For a European adventure which only began through the Fair Play League and always seemed like a distraction, so much has come to rest on Manchester City's onward journey into Europe, though the manager's future may not be among the reasons for City to prevail in the second leg of their last-16 meeting with Aalborg in northern Denmark tonight.
There is an increasing sense, both from the chief executive, Garry Cook, and from Hughes himself, that he will be in place to build his own side this summer. Jose Mourinho is chief among those names thrown up as successors, but Cook's announcement to a fans' forum last week that Hughes was here to build the club seems like an honest one. Hughes' side has lacked balance and, again at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, lacked the most fundamental defensive ability at times, but the late summer takeover by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan's Abu Dhabi United Group has provided Hughes with little chance to build the side he wants with players of his own. There seems to be an acceptance that Hughes should be given more time for the fabled City "project" to develop. The difference in City's league position would be considerable had Hughes simply been able to sign a striker of his own choice in the summer – but his club have still managed 45 goals from 28 games.
With City failing to push anywhere near the top four and even a top-six finish looking remote, they are able to throw everything at the Uefa Cup and the prospect of their first silverware since 1976.
The manner of City's 2-0 first leg win surprised many and the low performance levels Aalborg put in that night led Hughes to caution against expectations of a repeat in the compact Energi Nord Arena, which resembles a modest League One ground.
"They are a good side," Hughes said yesterday. "People shouldn't underestimate the task that is ahead of us. They have caused good teams problems in the past and people shouldn't be distracted by how well we played in the first leg. They didn't play as well as people expected because of the manner of our performance. If they get ahead they are likely to cause you problems. We have to make sure we are in control of the tie."
Hughes has ruled out Craig Bellamy with a knee injury which has kept him out since the start of the month. Sunday's Premier League game against Sunderland is a more realistic comeback date. But the midfielder Vincent Kompany, who missed the first leg, is pushing for a place and will be given a late fitness test on his toe injury.
Shay Given is among those desperate for any kind of silverware, never having lifted any at Newcastle United. "People belittle it, but if we win the Uefa Cup we'll be on cloud nine. Coming here was a fresh challenge. I'd love to have won something at Newcastle but it didn't work out."
Manchester City (possible, 4-2-3-1) Given; Richards, Onuoha, Dunne, Bridge; Zabaleta, Kompany; Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Robinho; Caicedo.
Aalborg (4-5-1) Zaza; Bogelund, Waehler, Beauchamp, Jakobsen; Enevoldsen, Augustinussen, Caca, Johansson, Due; Shelto.Reuse content