Football: Parkes gives Bohinen room to manoeuvre

Blackburn Rovers 1 Port Vale 0
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There is nothing worse for an absentee than to find his understudy doing a mite too well, so if anyone connected with Blackburn is feeling uneasy about their current success, it ought to be Sven Goran Eriksson. The Swedish coach is expecting to arrive in the summer to bring success back to Ewood Park, but the way things are going the good days are going to beat him to it.

"If we're mid-table and in the semi-finals of the Cup," Tony Parkes said, "then we'll have to sack him." He was joking, but concern could lie behind the smiles if a caretaker-manager continues in this vain. Blackburn have lost only once in their past 10 matches and the way they are playing, the Cup's last four is within their scope.

Parkes is an interesting man. At first sight you wonder why such an ordinary figure would evoke such a character change in a team, but Bob Paisley was hardly Mr Charisma either and the caretaker clearly has an astute football brain. Playing Billy McKinlay as midfield anchor to allow Lars Bohinen freedom to flower may not require genius, but Ray Harford did not stumble on it - and he is one of the country's leading coaches.

It must be hard, too, for players not to give their best when they are being managed by a man whose personal ambitions have been buried completely in the Rovers' cause. How would he feel if he got Blackburn to Wembley? "Very proud," he replied, "and so would everyone else in the club."

Parkes was talking hypothetically because he refused to look beyond the next training session, never mind to 17 May; if anything he was playing down Blackburn's chances, pointing to a woeful FA Cup record that he said ought to have made the club's odds of winning the trophy 100-1 instead of the 25-1 offered by bookmakers.

Watching football in sub-zero temperatures is no fun, but this match was poor enough to give the Cup a bad name. Magic? The fact it required more than 4,000 Port Vale supporters to push the crowd to respectable levels suggests the Blackburn public was not under the spell.

Both teams played with one striker and each was packed in the midfield, with five players waiting to strike on the break. As one player moved, a marker went with him and the result was tactical gridlock. "They gave us a bit of our own medicine," Parkes said. "We've been playing like that, making things difficult for the teams, and it's not nice when you come up against it. I didn't expect it to be as tough as that."

It was soon clear that one goal would be enough, and Vale's chance of an upset to go with their defeat of Everton last season probably went when Tom Flowers made an outstanding save low to his right from Dean Glover's 48th-minute header. Blackburn's goal came on just about the only occasion they could operate their plan of supporting the lone striker Chris Sutton with runners from midfield. The pounds 5m striker held the ball up amid a thicket of defensive legs, Tim Sherwood took up the baton and when the ball came to Bohinen on the edge of the area, he beat Paul Musselwhite with a sharp shot.

"If we hadn't been on a decent run it's a game that might have gone away from us," Parkes conceded. As to who will halt that momentum is unclear because Liverpool and Newcastle are numbered among their recent victims. Blackburn for the Cup? Stranger things have happened.

Goal: Bohinen (67) 1-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Gallacher, Bohinen, Sherwood (Marker, 86), McKinlay, Wilcox (Fenton, 89); Sutton. Substitute not used: Given (gk).

Port Vale (4-5-1): Musselwhite; Aspin, Griffiths, Glover (Bogie, 85), Stokes (Foyle, 77); McCarthy Porter, Jansson, Tankard, Guppy; Naylor. Substitute not used: Van Heusden (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton).

Bookings: Blackburn: Sherwood. Port Vale: Griffiths, McCarthy.

Man of the match: Sherwood.

Attendance: 19,891.