It is on days such as the one that Morten Gamst Pedersen enjoyed in Manchester on Saturday that Mark Hughes must be pleased to be able to number patience among his virtues as a manager. Without it, he might not have coaxed out the talent from a player he believes can be a cornerstone of Blackburn's push for Europe for a second year running.
The Norwegian forward's double strike against below-par City helped to lift Rovers into the top half of the table and, perhaps, to establish a platform for a repeat of last season's Uefa Cup qualification, yet Hughes admits that his first impressions of the former Tromso player left him unconvinced that he could cut it at the highest level of English football.
Pedersen arrived at Ewood Park in August 2004, bought for £1.5m by Graeme Souness, but Hughes was unimpressed. "I arrived in the September and did not play him until the following January," he said. "I felt he wasn't ready for the power and pace of the Premiership.
"But he has worked very hard and now he is the fittest guy in the squad. More often than not, when we play well it is because Morten is playing well. Last year, I reckon he was involved in about 50 per cent of the goals we scored and he is starting to have a similar influence this season."
The Blackburn manager has had to be patient with the 25-year-old winger during the current campaign, maintaining his belief in Pedersen's ability despite a slow start. "He admits himself that in the early part of this season he was not reaching the standards he set last year, but for the last month and a half he has been up there again, maybe even better," Hughes said.
Saturday's performance was clear evidence of that. At the end of a scrappy first half, it was Pedersen's heading ability that gave Blackburn the edge when he timed his run perfectly to convert David Bentley's fine cross, and it was his free-kick that killed off any prospect of a City recovery just beyond the hour.
That beautifully delivered strike, curled around the City defensive wall from 25 yards, brought the type of spectacular goal that is Pedersen's trademark, giving the goalkeeper, Nicky Weaver, no chance and Hughes every excuse to talk up his man. "As a dead-ball specialist, I would put him on a par with the top guys in the Premiership," Hughes said. "What people do not understand is the power and pace he puts on the football. I don't think I've seen anyone hit the ball as clean and true."
A third goal in the final minute, when Matt Derbyshire took advantage of some sloppy defending by Stephen Jordan to score his third in four games, completed a scoreline so gratifying for Hughes than even a season-ending injury to the defender Andre Ooijer could not undermine his optimism. The Dutchman's injury, incidentally, could delay Lucas Neill's move to West Ham unless Hughes can quickly find reinforcements.
"When we got into the top half of the table this time last year we stayed there and qualified for the Uefa Cup. I feel we are on course to do it again," he said.
City's manager, Stuart Pearce, probably had something similar in mind for his team when the season began, but even though they are only a point worse off than Blackburn they look significantly under-resourced, particularly in attack.
Deciding between the ineffective Bernardo Corradi and the hot-and-cold Georgios Samaras as a partner for Darius Vassell is one issue over which Pearce continues to vacillate, as he does, apparently, over which system to employ, choosing this time to go for 3-5-2 with consequences that cried out for 4-4-2.
Goals: Pedersen (44) 0-1; Pedersen (62) 0-2; Derbyshire (90) 0-3.
Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin; Trabelsi (Miller, 75), Sinclair, (Beasley, 46), Dabo, Ireland, Jordan; Vassell, Corradi (Samaras, 46). Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Johnson.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Ooijer (Emerton, 35), Henchoz, Khizanishvili, McEveley; Bentley, Kerimoglu (Gallagher, 84), Savage, Pedersen; Nonda (Derbyshire, 78), McCarthy. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Peter.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Manchester City Dunne; Blackburn Rovers Henchoz, Emerton, McEveley.
Man of the match: Pedersen.
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