Football: Kidd's bruised-and-white army

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The Independent Online
BRIAN KIDD was not joking when he invited journalists this week to examine why Blackburn Rovers have spent pounds 36m this season only to find themselves in the bottom three of the Premiership with 10 matches to go. "Look at my treatment room," he said, "and you'll see real quality."

Unfortunately, it is on the pitch that quality counts and Kidd takes his bruised-and-white army to Coventry today for a relegation six-pointer having lost their last four games. Naturally, Blackburn will be at less than full strength with only one full-back, Callum Davidson, and one centre- half, Stephane Henchoz, available thanks to injury and suspension.

"I've been in this situation since day one," Kidd said, "but we can't keep going on about the injury situation we have to get on with what we've got. I've told the players that we can't afford to feel sorry for ourselves or say `why me?'. That's life and we'll battle on."

Blackburn lost to Everton on Wednesday and there is a danger they will be four points adrift of safety by tonight if they lose at Highfield Road and Charlton continue their recent improved form at Leicester. "I don't want to be in a position where we have to rely on other people's results to stay up," Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley, said yesterday. Worryingly for Rovers they are rapidly approaching that position.

Kidd's former club, Manchester United roll remorselessly on. There was a time when the Double was considered an unlikely prospect, now the Treble is a concept people are prepared to imagine for Old Trafford. The arithmetic is simple: if they win their next 16 games they will be European and English champions, and FA Cup winners. United, however, could come crashing to the hard stuff today at Newcastle where they confront a team who might also stand in their way at Wembley on 22 May and who have been beaten only once in their last 11 games.

They will also come face to face with a man who has twice turned down a chance to move to Old Trafford, Alan Shearer, who scored his 50th Newcastle goal against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, and needs only one more to get his 150th in the League. He now has 15 this season which would be considered a formidable strike-rate if it were not for Dwight Yorke whose gluttony for goals - 26 in 34 starts for United - would have encouraged fears of an eating disorder if he applied it meals. And to think there were voices (including this one) who suggested Alex Ferguson had lost touch with the value of money when he paid Aston Villa pounds 12.5m for his services.

For United to win anything domestically they have to halt Arsenal's ambition for a double Double. They travel to Everton today having taken their unbeaten run to 16 matches against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday but will meet a team whose mood changed radically at Ewood Park in midweek.

Instead of a team crushed by recent reverses there will be semblance of confidence about Everton and particularly Ibrahima Bakayoko whose two goals against Blackburn restored hope that he might not be a case of throwing Goodison money after bad. Even he accepted he had to be dropped, saying: "I hadn't been playing well and had to be replaced. It was up to me to work hard and hope I would be rewarded. I have never felt under pressure, but it is important that as a striker I score goals."

Chelsea, third but with a game in hand, entertain West Ham fresh from dominating possession against Manchester United in their midweek FA Cup quarter-final but stale for having lost 2-0. "I don't think we have to blame ourselves for the way we played," Gianfranco Zola said, "if we keep playing like we did against them I think we can get some success."

On the subject of punishment, you have to take your hat off to Steve Stone for managing to find a team with a worse current run than Nottingham Forest. The former England player did it, however, with a pounds 5.5m transfer to Aston Villa who have thrown away their title ambitions by collecting just one point from a potential 18. He attempts to halt an alarming descent at Tottenham.

Leeds travel to Hillsborough to meet a team who ought to provoke warm feelings in David O'Leary as Sheffield Wednesday provided him with his first win as a manager in November. That game was a watershed in more ways than one because Jonathon Woodgate got his only goals for the club to date, heralding the start of the Elland Road youth revolution.

Which is not a description you can ascribe to Middlesbrough who have made even Blackburn's descent seem leisurely in comparison to their freefall from second place early in the season. Lose tomorrow to second-bottom Southampton and Teesside might as well as be re-spelt Tease-side.