Hughes plots Rovers' next step

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The Independent Online

This season may hold one last fixture for Blackburn Rovers but Mark Hughes has already set his side the target of securing a Champions' League finish in the next campaign.

Even as they prepare for the visit of Manchester City today, the Rovers manager is determined to push his side onwards and upwards after an astonishing season at Ewood Park. From relegation contenders last season to securing European football this term represents a remarkable turnaround.

Under Hughes, who signed a new contract on Thursday that guarantees his future until at least 2009, the players have been transformed.

Fitter, leaner and sharper, they have responded to Hughes' methods, and it has brought the reward of a top-six spot and with it a place in the Uefa Cup. "Sixth place is a real achievement for us this season, and we will continue to punch as hard as we can for as long as we can," insisted Hughes. "If we had picked up a couple more results then we could very easily have been talking about playing in the Champions' League, so the possibility is very much there.

"The Premier League title is probably beyond us, but the Champions' League is something we can strive to achieve."

Part of Hughes' managerial philosophy is to set targets for the team throughout the season, recognising that the belief gained in achieving them will drive them on to greater glory, as has been witnessed this year.

"We cut the season up into manageable bits so we were able to focus on four or five matches ahead rather than looking 20 matches ahead,"he said. "That has been the biggest factor in helping us to achieve what we have this season."

For today's final game against City, Hughes is ready to play a number of fringe players. He is without Ryan Nelsen and Andy Todd due to injury and Steven Reid is also doubtful.

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