FORMER Blackburn Rovers player and manager Mark Hughes believes there is no reason why his old club cannot win promotion back to the Premier League this season – providing they steer clear of the injuries that blighted their campaign last time out.
Hughes was back at Ewood Park in the opposition dugout on Sunday as his Stoke City side provided the opposition for Rovers’ final pre-season friendly.
The Welshman was left impressed by the spirited and vibrant team Gary Bowyer has assembled in his 15 months in charge.
And Hughes reckons with a goalscorer as potent as Jordan Rhodes in their line-up Rovers stand a fighting chance of going up from the Championship at the third time of asking.
“Gary’s got a good young team with lots of energy and at this rate they’ll have a good year,” said the ex-Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich striker, who was a key member of the Rovers squad which last won promotion to the top flight, back in 2001, before taking over as the club’s boss in 2004.
“What you do have to have in the Championship is energy and people who can get around the pitch and navigate a really long, hard season because there are a lot of games in the division.
“But you stand and fall by your strikers and in Jordan Rhodes they have obviously got a good one who will get on the end of things for them.
“And if they get the right mix, and they get fortunate with injuries, which is so key during a Championship season, then there’s no reason why they can’t get up.”
Rovers went through three managers in a traumatic first season back in the second tier of English football.
But after appointing Bowyer – Hughes’ U18s coach during his time as boss of the club – as their new manager in May 2013 they went on to finish just two points outside of the play-off places last season.
“The club was crying out for stability and that’s what Gary has brought,” said Hughes, who twice led Rovers into Europe during his fondly remembered spell in the Ewood hotseat between September 2004 and June 2008.
“He’s got the ear of the owners and they acknowledge the good work that he’s doing, let him get on with the job and hopefully they will help him a little bit.”
In his programme notes for Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Stoke Bowyer paid tribute to the influence Hughes has had on him as a first-team boss.
But after the match he turned his praise to Rhodes after the prolific striker put Rovers ahead against the Premier League outfit with a sharp run and headed finish.
Bowyer said: “He’s a wonderful finisher and his goal showed that, getting across the front and getting his head on a great ball in.
“We’ve just got to keep working with him to keep making him better.
“I think you are seeing signs of him now improving his all-round game.
“His link-up play has got better over pre-season and some of his movement is very good.”