Hasselbaink gives Hughes no peace

Blackburn Rovers 0 - Middlesbrough 4
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The Independent Football

If Mark Hughes thought his escape from Wales had brought an end to a turbulent time he had better think again. The Blackburn Rovers manager is facing a full-scale fight against relegation.

It is now four games since Blackburn last won, in Hughes's first match in charge at Ewood Park, and they are drifting perilously close to the Premiership's relegation places. Given their performance in this match, it should not be too long before they are in residence there.

Tugay was sent off for two bookable offences, but that could not excuse a lame second-half performance when their defence disintegrated to allow Middlesbrough to score three times in 11 minutes. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the principal beneficiary of Blackburn's largesse with a hat-trick to take his total for the season to seven goals, and George Boateng scored his first for the club.

The managers were both at Old Trafford the previous Saturday, but they approached this match having had very different weeks. Steve McClaren was part of an England party that had accrued six points, Hughes bid farewell to Wales with two defeats.

"I did stay in constant contact with both Broackhall and Ewood Park," he wrote in the match programme. "My focus is 100 per cent behind improving our fortunes... we need to pick up some points."

The players seemed less focused, with over-ambitious or plain daft passing. Consequently, both sides stuttered in the opening stages, with only Youri Djorkaeff showing sublime touches.

It was the Frenchman's long pass that freed Paul Dickov after seven minutes, and Djorkaeff's radar also picked out Barry Ferguson's run to the left of the area 21 minutes later but both moves fizzled out with tame shots.

In reply, Boro had managed only a deflected shot from Stewart Downing in the first half hour and it was inevitable, given the untidiness, that players would be cautioned. Dominic Mateo and Stewart Downing were soon in referee Mike Riley's book, and when Tugay also got in there for deliberate handball, he was chancing his arm.

The folly of his first caution became apparent after half an hour when he clattered into Gaizka Mendieta from behind on Rovers' left wing. Under the circumstances, the referee had little option but to send him off.

Middlesbrough brought on an extra striker, Szilard Nemeth, at the start of the second half to exploit their man advantage, which paid immediate dividends.

Within two minutes of the restart Hasselbaink gave a textbook lesson in lurking on the shoulder of the last defender so that when Downing delivered a pass into the space beyond the line, the striker was clear to cut inside and lash the ball past Brad Freidel.

Three minutes later it was 2-0, and again the Blackburn defence allowed themselves to be caught out by a run through them. This time the man delivering the exquisite pass was Mendieta and Boating was the recipient, gliding through a static rearguard to pass the ball into the net.

Mark Schwarzer saved brilliantly from Djorkaeff but Blackburn resembled a groggy boxer, and the visitors' next flurry brought them a third goal in 11 minutes. Hasselbaink was unchallenged as he met Downing's low cross from the right.

It could not get worse for Blackburn, could it? It did, in stoppage time, when Hasselbaink again eluded the flyweight home defence to drill the ball low into the far corner with his left foot.