The FA Cup Quarter Finals draw has been made and once again the giant three of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have avoided playing each other, that is Arsenal would should they manage to outdo us in the replay but hopefully that will not be the case. If we were to be victorious over Arsenal in Wednesday's replay then we will go on to face Manchester City Click Here for Full Article which is far better on paper than against Chelsea or Manchester United but the fact that City got this far makes them a worthy and tough opponent and if we were to beat City then we will have to beat the best to be the best, which Hughes knows from his success all too well.
Morten Gamst Pedersen has criticised ex-team mate Craig Bellamy for his attack on his international team mate John Arne Riise with a golf club during a training break. Well Gamst did not so much criticise as say that swinging at someone with a golf club is something that he would not do, but thinks Riise will get over it as he is a pro and a good player. Gamst thinks that the party culture on the whole amongst players in this country is dying out and things are not as bad as they use to be with wild behaviour and getting away with it. That is the way it should be after all as they are all grown ups and role models to the average Joe that look up to them. Perhaps money is to blame where they are overpaid and the occasional player lets it go to their head; they get crazy money!
Talking of Gamst and moving away from fellow Premiership team players, he is expected to return from injury for the second leg home UEFA Cup tie against Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday Click Here for Full Article. He resumed training today and is gradually building his stride hoping to be fit for the match. Having him fit for the game will be great as he has been in fantastic form and we equally need the quality of the Gamst's, Bentley's etc if we are to succeed and be an ever present force.
Chairman John Williams has announced that there is a possibility of both Robbie Savage and Andre Ooijer both returning before the close of the season Click Here for Full Article, which he hopes they will as should we continue to push for a top six finish and progress in both cups to the latter stages then they will both be valuable players that we will be needing. They both had successful operations and we already knew that Savage stood more of a chance of an earlier return. Also with the modern day it is always more likely that following the right treatment, physio etc, there is always a chance that a player can be battling back sooner than expected.
Tuesday 20th February 07
Following Craig Bellamy`s golf club incident, it is now being reported that the Liverpool striker's future is uncertain following this and the eight goals he has only managed in thirty one games. Hughes has never hidden the fact that he is still a big fan of the rebel and this has lead us to being linked with a possible move to lure him back. I can't see this happening personally as we have all moved on and despite what he did to help us into Europe (long may our run continue) I think it is unlikely that he will be coming back; still you never know what is going to happen these days during the transfer activity windows.
It has no doubt been very frustrating for Jason Roberts spending a lot of the season sidelined in what has been quite a good season so far for the club. He has managed only five starts since being injured and is hoping that he can stay injury free, maintain and build his fitness and be a vital part of our European and FA cup campaigns Click Here for Full Article. I agree with Roberts that we have had a decent season like I have already said but the foreseeable next couple of weeks are going to be make or break weeks with having to win our second leg UEFA match against Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday to stay in the competition, realistically wanting to beat Portsmouth on Sunday if we wish to continue pushing for a European spot and the FA Cup replay against Arsenal next week. The makings are all there but should it all go wrong, we could end up with nothing other than trying to finish as high as possible to earn that little bit extra money.
Wednesday 21st February 07
Tomorrows UEFA Cup match will see us playing at an earlier than usual time with many people having to rush to get to Ewood Park following a long shift at the office and some probably having to miss the match. But Hughes has made a plea with local businesses to let staff leave that little bit early to help get the stadium packed to give the team that extra boost. I doubt very much many companies will let them go but hopefully Hughes' calls will fall on sympathetic listening ears or bosses that happen to be the biggest supporters. Also the early kick-off will enable more kids than usual to go as it would not be a late night and child tickets are a mere £1 anyway so no reason why they should not go. Senior citizens will get in for free and normal adult tickets are a low £15. I would be disappointed if we did not have a large following tomorrow at these prices.
