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Soccernet's Blackburn Rovers Correspondent
Official site - www.rovers.co.uk
Unofficial site - Rovers Mad
Fan site - Rovers Online
Fan site - BRFC Supporters
|Last Season - A new dawn||Position: 15th|
When Graeme Souness was 'poached' by Newcastle in September few Rovers fans shed any tears over his departure. Many had been fearing a relegation dogfight, which they had only just avoided the previous season. After several high-profile fall-outs with star players it was thought a new broom would make a difference - so Newcastle did them a favour. New boss Mark Hughes found it tough going at first, but the January additions of Ryan Nelsen, Robbie Savage and Aaron Mokoena and the blossoming form of Morten Gamst Pedersen in midfield turned the season around. It may not have been pretty, but Blackburn changed from a side which leaked far too many goals to an obdurate outfit which was hard to break down.
|Transfers - In and Out|
Craig Bellamy (Newcastle) - Undisclosed
Shefki Kuqi (Ipswich) - Free
David Bentley (Arsenal) - Loan
Richard Lee (Watford) - Loan
Zurab Khizanishvili (Rangers) - Loan
Jon Stead (Sunderland) - £1.5million
John Fitzgerald (Bury) - Free
Nils-Eric Johansson (Leicester) - Free
Craig Short (Sheff United) - Free
Matt Derbyshire (Plymouth) - Loan
Jonathon Douglas (Leeds) - Loan
Paul Gallagher (Stoke) - Loan
James McEveley (Ipswich) - Loan
|First Choice XI|
GK Brad Friedel; RB Lucas Neill, CB Andy Todd, CB Ryan Nelsen, LB Michael Gray; RM Brett Emerton, CM Robbie Savage, CM Garry Flitcroft, LM Morten Gamst Pedersen; ST Craig Bellamy, ST Paul Dickov.
|The Gaffer - Mark Hughes|
Former Manchester United and Chelsea player Mark Hughes, OBE no less, returned to the club where he finished his playing days in September 2004, replacing Graeme Souness. Hughes had transformed the fortunes of Wales, bringing them out of the doldrums to the verge of qualifying for Euro 2004 and into the top 50 of the FIFA World rankings for the first time in eight years. Only a play-off defeat to Russia ended their hopes after an exciting campaign which included a home win over Italy. However, results had begun to slide for Hughes before he opted to move into club management. Although joining Rovers in September, he took charge of Wales' matches against England and Poland a few weeks later before stepping aside. Hughes certainly will not be known as one of the more adventurous managers in the Premiership. He will look to build Blackburn from the back, making them a hard team to beat, rather than concentrating on flair. Either way he is a determined character who will get results.
|Player to Watch - Morten Gamst Pedersen|
This Norwegian international joined Blackburn last summer in a protracted move from Tromso. He had been tracked by Manchester United, Tottenham and Aston Villa after turning in some fine displays for hid old club but he struggled to find that form in his early months at Ewood Park. As Hughes turned the club's fortunes around, so did Pedersen with his own form. If Nelsen and Mokoena had provided the team with a backbone, then Pedersen had brought the attacking impetus. He produced some fantastic displays on the wing for Rovers after the turn of the year. Blackburn fans will now be looking for the Norwegian international to continue where he left off in Hughes' first full season at the helm. If Hughes can also get the best out of Brett Emerton then Rovers will have real balance on the flanks and, with Craig Bellamy now in the ranks, a quality forward to aim for. With a broadly defensive attitude, Pedersen will be key.
|Young Gun - Matt Derbyshire|
Young striker Derbyshire has proved to be one of the plus points of Blackburn's pre-season campaign. He was plucked from the realms of non-league football in November 2003, signing from local side Great Harwood Town after a prolific spell. He made his debut for Blackburn in May and now has the chance to make an impression. The forward was included in the squad Hughes took on the summer tour of Germany, and he then netted his first senior goal in a friendly against Swansea City at the end of last month. His performances led to praise from his manager, enough to suggest he will be watched closely in Rovers' reserve side as he progresses closer to becoming a regular in the first team squad.
|From the Terraces|
This season could be a milestone in the history of Blackburn Rovers in more ways than one and in particular for manager Mark Hughes. Hughes is relatively quiet and doesn't court publicity, however, when he does speak to the media he makes the right noises.
After a number of seasons where the manager's objective was to avoid relegation resulting in negative play, there is optimistic hope of a more positive attitude from the team.
After strengthening the defence last season, Hughes has worked the transfer market during the summer in order to provide an alternate attacking formation. The acquisition of Shefki Kuqi, although untested at this level, will give some weight to the attack and Craig Bellamy will add some pace.
With half a season experience in the Premiership Ryan Nelsen has cemented a perfect understanding with Andy Todd in the centre of the defence to form a foundation of a solid back line, which should bode well for the coming season.
In midfield the fans should see the best of Savage; who has been suffering from injury since signing in January. Supporters should also, hopefully, with the addition of a target man up front, see the enigmatic Brett Emerton start to show the form that supporters have been waited for since his dazzling debut two seasons ago and having had a summer break Pederson will continue the form of last season.
The big surprise package could be Steven Reid who under Hughes has flourished in a centre midfield role.
For the first time for many a season I'm optimistic for the coming season, which has been fuelled by Hughes positive attitude and the ambition shown by the club in financing the Bellamy transfer. Outside the top four clubs there is little to split the remaining clubs, so who would argue with Hughes' refreshing statement that the club should be aiming to achieve European qualification, through the league.
However I wouldn't decline qualification for Europe with another crack at the FA Cup. Now that would be a mile stone in Rovers history as first club to lift the FA Cup in the new Wembley Stadium.
This season will be a make or break for youngsters, Paul Gallagher and Jay McEverley, who despite making headlines in their debut seasons have failed to date to full fill early promise and could be eclipsed this season by 19 year olds Matt Derbyshire and Andy Taylor.
Local lad Derbyshire signed last season from Great Harwood, has hit the target regularly for the reserves, but due to his slight build may need another season before taking on the premiership.
Left sided defender Andy Taylor, a product of the Rovers academy has already gained England Youth / Under 19 recognition. Capable of playing both at left or right back Taylor will more than likely operate as understudy to first choice full backs and could easily establish himself as a regular in the right back role, if Lucas Neill fails to re-establish his form.
By Alan Griffiths, Soccernet's Blackburn Correspondent.
|Best - Mid-table||Worst - Relegation scrap|
Rovers fans should go into the new campaign with little fear of a relegation scrap. Mark Hughes has worked hard to make Rovers into a team capable of keeping out the best. However, they may struggle at the other end of the pitch. Craig Bellamy is a quality addition but other than that the striking options are very limited. Given time Hughes could certainly make Rovers into a side capable of challenging for a place in Europe, but for now they must settle for a comfortable mid-table place while the transition from Souness to Hughes is fully completed. Rovers could be a threat in the League Cup once again.