Hughes sparks Rovers with two-goal burst

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The Independent Online

Quite an introduction, then, for Mark Hughes to life outside the top flight. He scored twice - with panache - and was the pivot around which Blackburn's best moves were developed. And, should his new side shore up its defensive fragilities or, at least, retain their concentration for a full 90 minutes, his stay outside the level at which he undoubtedly belongs may be brief as, with Craig Hignett now fully recovered from a pre-season injury, Blackburn looked strong throughout.

Quite an introduction, then, for Mark Hughes to life outside the top flight. He scored twice - with panache - and was the pivot around which Blackburn's best moves were developed. And, should his new side shore up its defensive fragilities or, at least, retain their concentration for a full 90 minutes, his stay outside the level at which he undoubtedly belongs may be brief as, with Craig Hignett now fully recovered from a pre-season injury, Blackburn looked strong throughout.

After recent back-to-back victories over Wimbledon and Grimsby, the home side endeavoured to impose their class by passing rather than bludgeoning their way to the danger areas, the latter a symptom of Blackburn's under-achievement in the early stages of the season. The strategy, which had been threatening to unpick Tranmere's fragile looking five-man back-line, paid dividends when Garry Flitcroft emerged an unlikely victor in a right-wing tussle before releasing Damien Johnson on the byline. His cross found Hughes, who struck a sweet volley for a goal on his Blackburn debut.

But on their first meaningful break Tranmere's Richard Hinds crossed for Jason Koumas and, with the defence static, the conversion was simple. Undeterred, Blackburn stuck to their task and scored twice more before the break. Within a minute of the equaliser Hughes was again the recipient of a fine ball, this time provided by Stig Inge Bjornebye, and the Wales manager headed firmly beyond Joe Murphy. His strike partner Egil Ostenstad grabbed the third, heading in from Johnson's cross from the right flank. While Blackburn were clearly in control, Tranmere's Wayne Allison and Des Hamilton had opportunities to peg back the lead but rushed their shots.

Blackburn emerged after the interval looking the more likely to add to their tally. Hughes, his battling instincts, enthusiasm and intelligent use of the ball undimmed by the passage of time, brought the wide players into play and, returning the favour, Johnson and Craig Hignett gave the veteran opportunities to mark his debut with a hat-trick.

Tranmere's own forward forays were meagre, only the lively Jason Koumas making an impression. If the difference between the sides was obvious on the pitch, the same could be said of their resources off it, with Souness able to tinker with his formation by bringing the midfielder Lee Carsley off the bench for Ostenstad to allow Hignett to join Hughes in attack.

John Filan, the Blackburn goalkeeper, was forced to make two late saves from Scott Taylor and Koumas, before an unmarked Taylor grabbed a consolation in the final minute.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Curtis, Berg, Short, Bjornebye; Johnson (McAteer, 76), Dunn, Flitcroft, Hignett; Ostenstad (Carsley, 53), Hughes Substitutes not used: Kenna, Taylor, Kelly (gk).

Tranmere Rovers (5-3-2): Murphy; Hazell, Hill, Yates (Challinor, 65), Hinds Barlow; Flynn, Koumas, Roberts; Barlow, Allison (Taylor, 68). Substitutes not used: Gill, Parkinson, Nixon (gk).

Referee: W Jordan (Tring).

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