We will no doubt be boosted by the good news that we have three of our most experienced seniors returning to action ready for tomorrow's big match . Gamst Pedersen, Benni McCarthy and the most influential Tugay will be there to compete in the 'Tugay` Cup Click Here for Full Article. Hopefully Tugay can work his magic like he has done so far throughout the campaign; he has been quite fantastic on the whole. I think we missed Gamst in the first leg as he has been a key player for us and as for Benni he is always capable of scoring in big games which he has been doing. Bruno Berner and Christopher Samba will not feature though as they are cup tied which is a shame, especially Samba as he is looking really good in the middle alongside the Admiral, so this could see a return for Stephan Henchoz.
Tomorrow's UEFA Cup clash against Bayer Leverkusen is no doubt going to be a tough encounter but I think that should we get that all important home backing, we can go on and get the goal we need and keep them at bay. Hughes is right that nothing else can be done to get the home backing as there are fantastic prices for the match proving that it is not just about getting money but also about getting us behind our team. Hughes has fond memories of his beloved home team Wrexham and how they played European matches back in the seventies when he was a kid; it's hard to believe Wrexham were at this level once but it is true! He says that you never forget these memories and if you can get your kids interested and involved, these memories will stay with you always with Thursday night hopefully being one of them.
Thursday 22nd February 07
Stephen Warnock was insistent that we were more than capable of getting into the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup and so was I. Hughes was hoping that a good run in the cup would finally start getting us the respect we deserve as lets face it, we are not really taken that seriously and are looked upon as quite a small club and people tend to forget that we won the league back in 1995, the League Cup in 2002 and also that this is our sixth European campaign in thirteen years. I know this does not put us in the league with Manchester United etc but you do not get into that many campaigns by fluke and we have worked hard to get there and to where we are in the competition to date. Yes we have unfortunately crashed out of the competition Click Here for Full Article but hopefully we can build on this foundation and people will start to take notice.
Friday 23rd February 07
I found watching last nights game very frustrating, not just due to the fact that we were not able to score and that our opponents were time wasting but also because the referee was terrible making wrong decisions and missing things time and time again. Hughes was well ticked off that the Spanish referee failed to punish the continuous time wasting and also because of some of the bizarre decisions that he made during the game. I think on occasions he did not know what he was doing and probably couldn't tell his arse from his elbow. I also thought there was going to be a kafuffle when Bentley pushed that player over, if you can call it a push and the moment he did that I thought he was going to be off; the strange thing was though only a yellow was produced for the incident and then even this card was shown to Stephen Warnock for god knows what reason. It was a very frustrating evening and we should have come through winners overall but I am still proud of our boys and how far they got.
Hughes also shares this view that we should all be proud of how far we got. The ghosts of our previous European activities have not been that great and we have got as far as any other Blackburn team so at least we have banished some of these and people can see that we are and will be again contenders. Obviously it is disappointing that we are out but we can still try our most to get into Europe again next season via the league. Hughes feels we have a lot of work to do and might have left it too late but we are not going to write it off as we still have quite a few games left and without the pressures of Europe we can concentrate more on the league and hopefully results will go our way. Also our FA Cup replay against Arsenal becomes even more important and becomes a priority.
Christopher Samba and Bruno Berner who were missing in action yesterday due to being cup tied will be available for Sunday's league game against Portsmouth and could possibly come straight back into the team. Aaron Mokoena will also be available following his suspension yesterday. Samba believes that we can still achieve a top six finish as long as we do not have too many slips and I guess if we play as well as we know we can then we could. There is always the possibility that we could and even if I did not believe this to be true, I would not argue with him as he is a mammoth of a bloke; still I bet he is a big softy at heart. He seems a decent bloke and is settling well and I look forward to seeing more of this giant.
Yesterday's attendance of twenty-five thousand home fans was amazing and this was no doubt due to the fact that ticket prices were very affordable. This has lead to John Williams to reaffirm the clubs commitment to use television revenue to reduce ticket prices. I am all for this and I think that if we are able to do it then other teams should follow, even if they do not use as big a percentage as us. We don't need players and their agents getting greedy like Chelsea and demanding more money as they are on ridiculous money as it is. It is about time something was given back to the fans and there is no reason why ticket reduction should not be a start and the other teams follow in the trend.
