Club Focus – Blackburn – Nelsen’s knee injury rules out Kiwi captain for the season

Blackburn Rovers have been dealt a cruel blow with news that club captain Ryan Nelsen is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. The influential 33-year-old had to come off during the 1-1 draw against Birmingham last time out and tests revealed the New Zealand international would have to undergo surgery. Nelsen had formed a sturdy partnership with Chris Samba at the heart of Rovers’ defence and this devastating news could harm the Blues’ chances of survival.

Former Rovers boss Mark Hughes displayed his eye for talent when he snapped up the Kiwi on a free transfer back in January 2005. Despite his advancing years, Nelsen has continued to play an important role for the Ewood Park outfit – former Real Madrid star Michel Salgado is the only outfield player to have racked up more Premier League minutes for Rovers than Nelsen. The powerful centre-back has also chipped in with three goals this season and with the Blues’ strikers currently off-form, Nelsen’s aerial presence in the opposition box will be missed.

Fortunately, Rovers are blessed with options at centre-back and highly-rated teenager Phil Jones is likely to deputise for Nelsen until the season is out. Jones is naturally a defender; however he has played in front of the defence for the majority of this season, where he has cut a composed and determined figure. With the young Englishman tipped to slot into the back-line, Rovers could face problems in midfield.

Vince Grella has been ruled out for the rest of the season, while Keith Andrews is also sidelined for majority of the campaign. Frenchman Steven Nzonzi is suspended for another two games; therefore Jones is arguably more needed in the middle of the park during these tough times. Nevertheless, Jermaine Jones should continue to play in the centre of the field while Australian midfielder Brett Emerton can also play there. However, should Rovers face another injury or suspension in that position then manager Steve Kean could have a major problem on his hands.

Indeed, one solution which would allow both Jermaine and Phil Jones to continue in midfield would be if Gael Givet – who is primarily a centre-back but can also play as a left-back – decided to come back into contention. The Frenchman missed the last game over a tax dispute with the club, but Kean will be hoping the versatile defender is ready to put those issues to one side as Rovers look to avoid relegation.

The Lancashire outfit face a rejuvenated Everton side at Goodison Park this weekend and collecting three points will be the main target. Rovers beat David Moyes’ men on the opening day of the season thanks to a Nikola Kalinic strike, but whether the out-of-favour Croatian striker features this time remains to be seen. Kean will be sweating on the fitness of in-form winger Junior Hoilett, who has scored three goals in his last four Premier League games. Rovers do not have the best record on their travels, but Kean’s side did hold title-chasing Arsenal to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates in their last away game.

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