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Old Trafford hero Hanley targeting more clean sheets
GRANT Hanley’s matchwinner at Manchester United proved to be a false dawn last season, but the defender hopes his midweek goal against Sheffield Wednesday will this time be the start of a winning run for Blackburn Rovers.
Hanley’s most famous contribution in a Rovers shirt so far came at Old Trafford in December, when he headed the decisive goal in a shock 3-2 victory.
Some said that result was a sign that Steve Kean was starting to turn the corner as Rovers boss, but it was followed by a home defeat to Stoke and then a slide to relegation from the Premier League.
Hanley scored the last goal of Kean’s tenure, a consolation in their 2-1 home loss to Middlesbrough last month, but he found the net to greater effect on Wednesday when he converted David Dunn’s cross from close range to give Rovers a 1-0 win over the visiting Owls.
It was their first victory in six matches and the centre back is eager to make that back-to-back wins when they are in action at Ewood Park again tomorrow against mid-table Watford.
“I was just in there, I wasn’t really expecting it to come, it was a bit of a shock that the ball came across,” Hanley said of his goal against Sheffield Wednesday.
“It was nice to score.
“The games keep coming thick and fast and we’ve just got to put a run together now and pick up as many points as we can.
“We’re obviously look forward to Watford on Saturday and trying to pick up another three points.”
Clean sheets were in major shortage during Kean’s reign but Rovers have conceded only three goals during Eric Black’s five games in caretaker charge so far.
And Hanley believes a continuation of that improvement in defence will be key to Rovers’ automatic promotion challenge this term. They currently sit fifth in the table.
“It’s always nice to score but the aim first and foremost is to keep a clean sheet,” he said.
“We are always going to score goals, we added to the squad in the summer so we’ve always got quality to score goals.
“So for us as a back four we’ve just got to keep as many clean sheets as we can.
“We’ve obviously conceded less goals recently so we’ve just got to try to do the same again on Saturday.
“In the first 20 minutes or half an hour on Wednesday I thought we were really good, then we kind of got hemmed in a bit.
“But we came out of the game with three points, which is the important thing.
“It’s a long season, there are a lot of games left and we’ve just got to aim for the three points in each game and look towards automatic promotion.”
As he emerged through the Rovers youth system Hanley’s rugged style was likened to club legend Colin Hendry, who joined the backroom staff in the summer.
“It’s good for the club to have Colin here, obviously he’s a legend here,” Hanley said. “Being a defender it’s good to have him around.”
Championship football has been a new experience for the Scotland international, who came through the Rovers youth system and straight into the Premier League.
Hanley was restored to the starting line-up in midweek after being an unused substitute at Derby on Saturday.
But, although the 20-year-old is eager for regular starts, he knows that time is still on his side.
“I need to take into consideration that I’m still young,” he said.
“There are a lot of experienced boys in the team so I’ve just got to take every game as it comes personally and eventually try to nail down that place as my own.
“The Championship is a lot different to the Premier League. It’s a lot more physical, obviously not as much quality as the Premier League but it’s relentless, the games just keep coming. Every game’s a battle.
“It’s maybe a different tiredness after games. The Premier League is maybe more mental tiredness, you’re thinking more.”
Tomorrow Rovers face a Watford side who lost 2-1 at second-placed Cardiff on Tuesday, leading before having two players sent off.
The Hornets were taken over by the Pozzo family in the summer, who installed Gianfranco Zola as boss and several players have arrived from other clubs the Pozzo’s own.
“I watched the game against Cardiff and I’m convinced that if they hadn’t had players sent off they would have won that game, So this will be a big test for us again, said Rovers caretaker boss Eric Black.