Hughes expecting tight Premier League battle

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The Independent Football

Mark Hughes expects the battle for Premier League honours to be more keenly contested than ever this season.

Hughes is aiming to have a big say in the final shake-up with Manchester City.

Tottenham and Aston Villa have already served notice they have equal ambition and with doubts remaining over all the usual "big-four" contenders, Hughes is ready for an exciting campaign.

"This year has the potential to be as open as it has ever been," he said after City's 1-1 draw at Wigan.

"The top four teams will drop points. That has been evident at the beginning of the season and it will continue.

"What everyone is trying to do is get into a position by March or April where you are still in contention and you can be a factor.

"There are going to be a lot of games of real significance at the end of this season rather than it just petering out really for some teams.

"That has to be good for the Premier League."

City's hopes of registering their first top-flight away win at Wigan were wrecked by the dismissal of Pablo Zabaleta for a second bookable offence 25 minutes from time.

But, while Hughes did think Zabaleta's first caution for a foul on Maynor Figueroa was harsh, and also claimed the visitors should have had a penalty when the same Wigan man sent Shaun Wright-Phillips flying near the end, he resisted the temptation to attack Alan Wiley, preferring instead to praise the under-fire referee.

"He was in an excellent position - he had kept up with play very well," he said.

"He made a wrong call but his positioning was excellent. Well done Mr Wiley."

A drab opening period was illuminated in stoppage time when Shay Given could only parry Hugo Rodallega's shot into the path of Charles N'Zogbia, who got in front of Wayne Bridge to slide home.

Yet, in playing time, Wigan's lead lasted seconds as City levelled through Martin Petrov at the start of the second period.

The visitors were just starting to get on top when Zabaleta was dismissed, although Latics boss Roberto Martinez was proud of his side's efforts.

"I would say the performance was well worth a victory," he said.

"Manchester City are an outstanding team with a fabulous group of players. Our performance deserved the three points."