Everton 1, Blackburn Rovers 1: Gifted Santa Cruz helps drive Rovers in the right direction

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They may not be Arsène Wenger's cup of tea, but Mark Hughes' Blackburn have something about them this season. The Rovers manager acknowledged as much after Saturday's draw at Goodison, which extended his team's unbeaten start to the campaign.

Hughes has assembled a side very much in his own image; powerful and aggressive, yes, something that jarred with Wenger the previous weekend, but one also laced with sufficient quality to suggest they have as strong a case as anybody for upsetting the established order. True, they will not go close to matching their Premiership-winning exploits of 1995 – a feat achieved since only by Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea – but there is no reason to believe a top-five finish or even a Cup triumph is beyond them.

Hughes saw another return on the £3.8m he paid Bayern Munich for the striker Roque Santa Cruz, who scored his second Premier League goal in a game Rovers should have gone on to win. The 26-year-old, bold and inventive, was first to the loose ball after 15 minutes as Morten Gamst Pedersen's overhead kick struck the Everton bar. "We are unbeaten, we have had one home league game and two difficult away games and we have shown some great signs that we are going to have a decent season," Hughes said, with some justification.

"We have got to maintain it, obviously, because it is a long old season, but on occasions today we showed what a good football side we are. We can cope with the physical side of the game because that is always there in the Premier League, but we can play football as well."

It was a point reiterated by David Dunn, who went close to doubling Rovers' advantage after some clever link-up play with Santa Cruz, only for Tim Howard to palm away his menacing left-foot shot. Dunn was also keen to sing the Paraguayan international's praises.

"He's a real threat," Hughes said. "He's had a few criticisms about his goalscoring record, but he's certainly doing the business for us and long may it continue. He's a really good lad and his English is good. He has everything you want in a striker – he's big, strong and quick."

The Everton manager, David Moyes, hopes to add those qualities to his attack this week, when the club-record £11.25m signing of Ayegbeni Yakubu is expected to be completed with the Nigerian's current team, Middlesbrough.

Even James McFadden, whose well-executed goal earned Everton a point on a rare start for the Scottish striker, welcomes more competition for places. "We're at a big club and to move on you've got to bring in good players and we're going that way," he said. "We're bringing in a striker who guarantees 15 goals a season. We need that. It puts a marker down for the rest of the boys and they know they've got to work harder to get in the team."

McFadden dedicated his first strike of the season to the memory of Rhys Jones, the 11-year-old Everton fan who was murdered last Wednesday. A minute's applause was observed before the kick-off with his parents, Melanie and Stephen, and older brother Owen, standing alongside Moyes during a moving tribute.

"I just want to dedicate my goal to Rhys Jones' family," McFadden said. "Hopefully, the police can get the person who did it and help the family deal with what's happened. It's tragic. We've had minute silences before but it was hard today and it shook me a bit. We've had a few for people killed in Iraq, but this was an 11-year-old boy walking home from football who has been gunned down. It was hard at the start and you try and put it to the back of your mind. Hopefully, we have put on a performance for his family. He was passionate about his football."