We go into Sundays match against Portsmouth in the knowledge that we have no fresh injury worries Click Here for Full Article, that is as long as none are picked up in the mean team during training. All five mainline strikers are available for selection which is a difficult one for Hughes as he will not want to be upsetting anyone and will no doubt find it hard who to choose and who to leave out. I would have Derbyshire starting for definite and would not mind seeing Jason Roberts having a proper runabout. But you would also expect to see McCarthy feature as he is our top scorer and key striker I guess. It will be interesting to see what happens but it has been rumoured that Hughes is possibly going to ring the changes and put some freshness back into the team.
Saturday 24th February 07
It has been good having the Admiral Ryan Nelsen back following his lengthy injury and boss Hughes believes that he is amongst the best buys ever Click Here for Full Article; well he was a free from DC United so in fact this would make him the best freebie ever. His eighteen months with the club have been great and he adapted well especially considering he had never played at this level. I'm glad we did not cave into Portsmouth's £5 million bid for him; I know it would have been good business but we do not want to go letting key players go.
Another signing Hughes has been impressed with is the powerhouse Congo international Chris Samba Click Here for Full Article. He has looked very good and it looks as though Hughes has bagged us another bargain. Hughes did initially sign him with Samba in mind to feature more next season but as he has done well Hughes is more than happy to be using him. I like Samba's attitude as he is very much a team player and puts team success ahead of his own game and needs. He seems a decent chap and if he keeps playing the way he has done then he will be very much a big player for us in now and in the future.
Following our disappointing departure from Europe it is ever more important that we push on for a top six European place. Should we fail to achieve this, Hughes has revealed that we will enter the Intertoto Cup to seek passage back into Europe Click Here for Full Article. This will obviously mean more games for the lads which could burn them out that bit more but we have a good squad with potential so I am sure a bit of rotation here and there will keep everyone fresh and hopefully injury free.
If we were to qualify for automatic European promotion, Hughes believes that we will need to put a run together and win eight of the remaining games Click Here for Full Article which we are more than possible of doing as long as we don't let it all fall apart and lose our cool. We have the players and the quality and without the distraction of Europe and the league becoming more important I think we will be able to do it or at least give it a very good shot starting with tomorrow.
Brad Friedel was quite the hero during our FA Cup fifth round game against Arsenal and that double save at the end was fantastic. This display has seen him make the five-man shortlist for the player of the round and he is currently laying third in the voting behind Reading keeper Adam Federici and Tottenham striker Robbie Keane. We have until Monday 09:00 to make him a winner and I'm sure winning this would no doubt boost his confidence even more.
Gamst Pedersen believes that we have the next three games over the next eight days to save our season. The first tomorrow is a game we need to be winning if we are to be serious of finishing in the top six, Wednesday against Arsenal in the FA Cup could see us progress or crash out of all competitions and then next weekend we have our derby match against Bolton which will no doubt be a tough encounter. If we fail with these then Gamst might be right in thinking that our season could be over. He still believes we can reach Europe again via the league I just hope everyone else has the same attitude and plays their socks off and does all that they can for the cause.
Sunday 25th February 07
Today's game was always one that we should have been looking to win to push for a chance of a European place. It makes me cringe thinking about the opening day of the season where Portsmouth walked all over us winning 3-0 which could have been an even bigger scoreline if Kanu had not missed that penalty at the end of the game. But how the tables have turned since that game with us giving Portsmouth a hammering with a mirrored 3-0 scoreline and a taste of their own medicine Click Here for Full Article.
Pompey striker Lua Lua said there was more to come from fellow DR Congo striker Shabani Nonda and boy was he right. It did not take Nonda long, a minute in fact to score his first, followed by a second near half way through the first half. Had it not been for a David James save from Nonda's second half penalty he would have had a hat trick. Stephen Warnock scored his first Rovers goal between Nonda's second and penalty miss to wrap up a convincing victory.
Hopefully we can build on this performance and get them eight (now seven!) wins that Hughes thinks we need to once again live the European dream next season.