POSSESSION is said to be nine tenths of the law - and, under Roy Hodgson, it might be become the permanent rule of law at Ewood Park.

Blackburn Rovers are preparing to face Derby County in the Premiership opener tomorrow, with clear signs from the pre-season games that a style based on much more close-passing is set to evolve.

That should mean less of the long ball and, judging by our Carling Opta Index 1996-97 file, there will be plenty of players at Ewood who will thrive on it.

The official suppliers of statistics to the Premier League have compiled a unique table showing the success rate of Rovers players with regard to passing.

And, with an overall team rate of 70 per cent of their passes successfully completed, Rovers are well on the way to becoming pass masters.

Many of the players achieved a pass completion rate of 70 per cent or over last season, with the top percentage returned by Jason Wilcox.

The winger "made" 962 of his attempted passes for a success rate of 78 per cent.

Midfield was another area where players did well, with Billy McKinlay (77 per cent), Tim Sherwood (76) and Garry Flitcroft (72) all above the team average.

At the back, Colin Hendry was registered at an impressive 77 per cent.

So the raw material is clearly there for Roy Hodgson to work with and the players themselves - especially the front men - will appreciate the team adopting a shorter, more compact style in contrast to the tendency to over-rely on longer balls forward.

The successful teams, of course, can play it both ways and a blend of the two styles would be the best of both worlds.

As Hodgson goes into his first Premiership game, he will no doubt be looking to improve those "pass completed" figures still further.

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