Hughes: It was an obvious penalty but these things happen very quickly

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The Independent Online

Manchester City took another small step in their plans to break the grip of the Premier League's big four yesterday but, while they failed to beat Wigan Athletic, Mark Hughes, their manager, said that the invincibility of the traditionally dominant clubs was slipping more than ever.

City's 1-1 draw at the DW Stadium, after Pablo Zabaleta was sent off, came a day after Liverpool lost their fourth Premier League game out of nine and Chelsea were beaten by Aston Villa. Hughes' club, whose equaliser came from Martin Petrov, are now fifth, just a point behind Arsenal with a game in hand on Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Hughes said: "The fact there is a threat to the teams in the top four places maybe that is putting extra pressure on them. In fairness, they deal with high-profile games week in, week out. You just sense that feeling of invincibility among the top four possibly isn't there and that teams are taking points off them.

"It is only a sense I have. Sir Alex [Ferguson] mentioned that at the beginning of the season, these results where big teams get beaten do happen. It is March and April that the big teams come to the fore. That is what has usually happened, but I don't know if it will happen this year. Who knows?

"There are a lot of clubs who think they can take points off the big four. There are two to three teams who quietly think they can get into top four places. They don't broadcast it. In the case of my club we cannot stay under the radar but there is a feeling that we have an opportunity.

"All the teams traditionally in the top four will drop points this year. Certain fixtures are nailed on wins for them. Other fixtures are now grey areas and teams will fancy their chances."

Hughes also made a point of praising the fitness of the referee Alan Wiley (right), who was in charge of his first game since Sir Alex Ferguson lambasted the official for lacking fitness. Although Hughes disagreed with Wiley's decision not to give Shaun Wright-Phillips a penalty when he was challenged by Maynor Figueroa in the 80th minute, he joked that the referee was in a good position to make the decision.

"He was in a good position, an excellent position and kept up with play very, very well," Hughes said. "I thought he just made the wrong call. His positioning was excellent, so well done, Mr Wiley.

"I thought it was a nailed-on penalty but, in fairness to Mr Wiley, he was right on the spot and had kept up with play.

"He had the opportunity to make a good decision but maybe in his defence he thought the defender had knocked the ball into touch when in fact it was Wright-Phillips. It was an obvious penalty but these things happen very fast. I have no criticism of Alan Wiley's athleticism."

Having gone behind after Charles N'Zogbia's goal before half-time, Hughes said he was pleased with the result, given Zabaleta's dismissal. "We are reasonably happy because of the circumstances of being down to 10 men and having to see the game out. I thought we did that quite comfortably apart from one save from Shay Given at the end."

The Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez, said: "We were playing against a very talented side and I felt we really stopped them from playing. Going down to 10 men probably gave them a reason to get very solid behind the ball.

"It was a very entertaining game between two teams who wanted to win. I felt in every department we deserved to win but I'm very happy with the performance."

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