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Ince forced out by fear factor

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Phil McNulty | 11:26 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Blackburn Rovers - an admired model of Premier League stability and common sense - have illustrated the fear factor running through the top flight by sacking Paul Ince.

John Williams is not a chairman who indulges in a revolving door managerial policy. He is regarded as one of the game's most able and level-headed administrators.

Ince's predecessors as Blackburn boss, Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes, were reluctantly allowed to join other clubs as opposed to being shown the door.

But the unpalatable prospect of the loss of Premier League status meant there was a grim inevitability about Ince's dismissal after only three wins in 17 games.

Ince's Ewood Park fate was sealed by one simple fact of modern life.

Blackburn could not run the risk of relegation - the financial and footballing fall-out from such an eventuality was too dire for Williams and his board to contemplate.

If Blackburn went down to the Championship, with no guarantee of a swift return, then the club's future would be bleak on every level.

This is a chance Blackburn have not been prepared to take, with the defeat at Wigan - after a blizzard of positive messages about how the fightback would be launched at the JJB - the final straw.

Blackburn also had to factor in the imminent January transfer window. Could they afford to give fresh finance to a manager they did not believe was the future at Ewood Park?

The answer - obviously - was no.

Williams, in particular, will have been reluctant to fire Ince so soon after proudly parading him in June as the Premier League's first black English manager and an example of a young and emerging talent getting his chance at the top.

It was a decision I applauded at the time. Ince may not have had his Uefa Pro Licence, but he had got his hands dirty serving a highly-successful apprenticeship at Macclesfield Town and MK Dons.

He was regarded as one of the brightest managerial talents in the game, with MK Dons resisting approaches from Leicester City and Derby County before reluctantly accepting he was destined for the Premier League.

If he could not emerge from the pack to take a job higher up the ladder, who could?

In the current climate, it is easy to understand Blackburn's position, but it is a hard heart that shows no sympathy for Ince as his tenure is cut short so brutally.

Paul Ince

Gone are the days when managers are questioned after three years. The price of failure is now so high that this timescale has been reduced to three months, and sometimes even three weeks.

Ince's opening league victory at Everton was a false dawn, with his reign peppered with claims of dressing room unrest, all publicly denied it must be stressed.

The fates quickly conspired against Ince, with David Bentley's heart already set on quitting Blackburn before Ince's arrival and goalkeeper Brad Friedel - a huge influence - deciding against linking up again with his old Liverpool team-mate and joining Aston Villa.

Ince's main striker Roque Santa Cruz has come nowhere near the form that made him such a hit in his first season at Blackburn, and there has been an assumption in recent weeks that January will simply be the signal for him to sign for Manchester City.

And he was not allowed to work at the top end of the transfer market, with the signings of goalkeeper Paul Robinson, midfield man Vince Grella and his former MK Dons captain Keith Andrews a clear signal that he was working to a restricted budget.

Ince's recent outbursts have not worked in his favour, leading to more questions about whether he could cope with the pressure-cooker situation he found himself in.

Luck may have deserted him, but there was little justification for his claim that he was the victim of a vendetta against former Manchester United players in management.

Ince was brought down by bad results and the new reality that the clock starts ticking soon at clubs in danger of the drop.

He is a proud man, not someone who gives or takes sympathy. He will be hurt by this first managerial failure of a fledgling career.

But Blackburn chairman Williams simply did not have time to discover whether Ince's career would flower fully at Ewood Park.

He must now focus on what initially will have to be a quick fix, and if suggestions that Souness is in line for a return to Blackburn are true, he is likely to tackle the job in his usual explosive style.

Blackburn have a squad capable of navigating a route away from the drop, but time and tide could not wait for Ince to inspire them.


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