Hughes refuses to rue setting his sights high
Blackburn Rovers 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Blackburn's chances of playing in the Uefa Cup next season began to recede when Tottenham's Carling Cup success took one of England's three automatic places. They took another blow when it became clear that the FA Cup winners would qualify too, as the four teams likely to be in the Champions League spots fell by the wayside.
Fifth place in the Premier League was never a realistic proposition for Blackburn and even the side-door route, via the Intertoto Cup, might be closing after this result allowed Aston Villa to jump into seventh place. With Liverpool and Manchester United next up, Mark Hughes is only too aware that the next two weeks could put his side out of the race.
Yet the Blackburn manager has no regrets about identifying European qualification as a minimum requirement this season, even though – by his own admission – he could have made life much easier by setting expectations lower.
"Some people take exception to me saying that we have punched above our weight by being in the top half of the League all season but we are a small-town club and possibly people forget that at times," he said.
"But being in the top 10 is all well and good. At the end you want to have something to show for your efforts and European football is what we are striving for. It would be easy to lower expectations and over-achieve and have people shouting from the rooftops about what a good job we have done. But when I arrived I felt we needed to raise expectations here and that is what I believe I have done.
"We are always talking about European football and even the Champions League and if we don't achieve it people get disappointed. But that is the expectation and demand we put on ourselves."
Tottenham were beaten heavily at home by Newcastle a week earlier and had, seemingly, little to play for, but with Radek Cerny replacing the injured Paul Robinson in goal and Juande Ramos making three other changes they were the better team, even though Blackburn might have won had the referee, Peter Walton, allowed David Bentley's claim for a penalty against Da Silva Gilberto late on.
Tottenham did not make the most of their early dominance after Dimitar Berbatov rounded off a slick move by converting Jermaine Jenas's cross. Morten Gamst Pedersen equalised from Bentley's pass just inside the half-hour.
That brought insistence from Ramos that there would be no easing down as the close season approaches, no temptation to field experimental line-ups. "We have to consider we will be taking part in fixtures with other teams and we have to respect the competition," he said – a comment that perhaps should give his compatriot at Liverpool pause for thought.
Goals: Berbatov (7) 0-1; Pedersen (29) 1-1.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Ooijer (Emerton, h-t), Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Bentley, Reid (Mokoena, 86), Vogel, Pedersen (McCarthy, 73); Roberts, Santa Cruz. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Derbyshire.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cerny; Hutton, Dawson, Woodgate, Chimbonda (Gilberto, 72); Lennon, Jenas, Zokora, Malbranque (Huddlestone, 72); Keane (Bent, 78), Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Forecast (gk), Tainio.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire). Booked: Blackburn Santa Cruz, Warnock, Samba; Tottenham Zokora.
Man of the match: Bentley.