Rovers fighting fit under Hughes

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The Independent Football

Mark Hughes shared Premiership titles with Steve Bruce at Old Trafford but he accepts that the pair are fighting for a very different prize at Ewood Park today. The former Manchester United team-mates can now only dream of the days when endless silverware cluttered up their trophy cabinets and a place in Europe became a foregone conclusion.

Mark Hughes shared Premiership titles with Steve Bruce at Old Trafford but he accepts that the pair are fighting for a very different prize at Ewood Park today. The former Manchester United team-mates can now only dream of the days when endless silverware cluttered up their trophy cabinets and a place in Europe became a foregone conclusion.

Today Hughes has the much more modest ambition of hauling Blackburn off the bottom of the Premiership while piling more pressure on Bruce's under-achieving Birmingham side.

Hughes said: "I know Steve well, and we are in opposition camps for the first time. I am sure we will have a drink together after the game and I just hope I will have a bigger smile on my face than he does.

"Steve has done a great job there and he will be disappointed with the start they have had after adding to the squad in the summer. It is important we capitalise on what could be a little bit of nervousness from them. It's our home game, and we need to get three points."

Hughes' success as a player has not left him overawed at the size of the task facing him. Two thumping 4-0 defeats got his managerial career off to an inauspicious start, but three consecutive draws since have taken him into today's match in good heart.

He believes his squad will reap the benefits from a revamped training programme instigated by him and his assistant, the former Birmingham coach Mark Bowen.

That view is endorsed by midfielder Steven Reid, who has bounced back from a broken foot in the pre-season build-up to force his way into Hughes' plans.

"Since I've been back, the training has been magnificent - and the lads are feeling fitter and stronger than they were a few weeks ago," said Reid. "I know for a fact that we have turned things around and we are becoming a much harder side to beat."

Hughes believes fitness levels were lacking when he arrived, and as he begins to rectify the problem, he sees no reason to panic about Rovers' current predicament.

"I felt that given the demands of the Premiership, fitness was an area in which we could do better," he said. "If you don't think you can get through the 90 minutes physically then concentration levels go. It was something we needed to address, and the players have shown a lot of application in their work."

Blackburn striker Jonathan Stead will need a late fitness test on the ankle he injured in last week's draw with Manchester City. His natural replacement Jay Bothroyd is still suspended, so Hughes finds himself short of options to partner Paul Dickov up front. Craig Short also needs a test on a hamstring injury, while David Thompson is in line for his first start of the year.

Birmingham midfielder Muzzy Izzet will have to miss the match through suspension after his sending-off against Everton last weekend for handling on the line. It is not what Izzet would have wanted after having only just returned to action following a five-week lay-off because of a knee injury suffered against Newcastle United.

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