Hughes hitches a ride with Santa Cruz's rising star
Blackburn Tovers 3 Derby County 1
It is said a manager has a tendency to shape a team in his own image and for Blackburn that can only be good news. Mark Hughes' side match the hunger and commitment he showed as a player and, crucially, the potency in attack that marked him out as a feared predator at Manchester United, Barcelona and Chelsea.
It takes one to know one and Hughes' record when it comes to purchasing strikers is impressive indeed. Last season Benni McCarthy netted 24 goals in his first campaign following a summer move from Porto, this time Roque Santa Cruz has taken on the mantle and needs one more in Rovers' final match at Birmingham to equal that tally.
A £3.8m arrival from Bayern Munich in July, the Paraguayan scored twice to help confirm Derby's status as the worst-ever Premier League team and Hughes believes he can only get better. "He's one of the best I've seen at anticipating things coming off keepers, coming off posts, being on the front foot and being the first one to get on to the ball again," Hughes said.
"It's a skill he's developed, it's something that he's always doing in training and he's reaped the benefits today. He looks bulletproof at the moment. Hopefully next year we can get two or three strikers getting 20 goals." Hughes will keep Rovers in the upper reaches if that is the case and there may yet be European football, with an Intertoto Cup place up for grabs.
For Derby, it is all about rebuilding – defeat at Ewood Park left Paul Jewell's side on 11 points, four adrift of Sunderland's total in 2005-06 with one to play. Jewell faces a busy summer. "I'll have a week away but I'm just so determined to get it right on the pitch that I won't have much time for holidays," he said. "It's going to be really tough. We were fighting above our weight and we've been cruelly exposed. I know who I want to bring in and there are players that may be moving on. There's a lot of hard work to be done."
Derby led through Kenny Miller's 19th-minute goal but once Santa Cruz equalised in first-half stoppage time, they fell apart. Jason Roberts and Santa Cruz added further goals after the break and only the agility of Roy Carroll in goal spared the Rams yet more embarrassment. Roberts has no doubts Jewell, his former Wigan manager, will turn things around. "He is the man to get Derby back up," he said.
Goals: Miller (19) 0-1; Santa Cruz (45) 1-1; Roberts (47) 2-1; Santa Cruz (77) 3-1.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Reid, Nelsen, Samba, Warnock; Bentley, Emerton, Vogel (Tugay, 61), Pedersen (Olsson, 79); Santa Cruz, Roberts (Derbyshire, 79). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Ooijer.
Derby County (4-4-2): Carroll; Todd, Addison, Moore, McEveley; Mears, Savage, Ghaly (Sterjovski, 66), Lewis (Villa, 72); Earnshaw, Miller. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Feilhaber, Beardsley.
Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Santa Cruz.