Date:Tuesday December 12 2006
13th December 2006
It`s top versus second at Ewood Park on Wednesday night. It won`t be often that term will be heard bouncing around the streets of Blackburn.
AS Nancy Lorraine are in town to take on Rovers, both sides tied on seven points with Nancy having the edge on goal difference. Both clubs have already qualified for the next stage of the UEFA Cup, which will be a boost for Mark Hughes in particular.
Hughes` injury list just keeps growing. The likelihood is that Hughes will have to field disgraced captain Andy Todd alongside Andre Ooijer at the back as Rovers have to plan for life without Zurab Khizanishvili, Stephane Hencoz and Ryan Nelsen.
Admirable Nelsen has been absent all season, which the Rovers fans are all too aware of but he is now joined by Zurab. Henchoz has been given some unwanted time off by the F.A. just as Tugay was.
However, the UEFA Cup has provided Rovers with the season`s highlights. A 100 percent home record followed by some impressive displays on the road have certainly made a part of this season memorable. The important thing to do is now qualify in style.
Mark Hughes on the UEFA Cup: "People expect the Champions League teams to be a bigger test, but I have to say that the UEFA competition this year is strong in its own right. The teams that drop into competition will find that out very quickly."
Mark Hughes on squad options: "A lot of the games and a lot of the work rate in those games has landed at the feet of just a core group of players within the team. It may be that I need to protect those players and this might be an opportunity to be able to do that."
Nonda on Nancy: "They are managing to do well in both league and cup, play as a group and make it difficult for their opponents. It is important for us to get three points and finish in the first position."
Nancy coach, Pablo Correa: "Honestly, I don't think there are limits to what my side can achieve. Like in all competitions, we want to finish top and we are looking for a good result. There is still something to play for in this match."
Mark Hughes has a number of injury concerns and absentees plus he is likely to rest a number of players who have given their all in every game to date.
Stephane Henchoz and Zurab Khizanishvili`s respective absences have helped to widen the gaping hole in Rovers` defence. Brett Emerton will now be out until after Christmas and Francis Jeffers has been struggling with injury.
Chances are senior squad players like Morten Gamst Pedersen, David Bentley, Brad Friedel and Benni McCarthy could all be rested. This game will therefore provide an excellent opportunity for young fringe players like Sergio Peter, Matt Derbyshire and Paul Gallagher.
Rovers from: Friedel, Neill, Ooijer, Todd, Khizanishvili, Gray, Bentley, Savage, Tugay, Pedersen, Nonda, McCarthy, Derbyshire, Brown, Mokoena, Jeffers, Gallagher, Peter
Well in all honesty it is hard to choose one. However, I`m going to jump off the fence after it left me splintered at the weekend and say that the player to watch will be Paul Gallagher.
He narrowly beats Francis Jeffers, who I fancy will start up front if he is deemed to be fit enough. However, Gallagher has long been the provincial talent to emerge since the last great batch that included Dunn, Duff and Taylor. He has been around the first team squad for the past four years now, barring his excellent season with Stoke last term. Yet he hasn`t reached the heights predicted of him.
I fancy this will be a chance for him to shine and he must do so with a blinding display.
AS Nancy aren`t without their injury problems either. A number of first team players haven`t travelled as Pablo Correa looks to take his impressive outfit to Ewood and leave with top spot.
Notable absentees include Monsef Zerka and Tosin Dosunmu. However, Abdoulaye Keita has been deemed fit and so he travelled with the squad that arrived in Blackburn yesterday evening.
AS Nancy from: Sorin, Lapeyre, Christian, Diakhaté, Puygrenier, Lécluse, Sauget, Biancalani, Gavanon, Keita, Andre Luiz, Berenguer, Guemo, Hamdani, Dia, Brison, Kim & Curbelo.
Sebastien Puygrenier will be the man to watch for Nancy. He has been in prolific form in recent weeks scoring three goals in the last 25 days. Impressive by anyone`s standards, even more so when you consider he is a central defender.
The talented Frenchman cuts a mean figure, tall and imposing. His partnership with well courted partner, Pape Diakhate has been one of the over-riding reasons why Nancy have been so hard to beat this season and been anything but what their name suggests.
This is the first time that Rovers have faced a side in Europe who have never featured in the Champions League. In fact, Nancy are the only team in the group with a worse record than Rovers.
This is the first time that Nancy have encountered English opposition in a competitive match. However, it will be the second time Rovers have come face to face with a French side having been brushed aside by Lyon in 1998/1999.
Two of Nancy`s stars have played for English clubs, Frederic Biancalani played for Walsall and Benjamin Gavanon has played at Nottingham Forest.
Gerald Lehner is the referee and he is from Austria as are his assistants.
The UEFA Cup has been Rovers` release from poor league performances and was the catalyst for our only period of form earlier in the season. Hughes and his troops will be hoping for the same kind of lift following Wednesday`s game. To top the group will be an excellent achievement considering the quality of some of the teams. In a pulsating encounter Rovers emerge as group winners following a 3-2 victory.
Reading at the Madjeski Stadium on December 16th.
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Date:Tuesday December 12 2006
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