Defence high on Big Sam's agenda

Posted Saturday, August 29, 2009 by PA

Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce has told his players Saturday's home match against West Ham is one they cannot afford to lose.

Defeats in their opening two Barclays Premier League matches, against Manchester City and Sunderland, have already put pressure on the squad.

Allardyce cannot contemplate a third successive reverse, and that means tightening up at the back.

"We must get a clean sheet against West Ham to give us the basis to build our first league victory on," he said.

"The pressure starts mounting from the moment you start losing matches, whether it is the beginning, middle or end of the season.

"When you lose two on the trot the pressure builds and you can't let it get to three.

"We have to do our very best to win the game and if we can't we have to make sure we don't lose it."

New signing Pascal Chimbonda is in Allardyce's squad for the game after he completed his switch from Tottenham.

Midfielder David Dunn is likely to be on the bench having made a goalscoring comeback from injury in the midweek Carling Cup victory over Gillingham.

However, fellow midfielder Steven Reid will not be considered because of a hamstring injury, Brett Emerton has a thigh niggle which rules him out while former Real Madrid full-back Michel Salgado is not yet match fit after signing as a free agent.

Striker Benni McCarthy should be fit after a slight ankle injury but defender Ryan Nelsen (knee) and on-loan striker Franco Di Santo (hamstring) are out.

Striker Alessandro Diamanti, the #6million new recruit from Livorno, has not signed in time for West Ham's trip north.

Savio is out with a virus but fellow forwards Carlton Cole and Luis Jimenez have recovered from muscle strains and will play.

Midfielder Valon Behrami is back in training following injury but will not travel and longer-term absentees Dean Ashton, Luis Boa Morte and Herita Ilunga are still unavailable.

Gianfranco Zola insists it would be unfair to West Ham's genuine supporters if the club were to be punished heavily for Carling Cup trouble in midweek.

Footage of violence in and outside the Boleyn Ground on Tuesday during the Hammers' victory over London rivals Millwall was beamed into the homes of millions across the globe.

It was a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s when English football became synonymous with hooliganism in many people's eyes.

Calls have been made to expel the club from the competition, or force them to play the next tie behind closed doors, and a Football Association probe could also see them heavily fined.

But Zola insisted the match, which also saw repeated pitch invasions, had to be put into context.

He said: "You have to be very balanced because if the punishment is very hard you will penalise all the genuine supporters. It would be unfair to those who support football in the right way.

"A good way would be to punish those who did cause problems. They should be hard on them but not the club.

"If people judge West Ham only for that then they are wrong because the club is well known for many other reasons.

"We are known for good things, like producing seven players that played for the national team the other day and supporters who follow us week in, week out and never cause problems.

"West Ham is not just the people who did that, we have a lot of wonderful supporters and I'm here representing those people.

"We have other supporters who are good ones and we are going to give them the satisfaction they deserve."

The Millwall game was the third in a series of misfortunes to befall the Hammers in the space of a few days.

First defender Calum Davenport's career was put in jeopardy when he was the victim of a knife attack and midfielder Jack Collison's father was killed in a road accident on the way to watch him play.

At least there was some good news as far as Davenport was concerned, Zola was able to report.

He said: "He is out of intensive care now so his situation is improving very much. Now the next step is to assess the damage but the most important thing is that he is now in a general ward."

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