HAN­LEY AIMS FOR ROVERS RE­TURN

Cap­tain’s sights on Premier League

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jamie Holt

GRANT Han­ley has seen it all at Black­burn but the Rovers skip­per ad­mits he’s des­per­ate to re­turn to the Premier League and make up for lost time.

The Scot­land in­ter­na­tional has been a main­stay at Ewood Park through­out the tur­bu­lent Venky’s own­er­ship – from chicken pitch in­va­sions to the pal­try per­for­mances which led to rel­e­ga­tion in 2012.

Foot­ball can be un­for­giv­ing, but the hard times which fell on Black­burn – and the de­vel­op­ing Han­ley – were a bless­ing.

At 23, he’s now the club cap­tain. Last month he played against Eng­land at Celtic Park and earned his 17th Scot­land cap.

And un­der boss Gary Bowyer, Rovers are back chas­ing a play­off place with Han­ley the driv­ing force.

“I played a lot of games in the time that we were strug­gling, which I think was character build­ing,” said the broad-shoul­dered cen­tre-back. “It was a mas­sive learn­ing curve.

“The sit­u­a­tion was re­ally tough to deal with as a young fella, but from a per­sonal point of view all I could do is con­cen­trate on my­self to get some game time.

“I’ve been here a while now. I’ve been in­volved with the club when it was on a down­ward spi­ral, it’s good to see we’ve turned things round now and we’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

“It was a bril­liant hon­our to be made cap­tain. To cap­tain a club as big as Black­burn is amaz­ing and it’s some­thing I en­joy. I’ve cap­tained a lot in the youth team and re­serves, and for Scot­land age grades.

“The at­mos­phere against Eng­land the other week was bril­liant, it was re­ally good to be in­volved but un­for­tu­nately they re­ally turned up on the night and they were as good as they have been in a long, long time.

“Those are the games you want to play in. I want to get back in that Premier League and test my­self against the best ev­ery week, and I think we’re good enough to do it this year.”

It’s fair to say Bowyer has now stead­ied the Black­burn ship. After rel­e­ga­tion in 2012, Rovers had five dif­fer­ent man­agers and only just avoided de­mo­tion to League One with the club veer­ing from cri­sis to cri­sis on and off

the pitch.

Last term, though, they nar­rowly missed out on the play-offs in Bowyer's first full cam­paign in charge, and Han­ley says the whole club are buy­ing into his way of work­ing.

“The new man­ager has built a great team spirit, es­pe­cially this sea­son,” added Han­ley.

“The main thing is all the lads want to be here, even the ones that aren’t al­ways play­ing. They don’t show that dis­ap­point­ment, ev­ery­one wants the best for each other, and we all push each other to do bet­ter.

“It would be bril­liant to get this club into the Premier League, and that’s what ev­ery­one is look­ing for.” Key to achiev­ing that aim will be the form of their fear­some front two – Jor­dan Rhodes and Rudy Gest­ede, pic­tured left with

Han­ley.

Be­fore this week­end the duo had bagged 18 of Black­burn’s 30 Cham­pi­onship goals.

“If you look at the record of the two guys it is bril­liant,” Han­ley con­tin­ued. “Look at teams pro­moted re­cently like Le­ices­ter with Jamie Vardy and David Nu­gent; Burn­ley with Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Clubs need good front pair­ings.

“Hope­fully Jor­dan and Rudy can be sim­i­lar for us this sea­son, and if you have two good strik­ers you will go far.

“I don’t think there is a bet­ter out-and-out goalscorer than Jor­dan in this di­vi­sion, and maybe the one above.

“His fin­ish­ing is bet­ter than I have seen from any­one, and when Rudy is on song he is un­playable.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

SLIDE RULE: Grant Han­ley makes a chal­lenges on Nor­wich’s Lewis Grab­ban. In­set, Jonathan Wal­ters and Grant Han­ley in a Euro 2016 Qual­i­fier

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