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Arsenal can lay down a marker

Arsenal
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By ESPN Staff

Hughes ready for Rovers' uphill Euro battle

Blackburn boss Mark Hughes knows his side face a mountainous task if they are to avoid the embarrassment of falling at the first UEFA Cup hurdle.

Hughes insists they did not underestimate Greek Cup winners Larissa prior to last night's first leg of their first-round tie at the Panthessaliko Stadium in Volos.

But Rovers were undoubtedly a shadow of the team that had previously enjoyed a 15-match unbeaten run stretching back to April as they went down 2-0.

The goals came in the space of 90 disastrous seconds in the first half, and now the pressure is on Hughes and his players to turn the tie on its head in the second leg at Ewood Park on October 4.

'We have made it very difficult for ourselves,' assessed Hughes.

'But I don't think we underestimated them because that would take something away from them. They know how to get results against good teams.

'We knew it would be a very difficult game, and so it proved.

'The one positive is that the margin of the defeat could have been greater, but at 2-0 we are still very much in the tie.

'It will certainly be a very different Blackburn at Ewood Park. We had too many players who did not hit their levels - but that will change.'

Former Everton misfit Ibrahima Bakayoko, one of nine new faces signed by one-time Blackburn defender and Larissa manager George Donis over the summer, grabbed the opener in the 33rd minute.

It was a right-foot strike from 30 yards that took a slight deflection off captain Ryan Nelsen and flew past goalkeeper Brad Friedel into the roof of the net.

Worse followed almost instantly, initiated by a woeful back pass from Brett Emerton that sparked a chain of events in the penalty area that culminated in Brazilian Cleyton sweeping home the second.

The shock of conceding two such swift goals should have sparked Rovers into life, but they barely mustered a notable chance and, as Hughes admitted, they were fortunate not to concede a third.

'Before the first goal we were quite comfortable, but then a deflection gave them a big lift, while the second (goal) was a big disappointment,' added Hughes.

'It was a goal that must be avoided, but at 2-0 it was a game that proved very difficult to bring back.

'It was not a performance we were expecting, and so disappointing after our excellent unbeaten 15-game run.

'We have shown great quality and energy of late, but they were missing.

'I am sure at the weekend (at home to Portsmouth) our performance will be a lot better, but last night is a mystery to us.'

To add to Hughes' woes, Nelsen limped off just before the hour and is likely to be out for a couple of weeks, possibly missing the return leg.

'It's the hamstring he had the operation on,' revealed Hughes.

'A little bit of the scar tissue has released itself, and in the long term he will be better for it, but in the short term he is likely to miss the next three or four games.'