Hughes' future in balance as Blackburn lie in wait

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The Independent Online

Anything less than victory against Northern Ireland in Cardiff tonight will begin the chain of events that could take Mark Hughes back to Blackburn Rovers.

Anything less than victory against Northern Ireland in Cardiff tonight will begin the chain of events that could take Mark Hughes back to Blackburn Rovers.

The Wales manager yesterday attempted to deflect speculation he will succeed Graeme Souness at Ewood Park, although it is this evening's World Cup qualifier that will have more of a bearing on his future than any offers from Rovers.

Hughes had been expected to cash in on his triumph in transforming Welsh football, after a narrow failure to make the European Championship finals. However, he confessed that part of the attraction of remaining at the helm was the qualifying group Wales found themselves in, featuring games against England and Northern Ireland.

Nevertheless, to finish in the top two, Wales would realistically have to beat the Irish this evening. If they do not, Hughes may consider he has taken his nation as far as he can.

"When the draw was made there was a fantastic reaction. It was the perfect draw for us in many respects," Hughes said. "There was a chance that players would have said that it was the end of their international career but the draw enabled them to find the will to carry on. I have had speculation surrounding me for the past two-and-a-half years but nothing has come off."

The Welsh Football Association would be loath to lose Hughes, who began his career as Wales manager while in his final stint as a striker at Ewood Park. Blackburn would be attractive to Hughes because his family could remain in Cheshire.

The Wigan manager Paul Jewell has dismissed speculation linking him with Ewood.

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