Ince emerges as front-runner for Ewood Park post

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A manager in the mould of the outgoing Mark Hughes – Paul Ince – has emerged as the early lead contender for the Blackburn Rovers job as the club begin their unenviable attempt to maintain top 10 status without the Welshman.

The club's chairman John Williams is known to value the idea of developing youthful managers, and proved as much in the Premier League break that he gave Hughes four years ago, and Ince's impressive work at Milton Keynes Dons and Macclesfield Town may have done enough to persuade Blackburn to gamble on recruiting him.

Sam Allardyce remains the bookmakers' favourite to return to Lancashire and his work on a low budget at Bolton demonstrates his credentials. Allardyce cut short a holiday in Spain to place himself in contention and though he is scheduled to leave the country again on Saturday to take up a broadcasting role at Euro 2008, he is understood to be prepared to alter his plans if Blackburn are interested in hiring him.

But the appointment of another of the Sir Alex Ferguson alumni would be the preferred option for many fans. The three consecutive top-10 finishes and Uefa Cup place Hughes achieved at Ewood Park demonstrated that a manager need not have a wealth of top flight experience to succeed and Ince would certainly be a promising prospect. Former England manager Steve McClaren is also understood to have made his interest in the job known, and another man linked to the post is Alan Shearer.

Williams, whose determination to dissuade David Bentley from joining Hughes at Manchester City may present him with a challenging task, has indicated that he will make stability the most crucial aspect of his search for a successor. He said: "We have enjoyed eight years of success and stability with Graeme Souness and Mark and now it is important that we build on our strengths."

Williams, who allowed Hughes to open talks with City last week, paid tribute to the Welshman. It was his success in the transfer market with the likes of Roque Santa Cruz and Ryan Nelsen that marked Hughes out as one of the brightest young managerial talents in Britain.

Williams added: "Mark leaves the club in a strong position with three consecutive top-10 finishes and an excellent squad of players. In turn, we have helped him to establish himself as one of the most sought-after young British managers in the business."