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Derby victory can inspire a season
GRAEME Souness managed only two East Lancashire derby games during his four years at Blackburn Rovers, but they could hardly have gone any better.
“They are good memories,” the Scot reflects.
Souness’ Rovers met Burnley in Division One during the 2000/01 season, after the Clarets’ promotion from the third tier.
Two victories over their nearest rivals did more than hand Rovers bragging rights, as the two clubs met each other for the first time in 18 seasons.
Those six points, and the confidence gained from winning their two biggest games of the season, played a part in Rovers’ promotion back to the Premier League that season.
The first meeting came at Turf Moor in December 2000 with Rovers ninth in the table – not an entirely dissimilar situation to the current day.
They had made a slow start to the season, having finishing mid-table in their first campaign in Division One a year earlier, and the momentum of a revival in October and November had slowed a little.
A 2-0 win at Burnley though, thanks to goals from Jason McAteer and Marcus Bent, started a run that saw Rovers take 19 points from seven games – rising to third.
They hardly looked back.
“I think things were just starting to come together that season when we won at Turf Moor and there’s no doubt that to get three points against your biggest rivals, it gave us a real boost,” Souness said.
“Preston were up there that season and we got two wins against them as well, so that gave us a boost as well.
“Hopefully it can do the same for Rovers this time and they can get a win, and it can help them kick on in the league.”
Vastly experienced, Souness had already been involved in some of the biggest derby matches in the world as player and manager with the likes of Rangers, Liverpool, Benfica and famously Galatasaray.
In Istanbul, he had taunted the fans of Fenerbahce by planting a Galatasaray flag in their centre circle after victory in the Turkish Cup final against their derby rivals.
So his recollection of the fixtures between Blackburn and Burnley is perhaps telling.
“The rivalry really surprised me in the first game, I wasn’t aware of what it was like, the fierceness of it,” said the 59-year-old, now retired from management and working as a television pundit.
“I couldn’t say it was the biggest derby because I’ve been involved in a lot of derby games.
“I’d say the Rangers-Celtic derby is the biggest in the world, and not just for football reasons.
“But things like the Blackburn fans having to be brought in and out of town by bus, I hadn’t experienced that before.”
It was a rivalry that spilled over onto the pitch in that first game, as Burnley midfielder Kevin Ball was sent off for a wild challenge on David Dunn.
Souness himself was renowned as a midfield enforcer in his playing days, but had been around long enough to tell his players the importance of controlling their aggression in derby matches.
“You can be excited about the game but you have to control the emotions,” he said.
“Not talking specifically about Kevin Ball, but it’s easy to get carried away in a game like that, to lose control of your emotions and be red carded.”
And if Rovers’ 2-0 win at Turf Moor was satisfying, their April Fool’s Day encounter at Ewood Park is one that many Rovers fans still remember dearly.
It was reaching the crucial stage of Rovers’ battle for automatic promotion, and Souness’ side defeated Burnley 5-0.
Craig Short put them ahead and, after an own goal from Steve Davis, a brace from Matt Jansen was followed by a fifth from Craig Hignett.
The result moved Rovers above Bolton into second in the table, the position in which they finished the season as they returned to the top flight.
“Having won 2-0 at Turf Moor we were flying by then,” Souness recalls.
“By the time the second game came around we knew what the match was all about, and we were flying in the table behind Fulham.
“I obviously had experienced a lot of games in my career and going into those games I was thinking more about picking up the three points than anything else.
“Because obviously at the time we wanted to get out of that league, that was so important to us.”
Current Rovers boss Henning Berg, a part of Souness’ side that season and a year later when he lifted the Worthington Cup, as captain, will already know what to expect heading to Turf Moor.
“Henning is a good man, he was a stalwart of that team along with people like Brad Friedel, Garry Flitcroft and Craig Short,” Souness said. “I hope he does well and the club do well.”