Johansson insists Rovers possess escape powers

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The Independent Online

The Blackburn Rovers defender Nils-Eric Johansson believes winning the Worthington Cup can help cement the club's place in the Premiership.

Victory over Tottenham in Cardiff was followed by four points being gained against Bolton and Aston Villa. Now Blackburn know that, if they overcome their fellow strugglers Ipswich Town at Ewood Park tonight, they will move out of the bottom three.

Johansson, recruited from Germany's Nuremberg last October, is convinced they are on the up. "Winning in Cardiff was a great boost for our self-confidence," the former Sweden Under-21 captain said.

"Not only was it a very important game, it was a great game from our point of view. Certainly when I arrived, winning a cup was not on my mind. So it is a real memory for me. There a few more laughs in training now, you have to have a bit of fun. If you have fun in training then you perform better."

Johansson has settled well since arriving from Germany, where he also had a spell with Bayern Munich. He is viewed as a player who could have a role to play in Sweden's Euro 2004 qualifying campaign. The World Cup, he believes, is out of reach unless there are injuries to key players.

"It's not in my thoughts – in my dreams maybe," Johansson aded. "I have to perform well here. You never know, maybe I will be lucky enough to get a spare ticket."

Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager, has included Mark Hughes in his squad for tonight, but remains guarded about the veteran Welsh striker's future.

Hughes, whose contract runs out in the summer, has indicated he might carry on playing next season. Souness said: "I have not even spoken about that. I have not given it any thought."

The Ipswich manager, George Burley, believes that the Blackburn striker, Andy Cole, is a better player now than when he scored five goals for Manchester United in a 9-0 hammering of Ipswich in 1995.

Edged down the United pecking order by the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford and fearing for his England place at this summer's World Cup, Cole moved to Blackburn in search of first-team football, and the prospect of facing Cole with his new strike partner Matt Jansen worries Burley.

"Blackburn have big resources and plenty of quality. They have very good attacking players in Jansen and Cole," the Scot said.

"I think Cole is a better player now than when he scored five against us for Manchester United at Old Trafford. His years with United will have improved him and he hasn't lost any of his hunger for goals."

The pair scored in Blackburn's Cup final success over Tottenham, but Burley has confidence in his own strikeforce, one of whom – Marcus Bent – is a former Rovers player. But he insists success will only come through a dedication to hard work.

Burley said: "We have lost our last three games. But then, Liverpool can beat anyone on their day, we were poor against Southampton, but worked hard at Leeds only to end second best on a very difficult night.

"We have 10 matches left and our target is 40 points. Nothing can be won or lost at Blackburn, but if we win we can push clear of them."