Santa Cruz return gives Allardyce Cup boost

Blackburn manager feels fit-again striker will suffer no 'hangover' from City interest
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The Independent Football

Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce hopes Roque Santa Cruz is not suffering any hangover after failing to reunite with Mark Hughes this month. For the first time in six weeks, striker Santa Cruz returns to Rovers' starting line-up for today's FA Cup fourth-round match with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Santa Cruz was back in the picture in last Saturday's 3-0 Premier League victory over Newcastle, playing the final 20 minutes after missing the previous four games with a calf strain. But with Jason Roberts and Matt Derbyshire injured, Santa Cruz now gets to start under Allardyce, who earlier this month rejected a reported £16m bid from Manchester City for the Paraguay star.

The 27-year-old was understood to have been keen on a move to City, where former Rovers manager Hughes has spent £42m this month on Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bridge, as well as failing with an audacious £91m move for Kaka.

The question for Allardyce is whether Santa Cruz will be mentally switched on against the Black Cats. "He has a contract with Blackburn, who pay him, so he has an obligation to play when selected, and that's what I expect Roque to do," said Allardyce. "I wouldn't have thought there will be any hangover, but we'll find out at three o'clock tomorrow." Allardyce, though, has not entirely ruled out City increasing their offer for Santa Cruz before the window shuts on 2 February.

"There's been no movement, no communication between ourselves and Manchester City for the last few days now," added Allardyce. "The position we're in is that Roque is still one of our players. I'm not expecting anything further. We want him to stay. Now whether Manchester City make another move is entirely up to them."

With Santa Cruz seemingly staying put, and no money of his own to spend, it means Allardyce is only shopping in the loan market. That rules out a £6m swoop for Red Bull Salzburg forward Marc Janko, and Barcelona's Eidur Gudjohnsen, a striker Allardyce knows well from their time together at Bolton.

"It would be lovely to have Eidur playing with me at Blackburn," added Allardyce. "While he might not be a regular at Barcelona at the moment, it is somewhere he still enjoys living and playing. So from that point of view, as much as I'd like it, it would be very difficult for him to come here. As of now there's nothing pending. We've had a look at a few triallists this week [Marco Zoro, Babacar Gueye and Jean Calvé], but we don't feel they are going to improve the first team immediately. So we'll be saying no to all of those.

"I'm only in the loan market, and we've done very well with Gaël Givet, who I consider to be a quality player. If anybody else of that quality becomes available then yes, I'll be very interested, but if not then I'll go with the players I have here." Allardyce was coy, though, with regard to Egyptian duo Mahmoud Abdel Razek and Ahmed Al-Muhammadi, who were apparently being watched by a Rovers delegation in a friendly with Kenya last night.

"We've many players who are on our list, and no one we are targeting," added Allardyce. "If anything good arises in the next few days then we will move to try to secure it, but in the main that will only be on a loan basis."

France international defender Givet, who joined Rovers on a loan deal until the end of the season from Marseilles earlier this month, looks set for his first appearance today. Givet is likely to replace Andre Ooijer who is sidelined with a groin problem, while Allardyce is also without midfielders David Dunn (Achilles) and Keith Treacy (knee) for the fourth game this season between the two sides. After beating Sunderland in the Carling Cup in November, Rovers then lost at home in the League three days later, before Allardyce and Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia shared a goalless draw on Boxing Day.