Hughes turns to defence as siege mentality sets in at Ewood Park

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The Independent Football

Just as one "MH" is beset by negative perceptions at the moment, so is another, following the critical kickings handed out to his team over the last few days.

Just as one "MH" is beset by negative perceptions at the moment, so is another, following the critical kickings handed out to his team over the last few days.

Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative Party, is gradually sinking beneath a tide of bad press. And Mark Hughes has been similarly taken aback by the ferocious criticism levelled at his Blackburn Rovers side after Saturday's 3-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium.

His Arsenal counterpart, Arsene Wenger, was among those critical of Blackburn's physical approach, accusing Hughes' players of making a number of "atrocious tackles." The first three of Rovers' four bookings, for David Thompson, Garry Flitcroft and Aaron Mokoena, were all for cynical fouls on the Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira.

Yet Hughes feels the retribution that has followed has been unwarranted and has resulted in his side being given a "health warning" label that may take a while to remove. But Hughes is determined to do so, taking his first step on Monday when he called in the players and staff for a meeting.

"When I read the papers on the Sunday, I was astounded by the level of criticism, and to have to withstand that is not on," he said. "Some of the comments were quite personal, not only to Andy [Todd, involved in an off-the-ball incident with Robin van Persie], but also to a number of the players.

"I just felt they were totally unbalanced, bordering on hysterical. It was out of order and completely at odds with how I viewed the game. It's been difficult to take and understand because in no way did I feel we overstepped the mark.

"We weren't going to go into a game as important as that and not try to make an impact. We tried to do that, but we came up against a good side and we weren't good enough on the day.

"Since then it's been a case of putting some perspective on it, so I had a meeting with all the players and staff first thing [on Monday], and it was important we did that because of the criticism from all angles."

In many respects, a siege mentality is developing at Ewood Park, with Hughes adding: "It felt a bit like that at the weekend. But at times like this you become stronger as a group."

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