Football: Rovers struggle to please Hodgson

Blackburn Rovers 1 Derby County 0
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The Independent Online
You tend to get a functional present on your birthday. Alongside Buzz Lightyear and Barbie there is usually a pair of socks, which might be very useful but hardly sets the pulse racing. Roy Hodgson could have had this match sent by his favourite, but oh-so- sensible auntie.

For his 40th, Hodgson, then at Malmo, got a 4-0 away win; for his 50th, on Saturday, the gift for the newly-appointed Blackburn manager was welcome but less exciting. It was the sort of match to make you over-fulsome on the plus points in an effort to disguise the minus.

To get a true reflection of this match you needed to look at Blackburn's club motto: arte et labore. For 25 minutes they embellished the canvas with oils, but then they lost it and had to fill the rest with whitewash. Craft was shoved off the pitch by graft.

Hard labour looked unlikely to be necessary at the start. Derby's initial line-up did not include a striker, which seemed odd until you realised they had not bothered with a defence either. True, there were players allegedly there to resist the Blackburn attack but, with a commendable show of individuality, they refused to do so.

Chris Sutton hit the apex of the posts with a shot after four minutes but ,if you really wanted to watch Igor Stimac and Co flap, you merely had to propel a cross a few feet from the ground. The Derby defenders did not win a header in the first half and the goal was always likely to come from a cross. From a 22nd-minute corner it duly did, the 5ft 8in Kevin Gallacher heading in from three yards.

He explained he had intended to go to the near post but was too late with his run. "Stephane Henchoz went first and everyone seemed to go with him," he said. "I was surprised to get so much space." Not as surprised as the Derby manager, Jim Smith, who could demand an explanation from any number of his players.

His part in the goal was not the only admirable aspect Henchoz revealed. The Swiss centreback purchased from Hamburg for pounds 3m in the summer played with such aplomb Franck Leboeuf looks frenzied in comparison, and his only mistake was to allow Ashley Ward to get the wrong side of him after 57 minutes. Even then, he was alert enough to get back to clear with an overhead kick after John Filan was beaten.

He was the outstanding import on view, although Derby's Stefano Eranio showed one sleight of foot on the right wing that was heavy with promise. With Jonathan Hunt making a lively debut after his move from Birmingham, there was much for Smith to travel home with, particularly as he has the injured strikers Francesco Baiano and Paul Sturridge to return.

"It worries me," Hodgson said, "because people keep telling me Derby are not one of the Premiership's better teams. I hope the others are not much better." That was a sobering thought. Even on his birthday.

Goal: Gallacher (21) 1-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Valery, Henchoz, Hendry (Pearce, 74), Kenna; Ripley (Andersson, 89), Flitcroft, McKinlay, Wilcox; Sutton (Dahlin, 74), Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Bohinen, Watt (gk).

Derby County (3-5-2): Poom; Laursen, Stimac, Dailly; Eranio, Van der Laan (D Powell, 77), Carsley, Hunt, C Powell; Carbon (Ward, h-t), Simpson (Burton, h-t). Substitutes not used: Rowett, Hoult (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Man of the match: Flitcroft.

Attendance: 23,557.