No Rovers return will mean last chance saloon for Hodgson

Victory against Blackburn is essential for Liverpool manager who wanted 10 games before being judged
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The Independent Football

They asked the man famous for telling people they were fired to predict this weekend's Premier League results. Lord Sugar informed the BBC that Liverpool and Blackburn would draw 1-1 and for Roy Hodgson that would not be nearly enough.

There is a possibility that by the time Liverpool kick off tomorrow, they will be bottom of the Premier League, although given Sugar's prediction that Chelsea "would absolutely slaughter" Wolverhampton and Newcastle would beat West Ham 3-0, that particular humiliation might not come to pass.

After a highly-creditable draw in a ferocious atmosphere in Naples, Hodgson commented that a young side had proved "Liverpool are far from dead" but they are still sickly and there is a sense that time is draining away. Hodgson has asked to be judged on his start as Liverpool manager after 10 games and Blackburn represents number nine. The fact Hodgson felt compelled to rest Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles and Glen Johnson to face a club that has not won at Anfield since September 1993 tells its own story.

"There has been a lot of heart in our recent performances but not much head," said Hodgson, who expects the kind of clear-eyed focus that was absent against Northampton and Blackpool, the two most notable humiliations of a wretched season. "The players who came in against Napoli have thrown down a gauntlet to the ones who were rested – now you follow suit. You saw a group of players in Naples who are beginning to come to terms with how we need to play. I thought it was a much better organised performance than some we have given in the past.

"I thought players who previously had let us down positionally did a lot better. I don't think 'being up for it' is a problem. The players need to think how they can cope with the pressure, how we can make sure it is a measured performance of heart and head."

Although Christian Purslow's departure as managing director has deprived Hodgson of a significant boardroom ally, there seems less appetite for change in the directors' box than there is in the stands. The Kop's rhythmic, menacing chants of "Dalglish" as Liverpool floundered against Blackpool must have sounded like an executioner's song.

However, while Tom Warner, Liverpool's new co-owner, commented that: "the prescription for disaster is to lurch to the left and the right" it was an endorsement of Hodgson that came with the observation that: "We are going to give him time but we don't want to make too many promises except that we expect the fortunes of the club to improve." They can scarcely get worse.

"I think the reality we have got to understand these days as a football manager is that people are lacking patience," said Hodgson. "They want results yesterday; it's a fact of modern life. Any report you read suggesting I am thinking of resigning I can say to fans: 'You should forget it straight away'. The owners have given me their full backing. They have told me I have inherited a very bad situation and that I am the man to put it right."

Graeme Souness was in the home dug-out the day Blackburn last won at Anfield. He is still depicted on the vast banner, portraying all the Liverpool managers since Bill Shankly, that is unfurled on the Kop before kick-off, but he is regarded as Liverpool's nadir since Shankly walked into the club like Jimmy Cagney in a tracksuit. You wonder if they will find space for Hodgson.

He seemed to have the qualities so many here admire in foreign coaches – in his press conferences in the San Paolo, he switched between English and Italian. He has a hinterland.

However, intelligent men can say stupid things; what really did for Ruud Gullit at Newcastle was not his acid feud with Alan Shearer, whom many at St James' Park thought was in irreversible decline, but his suggestion that Newcastle v Sunderland was "not a proper derby" – a mistake he discovered when he lost it.

This week, Hodgson and Sunderland's manager, Steve Bruce, were asked about whether their leading strikers would be vulnerable if Manchester United came after them as replacements for Wayne Rooney. Bruce retorted it was "unthinkable" to consider parting with Darren Bent.

Most in the San Paolo's press room expected the Liverpool manager to say precisely that. Instead, he seemed to entertain the thought that the idea was possible, which to Merseyside ears sounded treasonous, although six years ago Rafael Benitez was quite prepared to countenance selling Steven Gerrard to Chelsea to raise money for the rebuilding of Liverpool. These days nobody at Liverpool can be sure of the future; not Fernando Torres and not Roy Hodgson.

'Judge me after 10 games'

*After Liverpool's first three League games, Roy Hodgson said: "Tables are of no interest until at least 10 games have been played." After eight matches, Liverpool are second from bottom.

Liverpool's first eight results:

15 Aug: Arsenal (h) drew 1-1

23 Aug: Manchester City (a) lost 3-0

29 Aug: West Brom (h) won 1-0

12 Sept: Birmingham (a) drew 0-0

19 Sept: Man United (a) lost 3-2

25 Sept: Sunderland (h) drew 2-2

3 Oct: Blackpool (h) lost 2-1

17 Oct: Everton (a) lost 2-0

Next two fixtures:

Tomorrow: Blackburn (h)

31 Oct: Bolton (a).

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