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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League about an hour ago
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By ESPN Staff
Apr 3, 2006

Blackburn aim to step up European bid

Blackburn midfielder Steven Reid has admitted the fear of playing in next season's Intertoto Cup is driving Rovers on to claim a top-six finish in the Premiership.

Seven clubs have applied to enter the competition, with manager Mark Hughes' side one of those, as Blackburn are determined to play in Europe next season one way or another.

But as Hughes concedes, the Intertoto Cup 'is the least attractive' of the three options open to Rovers at this stage - even if it has been revamped - as they are firmly in the hunt for a Champions League or UEFA Cup spot.

Under the new Intertoto Cup format, though, England's sole representative would only have to win one two-legged tie in July to reach the second qualifying round of the UEFA Cup the following month.

However, it still means an early start to the season and a truncated summer break for the club concerned.

With Blackburn's target fourth place and a Champions League spot, with second prize a UEFA Cup place for finishing fifth or sixth, it is easy to see why the Intertoto Cup has little appeal.

'Last season we were fighting relegation, so to come as far as we have done, if we reached Europe it would be a major achievement,' said Reid.

'At the beginning of the season we had targets, with the main aim to finish in the top half of the table.

'We've hit all those targets so far, including the 40-point mark a long time ago. If we hit the ones towards the end then we're going to be in Europe.

'Given the position we are in now it would be a disappointment if we didn't do it.

'We would prefer it if it wasn't the Intertoto Cup because it does make for a long season, so we're not even thinking about it at the moment.

'If needs be, and it's a way of getting into Europe, that is what we will have to do because to play European football would be a major boost for me and the team.

'But our main aim is a minimum of the UEFA Cup, although with the way we are playing right now, we want Champions League.'

Starting tonight at Ewood Park, local rivals Wigan represent the first of seven remaining hurdles Blackburn must overcome if they are to achieve their goal.

After five successive home league victories, the odds will be short on Rovers making it six, although Wigan boast the best away record in the Premiership outside of the top two in Chelsea and Manchester United.

Victory, though, would tee the club up for the final push, with Reid adding: 'I've not looked at the fixtures of the other teams around us.

'There's no-one to really fear, although Arsenal are coming into a good run of form and looking strong, while Tottenham are a decent side.

'I'm sure everybody's run-in is going to be difficult, with ours no different, which is why it will be so important to get something out of every game, in particular at home.

'With four home games remaining, we're going to have a good chance of getting to where we want to go.

'But overall, sneaking into that fourth place is going to come down to whoever is in the best form over these last few weeks.'

Midfielder Robbie Savage is available again after serving a one-game ban, as is striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle after missing last week's 1-0 win at Sunderland through illness.