McCarthy primed for comeback

Slimmed-down striker could make Rovers return against Boro tomorrow
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The Independent Football

Paul Ince, the Blackburn Rovers manager, could be set to hand Benni McCarthy his first start of the season after the striker shed the weight he gained during the close season. The South African has not scored for the club since February after claiming 24 goals in his debut season and 11 in the last campaign. He has been limited to four substitute appearances this season and came off the bench in the goalless draw at Bolton last weekend.

McCarthy scored in the friendly against Ghana last week and is now pushing for a place in the team to face Middlesbrough tomorrow. Ince said: "Benni came back to pre-season not quite right. He's had to work really hard to get himself to the weight he needs to be at. He has had games for South Africa and that has helped him.

"He seems to have that hunger back. Benni has been razor-sharp in training and he did well when he came on in the last 15 minutes against Bolton. He gives me another selection problem but that is what I get paid for. It is nice because Benni is a quality player and when he is right he is one of the best in the League."

With Roque Santa Cruz again doubtful because of a hamstring injury, Ince is pondering whether to stick with the partnership of Robbie Fowler and Jason Roberts. The alternatives are McCarthy and Matt Derbyshire. Despite good attacking options, Ince is concerned they have scored only eight goals in eight league games. He said: "I was disappointed we did not have a shot on target against Bolton. That is something we have been working on this week, being a bit more offensive and getting people into the box."

Meanwhile, Phil Gartside, the chairman of Blackburn's near-neighbours Bolton, has called for revolutionary changes to the Premier League. Gartside, one of the longest-serving chairmen in the top flight, is proposing a two-division Premier League – perhaps with no relegation to the Football League. He has also demanded that British club owners be protected from foreign tycoons and for consideration to be given for players to be wage-capped. He admits his call will cause controversy but said it was vital that football had a debate to address problems in the game and the increasing lack of competitiveness at the top of Premier League.

Gartside said: "We have to start considering what the structure of the League is, and it is time to look at two Premier Leagues – Premier League One and Premier League Two – and the way the finance is allocated. You could have 36 Premier League clubs split into 18 and 18 and that would also solve the problems of the winter break and supporting the England team. It would even everything out and make it more competitive. We have already got to the situation where the three clubs that go down are usually the three that come up, although a couple of others might sneak in. I don't have the answers but it is time for a debate – perhaps even on not having relegation from a second division of the Premier League."

Gartside, who has been a Bolton director for 20 years and chairman for nine, said clubs should not fear change. He added: "It would be revolutionary but I don't think this would be as revolutionary as when the Premier League was set up, and we should open our minds to change. I know a lot of Football League clubs won't like it – but a lot will. If the FA and the government are going to start looking at debt structure and financial constraints on clubs then we are going to have to do something." Gartside added that owners of clubs such as Bolton, Middlesbrough, Wigan and Blackburn needed protection from the invasion of overseas investors. "The traditional type of owner are something of a dying breed, instead you have the Sheikh of wherever and people like the Glazers."