Hughes feels heat at City

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
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The Independent Online

The Tottenham renaissance continues, although with more than a little help from referee Mike Dean, who sent off Gelson Fernandes, City's holding midfielder, after 26 minutes of the first half, and Richard Dunne, captain and central defender, seven minutes from the end.

In those circumstances, against an opponent brimming with new-found confidence, it was always likely that Mark Hughes's team, defensively vulnerable even with 11 players on the field, would suffer a third consecutive defeat. Tottenham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto was also shown a red card, also for a second bookable offence, in the 90th minute, although too late to influence the outcome.

The Manchester City manager is due to meet the club's ambitious owners in Abu Dhabi this week against a backdrop, therefore, of five defeats in seven Premier League matches. After the summer's heavy investment, some would have it that Hughes is already under threat but his attitude yesterday, following a Saturday night meeting at his home in Cheshire with the chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, and a board meeting at the club on Sunday, was entirely positive. Unless he is in for the kind of shock that Sven Goran Eriksson encountered when the team's fortunes faltered last season, the notion of Hughes being replaced with Darren Ferguson, as was mooted at the weekend, or anyone else sometime soon seems fanciful.

Hughes could at least feel good about the spirit his players had revealed on the field. Their heads never dropped, even when Dunne's bundling over of Darren Bent reduced them to nine men, and but for two fine saves by Heurelho Gomes, the Tottenham goalkeeper, in the closing stages, they would have secured a point. As it is, with Bent in the form on his Tottenham life, Redknapp has taken his new team out of the bottom three after only four league matches in charge.

Bent, with only eight goals in the whole of last season after his £16.5m move from Charlton, has the same number in his last seven matches. Yet the outcome had promised to be different when the home side took the lead after 16 minutes, Robinho sweeping home his eighth goal in a City shirt. The build-up was slick and confident and Redknapp, whose Portsmouth had been swamped here in September, losing 6-0, must have been fearful. Since then, however, City have not won a Premier League match and it was not long before their run of misfortune resumed. Fernandes, booked already for a foul on Luka Modric, caught David Bentley late, which Dean felt was worth a second yellow. It looked harsh, with heavy rain making sure-footwork impossible.

Two minutes later, Tottenham were level, courtesy of a mistake by Dunne, who had been spared by his goalkeeper when Modric escaped him moments earlier but found Bent less forgiving when he missed Modric's through ball. Bent sidestepped Micah Richards and drove firmly past Joe Hart for his 10th goal of the season.

He made it 11 around 20 minutes into the second half, slotting the ball home after Jermaine Jenas had cushioned and then laid off Tom Huddlestone's long ball forward. It was a pity for him that Fabio Capello was in London, hoping for a look at Michael Owen at Fulham.

Bent made no secret of his unhappiness under the former regime and no one is thriving more under Redknapp's encouragement, although there have been marked improvements all over, right down to the Brazilian goalkeeper, Gomes, who had been seen as a strong candidate to be axed. As City gamely looked for an equaliser, Tottenham's defence endured a torrid finale but Gomes responded splendidly, saving well from Robinho and from a Stephen Ireland volley.

For now, though, there is no taking away Redknapp's golden touch. More tests await them, beginning with Liverpool in the Carling Cup, although whether Rafa Benitez will take the challenge as seriously as Redknapp remains to be seen. Yesterday's victory lifts them to fifth from bottom, only a point behind City. And at the moment, bizarrely, unless he can remedy his team's ropy defence quickly, you would bet on Hughes running into difficulties sooner than Redknapp.

Goals: Robinho (16) 1-0; Bent (29) 1-1; Bent (64) 1-2.

Manchester City (4-1-2-1-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Richards, Dunne, Garrido; Fernandes; Wright-Phillips, Ireland; Robinho; Vassell (Hamann, 31), Benjani. Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Ben-Haim, Onouha, Elano, Jo, Evans.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-4-1): Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate, King, Assou-Ekotto; Huddlestone; Bentley, Jenas, Zokora, Modric (Lennon, 76); Bent. Substitutes not used: Sanchez (gk), Hutton, Campbell, Pavlyuchenko, Dawson, O'Hara.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Man City Fernandes; Tottenham Assou-Ekoto, King

Sent off: Man City Fernandes (26), Dunne (83); Tottenham Assou-Ekoto (89).

Man of the match: Bent.

Attendance: 41,653.

'There was not really a bad tackle'

Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, spoke of his frustration yesterday evening as referee Mike Dean dismissed two of his players in yesterday's 2-1 home defeat to Tottenham.

Dean sent off Gelson Fernandes for two yellow cards while Richard Dunne was given a straight red for an alleged professional foul on Darren Bent. It was Bent who proved to be Tottenham's match-winner in a rain-lashed game, scoring both goals to lift the club off the bottom of the table.

Robinho gave City the lead but, despite a rousing finish, they suffered their third straight league defeat. Hughes said: "I thought Gelson's second yellow card was harsh as the referee should have given him the benefit of the doubt. It has hurt us badly.

"As for Dunne's sending-off, it was a coming together of bodies and you hope common sense would prevail given the difficult conditions. But again Mr Dean was not prepared to do that."

Tottenham had Benoit Assou-Ekotto sent off in the 89th minute for two yellow cards, and manager Harry Redknapp said: "You've seen three red cards given and think it was a kick-up. But it was not like that. There was not really a bad tackle in the game."

However, Hughes has been heartened by a meeting with chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak. The Welshman is also scheduled to fly out to Abu Dhabi to meet owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed al Nahyan. Hughes said: "I have had some great meetings with the chairman. I may well go out this weekend [to meet the owner]. But there is no rush."

Redknapp, meanwhile, was just delighted to see his side move off the foot of the table.

"A few weeks ago we had collected only two points and that was scary," he said. "We could have been cast adrift."

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