Ince fears exit by X-Factor

Blackburn Rovers 1 Liverpool 3
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The Independent Football

To suggest Paul Ince is suffering from paranoia would be somewhat cruel in spite of the conspiracy theory he put forward ahead of this game, but there is no doubt he is deeply anxious. A jumpy press conference, terminating with the demolition of a radio microphone stand as he bolted for the exit door, made that plain to see.

Whatever he suspects, there is no campaign to remove him from his position at Blackburn, not among the media at any rate. He is simply the man perceived, after Roy Keane's departure at Sunderland, as next in line among Premier League managers to find a P45 in his in-tray. It is nothing personal; merely reality.

Yet clearly Ince's job is on the line, as he revealed in his own words, inadvertently or deliberately, on Saturday evening. Discussing whether Blackburn's next handful of fixtures offered a chance to turn their ailing season around, Ince referred to them as "five cup finals" even though it is not until 21 February that they meet another of the big four.

It just happens that five matches takes Blackburn until 10 January, a week and a half into the next transfer window. Coincidence perhaps. More likely the point at which the Ewood Park board will have decided whether they should trust him, or somebody else, with whatever funds are available to reinforce the squad.

In a sane world, those five games – Wigan, Sunderland and Fulham away and Stoke and Manchester City at home – would represent a reasonable period of evaluation. But, as Sir Alex Ferguson put it, the Premier League is simply a branch of an "X-Factor society", one in which would-be singers, dancers, or successful football managers, rise or fall by public vote.

In that respect, Ince's five games may be wishful thinking. John Williams, the Blackburn chairman, may think it is down to him and his fellow directors to decide Ince's fate. However, the public is a powerful lobby group and while the Ewood Park crowd largely sat on their hands on Saturday – in contrast to the display of disfavour that Ince encountered during the Carling Cup defeat at Old Trafford – should his team fail to beat Stoke in the next home game on Saturday week a sympathetic response is unlikely.

Then again, not everyone beats Stoke at home. It proved beyond Liverpool, for example, in September on one of those days which continue to raise questions over whether Rafa Benitez is also indulging in some wishful thinking when he talks up his team's title prospects.

There have been another couple in the last two weeks, with both Fulham and West Ham matching Stoke's achievement in leaving Anfield with a goalless draw, and while Saturday's scoreline looks emphatic the view from the stands was less convincing.

As Morten Gamst Pedersen, the Blackburn winger, pointed out, until Liverpool went ahead, with not much more than 20 minutes to go, the best chance had fallen to Roque Santa Cruz, who missed an opportunity to head the home side in front early in the second half. Pedersen, moreover, had seen a fine effort of his own pushed on to the bar in the first half.

"It is little things like that, going your way or against you, that make the difference," Pedersen said. "Until their first goal we were holding our own. They did not have too many chances before then."

Benitez had a different view. "I was not worried we had to wait for the first goal because we were passing and controlling the game and for me it was just a question of time," he said.

Inevitably, once Xabi Alonso, seizing on a loose ball, had deftly slid home the opening goal through a gap to Paul Robinson's left, the game became stretched and Liverpool were twice able to exploit space at the back, the excellent Yossi Benayoun scoring the best goal of the contest after darting past Stephen Warnock before Steven Gerrard stroked the ball home with Robinson stranded in stoppage time. The chance Santa Cruz did take was no more than consolation.

Benitez, who left £20 million Robbie Keane on the bench throughout despite the absence of Fernando Torres, insists still that many players, not just Keane, "have not reached their level". He may be right but every below-par performance adds emphasis to the doubts.

And in the same way that how Blackburn fare against Stoke will count for more than 70 good minutes against Liverpool, so Liverpool's performance at home to Hull on Saturday may be more significant than what they might achieve away to Arsenal the following weekend.

Goals: Alonso (69) 0-1; Benayoun (79) 0-2; Santa Cruz (86) 1-2; Gerrard (90) 1-3.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Emerton, Andrews, Kerimoglu (Vogel, 84), Pedersen (McCarthy, 81); Santa Cruz, Derbyshire (Treacy, 90). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Villanueva, Simpson, Fowler.

Liverpool (4-1-4-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Insua; Mascherano (Lucas, 83); Benayoun (Riera, 87), Alonso, Gerrard, Babel (El Zhar, 64); Kuyt. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Dossena, Agger, Keane.

Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).

Booked: Blackburn: Andrews, Warnock. Liverpool: Babel, Arbeloa.

Man of the match: Benayoun.

Attendance: 26,920.

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