NEW Blackburn Rovers midfielder Jay Spearing could today come face to face with the player he has been brought in to replace – Ryan Tunnicliffe.

Tunnicliffe returns to Ewood Park for the first time this afternoon after Fulham cut short his season-long loan on New Year’ s Eve.

It is understood Rovers had the opportunity to thrash out a permanent deal with the Cottagers for the midfielder before their embargo for failing Financial Fair Play kicked in.

But, unlike with Jason Steele, they were unable to get the transfer done in time.

And Rovers boss Gary Bowyer, who yesterday completed the loan capture of long-term target Spearing from Bolton Wanderers, said: “I would have loved to have been able to sign Ryan permanently in January if we were in that position.

“It would have been a no-brainer for us and it’s something I would have certainly done.

“All the boxes you want ticked he fitted perfectly for us so it was disappointing that we couldn’t do that but we knew the constraints that were coming to us.”

In the lead up to today’s game former Manchester United trainee Tunnicliffe thanked Bowyer for restoring his confidence after then Fulham boss Felix Magath froze him out of his plans.

And Bowyer admitted he could see Tunnicliffe returning to the top-flight.

He added: “It great to hear him speak like that and I appreciate that but we were doing it because of my knowledge of him throughout his career at Manchester United and knowing that he was a good player.

“When he left he did thank us personally and he did say he’d got his love back for the game. I hope he hasn’t got it back on Saturday and then he can have it again on Monday!

“He’s a good footballer and he’s going to have a good career.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him back in the Premier League.”

Tunnicliffe was one of three players Bowyer signed on season-long loans on the final day of the summer transfer window from rival Championship clubs.

The others were goalkeeper Steele, from Middlesbrough, and defender Alex Baptiste, from Bolton.

Rovers snapped up Steele on a permanent deal, for a fee believed to be in the region of £100,000, before their embargo came into force.