Blackburn Rovers 1, Middlesbrough 1: Hughes keeps feet on factory floor amid talk of dreamland

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The Independent Football

Up at St James' Fantasy Park they were still resisting the temptation to pull their black-and-white King Kev crowns over their eyes when Mark Hughes, the man who many thought represented one of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley's better chances of installing a hint of professional reality, stood in a corridor here and addressed matters concerning this football planet.

It had not been one of his more triumphant days at the office – indeed, it had been redeemed only by the competitive instincts which had persuaded his Blackburn that they might rescue something from a game Middlesbrough could easily have walked away with – but, along with a point, he plainly retained a rational sense of who and where he was.

"I have got used to the fact that I will get talked about and there will be speculation whenever a post comes up," Hughes said. "I had it with Tottenham and England and Manchester City before this. We have got used to it and it suggests we must be doing a few things right, I guess.

"Yes, there can be frustrations when we consider that those clubs up there in the top four have great resources and we can't compete financially. This club gives me every penny they have and I appreciate that. We bring players in if we can. We pay decent money for players, but we can't pay big wages as well.

"It is the way it is and you have to accept that. There are lots of clubs with bigger budgets than us and we have to recognise we work in a difficult market and be glad that we have got good quality and good players."

That was a claim Boro's Gareth Southgate would have been stretched to produce not so long ago, but many more performances like this and he may well find himself in the club of potential big-time dynasty-makers now occupied by the likes of Hughes and Everton's David Moyes.

Certainly, if Jérémie Aliadière and Tuncay Sanli had kept their heads and their feet when presented with perfect opportunities, Hughes would have had a wounding home defeat to go along with his reflections on another big opportunity, and huge budget, that had floated in and out of his career prospects.

As it was, he could congratulate himself on emerging from a difficult week with some late redemption on the field and and some impressively philosophical reaction off it. However, this was after he managed to stifle his outrage over the tenderfoot referee Keith Stroud's tolerant reaction to Fabio Rochemback's two-footed lunge at Stephen Reid. The Blackburn manager had to be escorted away from a confrontation with Southgate and his assistant, Colin Cooper. He later explained, a little sheepishly: "I just saw two centre-halves that I used to go to war with and reverted to type."

He has always been, heaven knows, a combative type and this was reflected in Blackburn's refusal to submit to the superior bite and freedom of Boro's game after central defender David Wheater had exploited slack marking and headed them into a 13th-minute lead when Stewart Downing devilishly flighted in a disputed free-kick. Gary O'Neil, who could well turn out to be Southgate's most inspired signing, gave his team an edge in wit and movement in the first half and this was significantly augmented by the arrival of Rochemback in the second half.

Rochembach is not the picture of a dream Brazilian midfielder. In his big gloves – on a January afternoon most locals would surely have rated somewhere between mild and heavenly – and well upholstered midriff, he smacked more of Hackney marshes than the Maracana. But there is a touch of Brazil in his soul. His craft and, at times, stunning energy for a while tilted the game even further in Middlesbrough's direction. But in the absence of a cutting edge from Tuncay and Aliadière, Blackburn fought back with enough diligence to equalise. The substitute Matt Derbyshire's timely arrival in the penalty area, after some donkey work from Jason Roberts, brought the goal. It wasn't a thing of beauty but then it wasn't that kind of situation. It was about fighting to level the odds on football's factory floor.

Said Southgate: "The chances we missed should have been taken, but I'm not going to be critical of my players. We played like a team and we have given absolutely everything. There was so much that was good I'm happy – and the players should be pleased. I thought there was a clear handball in the run-up to the free-kick that led to their goal, but the less said about the referee the better. There are the right channels to use if we want to make some points about him and maybe we will have to do that."

Boro's right-back Luke Young, who may just have reignited his England hopes with a polished showing in front of Fabio Capello's assistant Franco Baldini, was even more damning about the level of officiating. He said: "I don't like moaning about referees, but when they're that bad I think it needs mentioning. I had a word with him at half-time. I said, 'Why are you giving them everything?'"

A classic question, no doubt, on a day when the possibilities of a Keegan Dreamland were again bombarding the football nation. But then it was asked in a place where Mark Hughes, more than most, knows that you have to fight for every gift.

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