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Friday, April 18, 2008

Blackburn Rovers Vs. Manchester United Match Preview

Blackburn expect striker Jason Roberts to be fit to face leaders Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League.

The striker had been the club's only serious injury doubt with a groin strain ahead of the sell-out Ewood Park clash.

Midfielder David Dunn is fit after overcoming a knee problem to feature as a second-half substitute in last week's defeat at Liverpool.

Blackburn boss Mark Hughes is plotting to beat former club Manchester United - but feels it would only delay their title celebrations.

With just four games to go, United are close to completing a successful defence of their Barclays Premier League crown and Hughes cannot see another of his previous teams, Chelsea, overhauling them.

Hughes, who won two league titles as a player with United, said: "I think over the length of the season they have been the most consistent side and the most attractive to watch.

"The combination of those two things has enabled them to have the points they have at this stage.

"I think they won't lose it because they have the knowledge of being in this position before and they get the job done.

"Nobody in managerial terms has more experience than Sir Alex and he has been in this situation time and time again and he will just get the job done, I am sure.''

Hughes, however, is pleased with the efforts of his own squad this season and feels they have held their own in the top half of the table.

Sitting ninth, they still have much work to do overhaul Aston Villa and Manchester City in the race for an Intertoto Cup spot but neither Hughes nor his players are giving up.

He added: "We have bumps and bruises and people not 100% but we're not in bad shape considering we're four games from the end.

"There are guys who will put their hands up and say they are fit and well, which is always good.

"Sometimes you have to make decisions for them but I am pleased that everyone is throwing their hats into the ring and I've got a big squad to pick from.

"It's just about making sure I've got the right bodies in the right physical shape to go up against United.

"We have got four games left. Aston Villa and Man City are in and around us - Villa have had a good run of late but have got a difficult game at the weekend, where they may slip up.

"We have got to try to do the best we can.''

Nemanja Vidic and Nani are both back in the Manchester United squad.

Vidic has missed three games since injuring his knee against Roma, while Nani has been out with a thigh problem picked up against Liverpool at Old Trafford last month.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson is hopeful Owen Hargreaves and Anderson will shake off minor knocks but Louis Saha's season could be over after the injury-plagued Frenchman suffered another hamstring strain.

Ferguson does not believe Manchester United could be in any better shape heading into the "hugely significant'' encounter.

The Scot is happy in the knowledge his side will be just four points from the league title should they emerge victorious against Blackburn, with just a win at Chelsea next weekend being enough.

It is just what Ferguson was looking for heading into the Champions League semi-final meeting with Barcelona.

And while the Scot is refusing to discuss Grant's antics, he admits his own side could not be in better shape.

"This game is hugely significant for us,'' said the Red Devils chief.

"We got the bonus we were looking for when Chelsea dropped two points on Monday and we could not have asked for anything more.

"Ewood Park is not the easiest place to go but we are looking for top performances from our players.

"It is in our hands. We are two points in front with a game in hand, so hopefully we will make it count.''

While United have often encountered difficulty at Blackburn, they have enough happy memories of their trips to Lancashire, both during Mark Hughes' time and beyond, to feel confident of gaining a positive result.

Even a draw would represent a major milestone so close to the climax of the campaign and, having come so far, Ferguson feels his players should trust each other to get the results required.

"Your players are the ones who have to go out and do it on the pitch,'' he said.

"They are carrying the burden of pressure.

"Blackburn play attractive, attacking football. They have some exciting

players and we have to bear that in mind.

"But the players also need to trust each other because our form is good and we are not searching for anything.''

Rio braced for Blackburn

Rio Ferdinand expects one of the most demanding tests of the season when United take on Blackburn at Ewood Park on Saturday.

Mark Hughes' men are currently ninth in the league, but are still chasing European football via the Intertoto Cup. They are a team moulded on their manager's attributes: feisty, determined, but with no small amount of ability.

"Blackburn are a physical side, but they're not dirty," Rio told "They work hard for each other and that has helped them get where they are. But they also have talented players, so it's not guaranteed we’ll come away with three points.

"They've got quality all over the pitch. In Roque Santa Cruz, Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts they have players that can all score goals.

"David Bentley is also a talented footballer. He was highly thought of at Arsenal but had to leave to spread his wings. He did that by moving to Blackburn and now he’s getting the accolades his hard work deserves.

"Blackburn always lift themselves against us, and in recent seasons there have been quite a few goals in our games. Hopefully that's the case again… although we’ll want to be the ones scoring all the goals!"

Vida's return boosts Reds

Nemanja Vidic is fit and will face Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Saturday afternoon.

That was the big team news from Sir Alex’s weekly press conference at Carrington on Friday lunchtime, followed by word that Nani will also travel with the squad and could be on the bench for the crunch Premier League fixture.

Vidic injured his knee against AS Roma on 1 April and was forced to sit out the return leg in Manchester, as well as the Reds’ league battles with Middlesbrough and Arsenal.

There was also encouraging news on Darren Fletcher, who was injured on international duty for Scotland in late March. The 24-year-old has returned to light training and is expected to resume full training on Monday.

“It’s good news,” Sir Alex said. “It’s another player back to add to the recent returns of Gary [Neville] and Mikael [Silvestre] and will give us good options."

Not all the news from the manager’s press conference was rosy, however. Midfielders Anderson and Owen Hargreaves are both slight doubts ahead of Saturday’s trip to Blackburn, although Anderson was able to train on Friday. But Louis Saha is definitely out after injuring his hamstring in training earlier this week.

"It's very disapppointing both for us and the Louis," said the boss.

Edging ever closer

Sir Alex Ferguson says his players are fully focused on regaining their five-point lead over Chelsea and moving a step closer to Premier League glory.

Chelsea's 1-0 win over Everton on Thursday night moved the Blues to within two points of United, after the London club's surprising 1-1 draw with Wigan on Monday.

Victory for the Reds at Ewood Park and another at Stamford Bridge next Saturday would seal a 10th league title and Sir Alex is confident his team can do the business against Mark Hughes' side.

"If we win on Saturday it definitely puts us in a marvellous position," the boss said.

"We want to win this game and get the gap back to five points. We got a bonus on Monday and we can't ask for any more than that. It's in our hands. Hopefully we can make our game in hand [against Blackburn] count.

"We'll have a fantastic support at Ewood. It'll be a great atmosphere and I couldn't be taking my players there at a better time. We're looking for a top performance from them.

"They need to trust in themselves and in each other. We have the players to do that and our form is good. So I expect a good performance."

Trio to put pen to paper

At his weekly press conference, Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed Wes Brown has agreed to sign a new contract with Manchester United... and then revealed Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand have done the same.

Speculation has mounted throughout the season over Brown's future, with some media outlets suggesting the defender was likely to leave Old Trafford in the summer.

Reds boss Ferguson admitted that scenario looked possible at one stage, but is delighted Brown has pledged his future to United.

"There's no other club for Wes Brown," Sir Alex said. "He's a Manchester United player. We were always quietly confident he would sign."

The manager went on to reveal a phone call from David Gill on Friday morning had confirmed Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick had also agreed to put pen to paper on new deals.

"It's good that the squad is staying together," he insisted. "It continues our policy of lengthening contracts at the right time and keeps the continuity of the first-team squad going, which we try to do."