De Jong backs players to overcome travel fatigue

 

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The Independent Football

If reading need any encouragement for their FA Cup quarter-final tomorrow, they will have found it in the spectacle of Roberto Mancini's disconsolate squad trooping through Manchester Airport at 5am yesterday morning.

It was not Mancini's fault that the two oxygen cylinders which the Manchester City medical staff always pack on away trips caused concern among Ukrainian security staff, who demanded the aircraft's hold be unpacked and the offending articles removed, bringing a one-hour delay. But with Brian McDermott's side awaiting them, they could have done with as much rest as possible.

Nigel de Jong, whose first start in six weeks after an ankle injury may be significant at Eastlands tomorrow, insisted that the City players could live with the travel. "We're not little kids any more. We've all got experience of how to handle this schedule and make sure we are right and ready for them," he said.

De Jong sees greater significance in City's ability to put all thoughts of the club's 35 years without a trophy – and the 30 years since an FA Cup semi-final – behind them. "We know all about the history of this club so we know how long it's been. We are often reminded about it. Everyone knows what's at stake," De Jong said.

But Thursday's 2-0 defeat in Kiev, which leaves hopes of winning the Europa League looking precarious, makes the FA Cup by far the most obvious route to silverware. De Jong is a follower of the philosophy that one cup may lead to other. "You need that spark to go on," he said. "That could be any cup. It doesn't matter which – the league, the FA Cup, the Europa League. It would make the guys hungry for more success."

Mancini's experience of Wembley is limited to the 1992 European Cup final, in which Ronald Koeman's extra-time free-kick gave Barcelona victory over a Sampdoria side captained the Italian. "It was not a good experience. I would really like something more memorable at Wembley," Mancini said. Needless to say, he did not feel the flight will affect his players. "If we had left [the next morning], we would have lost another day," he said. "Usually after a game the players don't go to sleep so we felt it was better to get them back and try to get them right for Sunday."

City's Crunch Week

This week could end for another year the blue half of Manchester's hopes of lifting their first trophy since 1976.

Tomorrow, Reading (h) City's first FA Cup sixth-round tie since 2007. At home against Championship opposition it ought to be comfortable but Reading are an accomplished side.

Thursday, Dynamo Kiev (h) A 2-0 deficit means that City have a lot of work to do against a good side if they are to progress in the Europa League.

20 March, Chelsea (a) A crucial fixture in the push for Champions League qualification. City, Chelsea and Spurs are fighting for two places and avoiding defeat is key.

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