Souness the front-runner after Rovers jettison Ince

Former Blackburn manager tops list to return to relegation-threatened club
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The Independent Football

Blackburn Rovers believe they must appoint for the future rather than hire a short-term successor to Paul Ince and though Graeme Souness had not been contacted by the club yesterday, he would appear to be the firm front-runner.

The Rovers chairman, John Williams, seems to have been inclined to give Ince a last roll of the dice against Stoke City at the weekend but, having failed to convince his five fellow board members, he now has a clearly identified name at the top of his list, with the man who led Rovers back into the Premier League in 2001 appearing to be the strongest contender. Souness is known to covet the job, though the absence of any initial contact from Rovers has left him uncertain of his prospects. It is understood that Williams will begin the recruitment process this morning.

Williams has put Ince's assistants Archie Knox and Ray Mathias in temporary charge but he does not want them to take Rovers into the first of two critical matches against fellow strugglers, with a trip to Sunderland on Boxing Day.

There have been suggestions that Souness would work in tandem with Tugay, who would become a player-coach at the club but his representatives indicated yesterday that he has not been made aware of any such proposition.

The other main contender would appear to be Sam Allardyce and though he is on Sunderland's shortlist to replace Roy Keane, the prospect of him receiving word on that position does not appear to be imminent. Sunderland are determined to take their time to explore every possible avenue at home and abroad. But despite the delay in the situation on Wearside resolving itself and the fact that Williams' resolve to appoint on a three-year basis would be to the liking of Allardyce, the former Bolton manager's reputation is not the greatest within boardrooms and there are doubts about whether he is the man for the Rovers job.

Other possible contenders are Dave Jones, the Cardiff City manager, and Owen Coyle, who has been building a strong reputation at Burnley – though that switch would clearly be hugely controversial. Both would appear to represent a risk at a time when Rovers have a huge need for the safest option and experience. Also mentioned for the job has been the former Charlton Athletic and West Ham United manager Alan Curbishley.

As so often in such situations, Blackburn have been forced into the least bad option, from a fans' perspective. The prospect of Allardyce succeeding Mark Hughes was deeply unpopular this summer and Souness has a chequered history himself at Ewood Park. He appeared to be reaching the point of dismissal when he moved to Newcastle United in 2004, Rovers earning £3.8m compensation into the bargain.

Ince's fate was sealed when the Blackburn board met on Monday and Ince met his chairman yesterday morning before time was called on his 17-league game reign which dropped the club to 19th in the Premier League, already five points from safety.

Williams said: "We acknowledge that timelines are tight for we are in a very worrying situation. We will endeavour to have a new manager in place for Saturday's game with Stoke City at Ewood Park, but there are no guarantees and we must ensure that we get the right man."

There was a genuine sense of regret in his explanation of this week's events which followed a plea by the League Managers' Association to spare Ince. "It was a very difficult decision," Williams said. "It is not something we like to do at all. But we have to think first and foremost about the club, and our predicament was worrying – and we had to make a decision which was in our best interests. The survival of the club in the Premier League is paramount."

Mathias stressed it must be business as usual at the club, despite the sacking of Ince. "We have just got to carry on with the players and make sure they are prepared for Saturday's game," he said. "As a team we [himself, Knox and Karl Richardson] will all be in charge. We will work together on it and discuss things as time goes on.

"We have to go day-to-day. The players have worked hard today and we will be training every day of the week, so it will be no different to what we usually do. The chairman will be bringing someone in – we don't know who. He assured us he hadn't spoken to anyone at this time, so we have to go by what he says."

Mathias dismissed rumours that dressing-room unrest had contributed to the poor performances. "It is a load of rubbish. There is no happier a dressing room than ours – you would go a long way to beat that," he said. "It is a massive disappointment Paul has gone. Everyone is feeling it; the players, you can see it in their eyes."

Who could rescue Rovers? The leading candidates

Graeme Souness

Had 212 games in charge at Ewood Park between 2000 and 2004 and led Rovers to League Cup. Relationship with supporters deteriorated, will not be welcomed back by all. Odds: 11-10

Sam Allardyce

Out of work since leaving Newcastle in January. Over-achieved on limited budget at Lancashire rivals Bolton and could relish a similar opportunity at the helm of another club with small resources. Odds: 3-1

Alan Curbishley

Linked with Sunderland position in recent weeks after resigning from West Ham in September. Impressed during 15 years in charge of Charlton and may fancy the challenge. Odds: 6-1

Owen Coyle

Pulling up trees at Championship rivals Burnley, leading them to fourth place in the and a League cup semi-final. Will he fancy top-flight chance earlier than expected? Odds: 12-1

Dave Jones

Has steered Cardiff to fifth in the Championship after previous tastes of Premier League with Wolves and Southampton. Odds: 20-1

Relegation form: Ince's League results

Date/Opposition/Result

16 Aug/Everton (a)/Won 3-2

23 Aug/Hull City (h)/Drew 1-1

30 Aug/West Ham (a)/Lost 4-1

13 Sep/Arsenal (h)/Lost 4-0

20 Sep/Fulham (h)/Won 1-0

27 Sep/Newcastle (a)/Won 2-1

4 Oct/Man United (h)/Lost 2-0

18 Oct/Bolton (a)/Drew 0-0

25 Oct/Middlesbrough (h)/Drew 1-1

29 Oct/Aston Villa (a)/Lost 3-2

1 Nov/West Brom (a)/Drew 2-2

9 Nov/Chelsea (h)/Lost 2-0

15 Nov/Sunderland (h)/Lost 2-1

23 Nov/Tottenham (a)/Lost 1-0

30 Nov/Portsmouth (a)/Lost 3-2

6 Dec/Liverpool (h)/Lost 3-1

13 Dec/Wigan (a)/Lost 3-0

P17 W3 D4 L10 F17 A34 Pts13

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