Tonight's Carling Cup semi-final at Ewood Park between Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa is being billed as make-or-break for the hosts, especially manager Sam Allardyce. Rovers are without a victory in eight matches - form that has seen question marks raised regarding their coach's position - but Blackburn can look to their last win as inspiration ahead of this evening's first-leg clash.
Allardyce's men have managed only four league points from a possible 21 since they won a penalty shootout with Chelsea in the tournament's quarter-finals on December 2. Yet the coach says he does not feel under pressure. "You are bound to get some negative scenarios going around when you have not won in a while," said Allardyce. "You just get on with your job and that is what I will do. I have no great concerns at all."
The Lancashire club's 4-1 league defeat to Manchester City on Monday will have done little to boost morale as it left Rovers just three points off the Premier League relegation zone. Villa also won the last time the two side's met, 3-1 at Villa Park in the FA Cup earlier this month. Martin O'Neill, however, has given full support to his Rovers counterpart and believes the 55-year-old former Bolton manager has what it takes to haul his side back up the league.
"I would absolutely back Blackburn Rovers," said O'Neill. "I didn't realise they had not won for so many games, but I wouldn't think, with Sam in charge, they will have any problems. I don't know anything about him being under pressure, but we're all only a couple of games away from a crisis. It's a precarious enough job; we're all just two results away from potential disaster." O'Neill, whose Villa side will be playing their first match since the 3-1 win over Rovers having seen their two subsequent fixtures postponed on the morning of each game, also dismissed talk of Rovers' recent poor run of results impacting tonight's tie.
"I'm sure they'll be well up for it," he said. "It's a semi-final, two games away from Wembley, and that in itself is a massive incentive. I don't think previous recent form will have any bearing whatsoever on the game." Meanwhile, the Rovers chairman, John Williams, says contract talks with pivotal midfielder David Dunn - who scored in Rovers last league win at Bolton on November 22 -are progressing as planned. "It has all been very positive," said Williams. "Both parties want the deal to happen."
* With agencies Blackburn v Aston Villa, KO midnight, Al Jazeera Sport + 5