Ince on brink as Souness and Tugay wait in wings

Former Rovers manager favourite to take over with midfielder as his assistant
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The Independent Football

Paul Ince remained a man on the brink last night, with a partnership of former manager Graeme Souness and Tugay, the player he brought to the club, favourites to take on the task of managing the club out of their current crisis.



Souness would be a deeply unpopular choice among many Rovers fans but the club's chairman John Williams, who demonstrated again yesterday how acutely he is aware of the supporters' own sense of drift, believes the next two games – against Stoke at home and Sunderland away on Boxing Day – could be season-defining, considering the slump which in his words has now seen the League table "beginning to stretch out".

Ince and his players are understood not to have been at Ewood yesterday. A day off was timetabled but for Ince to adhere to it is unexpected in the circumstances and it hardly points to a sense of him and his team rolling up their sleeves for another last roll of the dice following their worst display under his management in the 3-0 defeat at Wigan. Williams would certainly need to have a replacement like Souness in place before severing links with Ince, since there is no one in situ to step into his shoes.

Tony Parkes, the figure who has provided a bridge between managers in the past, has gone and Ince's assistants, Archie Knox and Ray Mathias, are men to whom Ince is inextricably linked – part of a losing regime and not individuals who might step up. There was a sense from some within Ewood yesterday that the absence of a caretaker might deliver Ince Saturdays' game by default, though another interpretation might be that Williams, back at his office having spent Sunday at his son's wedding, was simply putting new wheels in motion.

Ince might have gone yesterday were it not for Sunderland's indecision. The fact that a job on Wearside remains a possibility for Sam Allardyce appears so far to have prevented a move for Ewood's favoured alternative. The next best option would appear to be Souness. The Ewood faithful never had much fondness for him and by the time he left for Newcastle in 2004 there were some serious doubts about the way he was running the side but he has delivered Rovers from the wilderness before – earning them promotion to the Premiership in his first full season, in 2001, and eventually guiding them to a top six finish. Williams may take comfort from that.

There was no word from the Ince camp last night about his perspective but before Saturday's game it was clear that a respectable performance was the very least Williams expected after a run of 10 games without a win.

There was certainly little comfort for Ince to take from Williams' talk yesterday on the Wigan match – the only issue he was willing to discuss. The tepid manner of Blackburn's defeat was of more concern to him than the result and he clearly saw that performance as a new low in a season which has left the club in a state of deep trauma. "It was not the first time we have gone behind in games but at least before we have shown spirit in trying to come back," he said. "For the first time there was something really missing out there and there was never that feeling we would get something out of the game."

The Rovers chairman is acutely aware of the gap developing between his side and other stragglers. "The worry is the league table is beginning to stretch out and now we need two wins just to get back among the pack at the bottom. There are plenty of games left still, although time is obviously running away," he said. Williams avoided any mention of Ince as he described his disappointment but a desire that the club's fans know he is seeking all means to rectify things is as important to him as improving results.

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