he acquired not only considerable experience but enormous respect. Quite apart from showing flair as a tactician and motivator, he had earned the trust of players through his discretion and loyalty, such that to many at Old Trafford he was a confidant and a friend.

It is clear that Blackburn's players already feel he is a man to whom they can look up, whose judgement they can trust and whose commitment they need not doubt. Indeed, on Saturday, when every last one of them gave his all to defend a lead threatened by a questionable red card, they played as if they had pledged their lives to him.

"They are good professionals," Kidd said. "I often tell them how lucky they are to be playing this game and how they should never take it for granted but I don't need to, really.

"There is no one who gets above his station. This is not a game about individuals but a team effort, where everyone pulls for everyone else.

"To defend as we did with 10 men, against a very good Leeds side, required concentration and discipline and teamwork and that's what we got. Look at Ashley Ward, a striker, having to play half the game as a defender. He was tremendous."

Blackburn, with only Ward available from Kidd's pool of authentic strikers, settled for a counter-attacking game from the start but hit Leeds early when a raid triggered by a mistake by Gunnar Halle ended with Keith Gillespie turning David Wetherall inside out before toe-poking the ball past Nigel Martyn.

Less than three minutes later, however, came the incident that reshaped the match, a harsh dismissal from a referee apparently convinced that every hint of physical contact demands a yellow card.

The confrontation between Lee Bowyer and Tim Sherwood, the terriers of the opposing midfields, was always likely to be spicy and referee Rob Harris had clearly decided he would not take any nonsense. Thus their first, minor skirmish, only nine minutes into the match, brought both a yellow card.

This left Mr Harris with little scope for subsequent lenience and when Sherwood, habitually robust, then clipped Bowyer with his leading arm the yellow came out again, followed automatically by red. Much as the Rovers captain protested, not against Bowyer's reaction but over the absence of malicious intent, he was off.

"There was no real option but to throw everything into defending our lead," Kidd said. Leeds sent on another striker, Alan Smith, and played 3-4-3, but Blackburn's ranks of four and five kept their shape and discipline almost without error.

Bowyer missed one inviting chance by snatching at his shot and John Filan made an important save near the finish to keep out a Jimmy Hasselbaink header but the home defence, in which Stephane Henchoz was excellent, were so alert and effective that Leeds never seemed to have a goal in them.

It was a disappointment for David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, who desperately needs another top-notch striker to ease Hasselbaink's burden. "With so much possession we really should have come away with something," O'Leary said.

Goal: Gillespie (22) 1-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Kenna, Henchoz, Broomes, Davidson; Gillespie, Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox; Ward, Duff (Dunn, 26). Substitutes not used: Peacock, Blake, Croft, Fettis (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Woodgate (Smith, 45), Wetherall, Granville; Haaland, Hopkin, Bowyer, Ribeiro (McPhail, 74); Kewell, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Wijnhard, Jackson, Robinson (gk).

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: Blackburn Sherwood, Wilcox, Filan; Leeds Haaland, Wetherall, Bowyer. Sending-off: Sherwood.

Attendance: 27,620.

Man of the match: Henchoz.

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