Hughes' club charges face long trip to safety

Blackburn Rovers 2 Aston Villa 2
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The Independent Football

In this game Blackburn Rovers had the better share of possession, yet it was Brad Friedel who was the busier goalkeeper and it was Aston Villa who had the greater case for regretting the loss of two points.

It is not always easy to alter your perspective, adapt to new colleagues and carry your form from club to international football, as Thierry Henry and David Beckham have proved on occasions. Yet if Mark Hughes was Janus-like in facing two directions after this game, two of his players had simpler questions: "who?" and "how?"

Hughes will try not to let Blackburn Rovers intrude on his thoughts as he prepares Wales for matches against England and Poland over the next nine days but at least his mind will not be further cluttered by complicated travel arrangements. Brett Emerton and Lucas Neill face a trip to the other side of the world to confront the unknown.

While they are used to the 24-hour trips to represent their country, on this occasion the Australians have home and away games against the Solomon Islands in the Confederation Cup. Then they have to get back from one of the Pacific's remoter regions - the best estimate for their return is the early hours of the Friday before their next Premiership match the following day.

"It's always great to get home but, with respect, I'm not sure about the level of competition we're playing in," Neill said. "We play Middlesbrough just days after the second game so let's hope Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer are feeling the pace more than Brett and me."

Hughes is in no position to gripe - "You know that if you have international players there are going to be times when they're away from the football club" - but the break could not have been worse timed for Blackburn, who are running the risk of turning a drama into a crisis by dropping into the relegation zone to complement their dismissal from the Carling Cup.

In this game they had the better share of possession, yet it was Brad Friedel who was the busier goalkeeper and it was Aston Villa who had the greater case for regretting the loss of two points. Blackburn's defence looks as creaky as Neill and Emerton's backs will be after a day in club class and unless that changes they may have to rely on the gaucheness of the promoted clubs to prevent them going down.

Villa's first goal would have been an embarrassment to a pub team as even The Dog and Duck's back four would have the gumption to mark Juan Pablo Angel. Well though Paul Dickov, Barry Ferguson and new signing Youri Djorkaeff dovetailed, you suspect they are not going to threaten better defences than Villa's until they have more pace and skill on the flanks. That might have to wait until the seemingly eternally injured David Thompson returns.

Hughes, adapting quickly to club manager-speak, found grounds for optimism, however. "I was pleased with a number of performances," he said. "We take a lot of positives out of the game and we can build on what we have seen today."

Nevertheless, you suspect Blackburn's troubles will stray into Hughes' mind no matter his determination to concentrate on Wales. As for Neill and Emerton, they are going to need a good book to avoid thinking about anything else.

Goals Angel (25) 0-1; Ferguson (30) 1-1; Emerton (63) 2-1; Mellberg (80) 2-2.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Neill, Amoruso, Matteo, Gray; Emerton, Ferguson, Tugay, Jansen (Flitcroft, 58); Djorkaeff (Stead, 71); Dickov. Substitutes not used Enckelman (gk), Johansson, Bothroyd.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorenson; De la Cruz, Delaney, Mellberg, Samuel; Solano (Vassell, 76), Hendrie, McCann, Barry (Hitzlsperger, 76); Angel, Cole. Substitutes not used Postma (gk), Davis, Whittingham.

Referee P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Blackburn Neill, Emerton. Aston Villa McCann, Solano.

Man of the Match Dickov.

Attendance 20,502.