Ian Herbert: A failed gamble on a manager who lost his muscle

One of the first portents came on a night of biblical weather, against the club that had helped define him. After Manchester United, who had come to fear the physicality of Blackburn Rovers, rolled over them over in the rain nine weeks ago, Paul Ince declared that defeating them was impossible. "You can spend all week, as I have done, discussing tactics and personnel, but when a team is that good sometimes you can't do anything about it."

Those words of Ince's crystallised what had changed when one United legend succeeded another in charge at Ewood Park. Ince was irritated on the afternoon of his first home match to find his programme notes printed under the headline "The Guv'nor" and demanded that be changed to "The Gaffer", but by casting off his old suit he removed the uncompromising quality, manifest in Hughes, which Rovers chairman John Williams thought he was buying when he took a gamble and made Ince the Premier League's first black manager 17 weeks ago.

Aesthetics might never have been high on Hughes' agenda but the big teams always dreaded the journey to east Lancashire. Arsenal's 4-0 stroll at Ewood on 13 September looks even worse for Ince in the light of what we now know about Arsène Wenger's current side and Chelsea would have left Lancashire with a rugby score without the heroics of goalkeeper Paul Robinson. The capitulation at Wigan Athletic four days ago, where Ince was speechless and alone in his technical zone throughout the second half, reinforced the sense that the muscle had gone.

It had seemed so different on the season's opening afternoon when Blackburn won at Everton and were defeated only twice in the first eight games. But there were hints from the start of Ince's struggle to fashion the right spirit. On Rovers' pre-season tour of Portugal, to which the side flew via Germany, players were bemused when the manager, apparently seeking a rapport, invited them to take beers at the airport. Once at their final destination, Ince is understood to have joined his family at a villa while his players stayed at the team hotel.

While apparently removing the healthy distance that Hughes had always kept between himself and his squad – the decision to allow a team so adrift of safety their Christmas party in Dublin is one Hughes would not have tolerated – Ince did not appear to have been much involved in training. His lieutenant Archie Knox has not been popular either – some have found the Scot's training sessions old-fashioned – and players were also bemused by the presence at Rovers of Ray Mathias, Ince's assistant through his managerial travels but not an individual with top flight experience.

The signing of Keith Andrews, Ince's captain from Milton Keynes Dons, raised as many eyebrows as bringing in Robbie Fowler, when it seemed to have furnished Rovers with a player out of his depth. Tactically, Ince has seemed limited too, deploying Stephen Warnock, patently a full-back, as a second striker and midfielder. On Saturday, midfielder David Dunn was second striker and Jason Roberts briefly at full-back.

Managerial storms elsewhere at Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Everton deflected attention but Williams has seen a storm brewing for two months and privately it has left him a haunted man. Williams has desperately wanted to believe that the "Sparky model", as he calls it, of developing young managers might work for him but despite a cordial relationship with Ince he has been reduced to mentally rehearsing the arguments for and against persisting with him.

The pressures Ince overcame at Macclesfield – preserving their Football League status on the last game of the 2005-06 season after inheriting a side 11 points adrift – have been a source of comfort. The knowledge that Rovers, with their small fanbase and no Jack Walker money, would take years to bounce back from relegation is a point to which he persistently returns. At a board meeting last week, Williams persuaded those members set against Ince to give him one last game. The only comfort in the manner of defeat at Wigan is that it will have cleared the fog from Williams' head. A board meeting on Monday afternoon sealed the manager's fate.

Fate certainly might have dealt him a better hand. The core of Hughes' side – David Bentley and Brad Friedel apart – is intact but his midfield, in particular, has been bereft, with David Dunn's Achilles ruling him out for almost four months in August and Vince Grella's absence not helping the search for a settled midfield. But the futility of the project was reflected in Saturday's dependence on Dunn, a player with such little match fitness. Ince has been waiting, he explained two weeks ago, for his Mark Robins moment. "Ferguson was probably 20 minutes away from the sack until Robins scored that winner against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup," Ince said. "It would have been easy to sack him if they had lost, but look at him now."

But Robins' FA Cup goal for Ferguson came in different days, 18 years ago, when the consequences of a drop from the top flight were neither as apocalyptic nor as long-lasting. Rovers just could not risk it any longer.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain