Rovers rely on same old recipe

Phil Shaw looks at Blackburn's slim hopes of survival in the European Cup
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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers have had the wool pulled over their eyes in every Champions League fixture so far. It therefore seemed apt, on the eve of a game they must win to retain any chance of making the quarter-finals, that Ray Harford yesterday admitted his interest in a player called Blinker.

As Blackburn prepared to receive Legia Warsaw in their fourth Group B game, their manager was pondering an offer for Regi Blinker, 26, a winger with four caps for the Netherlands. Feyenoord, where Blinker has fallen from favour since Arie Haan replaced Wim Van Hanegem as coach, are ready to sell for pounds 1m, and Harford may travel to Rotterdam if it appears he is likely to face Everton tomorrow.

Blinker's arrival would help restore the balance and left-sided width Blackburn have lacked since injury forced out Jason Wilcox in February. Harford conceded that, with hindsight, they should have bought Glenn Helder when he was available. The problem has been compounded lately by the absence of Graeme Le Saux, with the champions forced to use right-footed players in unfamiliar roles.

The lack of depth in the squad, which has prompted a spree on Lars Bohinen, Billy McKinlay and Graham Fenton, means Legia can expect few surprises either in personnel or tactics. With Le Saux, in Harford's words, "only 80 to 90 per cent fit", and the newcomers ineligible, the only query is over who replaces Bohinen, who has galvanised Blackburn since joining from Nottingham Forest.

Paul Warhurst, who filled in effectively for the cup-tied Norwegian at Watford last week, is the favourite ahead of Chris Sutton and Matty Holmes. Warhurst was one of numerous disappointments in Poland a fortnight ago, but Harford believes the confidence recovered in three unbeaten matches since then can help Blackburn break their duck.

"Our home performances have been good all season," he said, "and Saturday's win over Chelsea was the best by far. The passing and movement were excellent. We put them under constant pressure without resorting to Wham-bam-thankyou- ma'am stuff."

Of Blackburn's three defeats in the European Cup, the last two followed bright Premiership displays. These rude awakenings underlined a chasm in quality which, extraordinarily for a club which boasts Kenny Dalglish as Director of Football, appeared to catch them unawares. Now, anything less than victory over Legia - who are without the suspended libero Jacek Zielinski - and the game will almost certainly be up.

Whatever the outcome of their penultimate match, away to Spartak Moscow, home wins against Legia and Rosenborg Trondheim could leave Blackburn in a three-way tie behind the Russians. At the equivalent stage last year, Manchester United had five points yet still failed to qualify. In five seasons of the Champions League no one has come second in a group with seven, let alone six.

A more realistic target might be beating PSV Eindhoven's record of only one point.

Blackburn Rovers (Probable; 4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Pearce, Hendry, Kenna; Ripley, Sherwood, Warhurst, Batty; Sutton, Newell.

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