MARK HUGHES gave Andy Ritchie one of his most disappointing experiences in football, but the rival managers will still enjoy a Galpharm reunion tonight.
Ritchie and his Oldham Athletic teammates were moments away from an FA Cup final appearance when they led Manchester United 1-0 in the 1994 semis.
But in a match which took place at Wembley, up popped Hughes to break the Latics offside trap and lash home a spectacular volleyed leveller in the last minute of extra time.
“It was a real downer,” recalls Ritchie, who had also experienced the heartbreak of semi-final defeat by United in 1990.
“We had played really well and deserved to win, so to get so close and then give away an equaliser was awful.
“It was unfortunate the ball fell to Mark. Another player might have fired it over the bar, but he was spot-on with his shot.
“That was our big chance, because while the tie went to a replay at Maine Road, Andrei Kanchelskis ran amok and we got thumped 4-1.”
Hughes had two spells at Manchester United and also played for Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Southampton, Everton and Blackburn.
He moved into management in 1999 with Wales, for whom he won 72 caps, quitting in September 2004 to take the Blackburn job.
He successfully guided Rovers away from the Premiership relegation zone that season, and also took the club to the first of a hat trick of FA Cup semi-finals under his charge.
In 2005-06, Hughes took Rovers to a final position of sixth and a berth in last season’s UEFA Cup.
Blackburn finished 10th last time around, and have just qualified for this season’s UEFA Cup through the Intertoto.
“Mark was a superb player, and he’s proving himself an equally good manager,” added Ritchie.
“Being in charge of Wales provided him with excellent experience, and he’s made a very good job of his first club position.
“The late Jack Walker left Blackburn in a very sound position financially, and they have invested well in an excellent training ground and Ewood Park itself, which is now a top-line venue.
“Mark has had some money to spend, and he’s used it very astutely to create a very good side who are capable of challenging in the top five of the Premiership.”