Souness offers olive branch to end battle with Houllier

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The Independent Football

Gérard Houllier will be invited for talks with Graeme Souness, the Blackburn Rovers manager, before tonight's Carling Cup third-round tie at Ewood Park in an attempt to diffuse the row between the pair that erupted after Lucas Neill broke Jamie Carragher's leg in the Premiership match between the two sides last month.

Souness was furious at remarks made by the Liverpool manager branding him anti-Liverpool and criticising Neill, and demanded an apology from Houllier.

Souness' assistant, Tony Parkes, believes that the two managers could and should put their feud to rest before tonight's match.

"We always invite people into the coach's room before the game," Parkes said. "We can have a drink and talk about it and other things. Then it's over and done with. You can't be falling out with everybody, you are men and you get on with it. You can't be against people for weeks and weeks."

Souness sent Parkes as his emissary for yesterday's press conference, but Blackburn's message of peace is clear. Parkes also spoke in defence of Souness after he was involved in an argument with the Southampton coach, Dennis Rofe, after Blackburn's 2-0 defeat at St Mary's on Saturday. Parkes claimed that Souness isfeeling frustrated after a bad run of results.

"Graeme wants to shout and fight at the moment. He just wants to get his frustrations out. We complain about Sven Goran Eriksson sitting on the bench and not moving. Well, Graeme has the desire and he's got the passion.

"The man is passionate and always has been. Sometimes people see that as being over the top, but he won't change and nor should he. If you think that, you will be mistaken.

"You can't stop him, I think you could try but you would not be successful most of the time. He will have his say. What he did at Southampton was because he thought the coach was saying Andy Cole had got to go. He looks after his players. But there should not be an FA charge, nobody got that close."

Neill is fit to return to the side tonight and he will be the centre of attention on the pitch. His captain, Garry Flitcroft, is confident the tough Australian can handle the strain. Neill was suspended for three games for his foul on Carragher and was criticised by Houllier in the press. He has since also had pneumonia, but is now raring to return, according to Flitcroft.

"Lucas was a bit low, things were being said that he didn't feel was right, but the lads geed him up and the gaffer had a word with him," Flitcroft said. "He is buzzing again. Lucas knows his first challenge in the game has to be right, he can't get it wrong. But he is mentally strong. He is a tough character and goes in hard - like me - even in training.

"There will be challenges flying in and there is a lot at stake. We have got to get a result to kick-start our season and get the confidence back."

Souness will field his strongest possible side in a bid to reverse Rovers' recent slump in form. In the past, Souness has used the competition as an opportunity to blood youngsters, but he will take no chances against the side where he made his name as a player.

Andy Todd, the defender, is cup-tied, the goalkeeper Alan Kelly has a dislocated finger and the defender Craig Short has yet to return from a knee injury.

Middlesbrough's on-loan defender Danny Mills returns to the squad for tonight's third-round trip to the First Division side Wigan.

The England international, on a season-long loan from Leeds United, missed Sunday's 0-0 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur because of the birth of his son, but he is included in the squad for the game at the JJB Stadium.

Massimo Maccarone, Chris Riggott, Michael Ricketts and Jonathan Greening could all be in the side as the Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, rings the changes.