Hughes running out of time
West Bromwich 2 Manchester City 1
Monday 22 December 2008
"So, Gianluigi/Fernando/Kaka ... we're willing to pay you £200,000-a-week, pay your club whatever it takes to buy you – but how do you feel about playing Blackpool away next season?" Championship football won't come to Manchester City, surely not, but they are in danger right now. There's all manner of madness and manager Mark Hughes is sinking fast.
He reacted with fury to this defeat, storming down the tunnel, incredulous at the most inept, tepid display imaginable, which was capped by an extraordinary piece of careless defending by Micah Richards, whose performance was almost as poor as Richard Dunne's, allowing Roman Bednar to head the 92nd-minute winning goal with which the Hawthorns exploded in joyous, overdue relief.
"Sacked in the morning," appears to be the victorious fans' chant of choice these days, aimed at losing managers, and Hughes faced it yesterday from gleeful West Brom supporters – and a smattering of his own it must be said – while there was also a muted chorus of "you don't know what you are doing" from the sky blue corner.
Hughes does know. But it really didn't look like it at times. Hughes, with one win in nine League games, is under severe pressure. It's Hull City at home next but, after that, will Hughes be back? Nothing can be ruled out even if the powers that be in Abu Dhabi wanted it be known last night that the manager wasn't going to be replaced.
A period of calming down, after reading the riot act, was required. Hughes was honest, confirming that he had, again, received "assurances" about his future, adding that he felt Sheikh Mansour and his associates were "pragmatic" and understood "it can't happen overnight" but he also admitted something else. Money, the potential for money, isn't everything and the expectation is weighing heavy.
"Possibly it has done in recent weeks," Hughes said. "We have to be able to understand that the focus on Manchester City at this point in time is huge, possibly bigger than it has been in Manchester City's history. At the moment it's a negative focus because we are in the bottom three. It's clear that we need help. But it's no guarantee how many of those players we can bring to the club."
It was a theme picked up by West Brom manager Tony Mowbray, albeit with a different spin. The gap between his rock-bottom team and 18th-placed City is now just three points. "I think they are going to have potentially a few hundred million to spend in January and we are going to find a few loans," he said. "I can confidently say Man City won't be near the bottom of the table." Confidently say? He's probably the only one who can.
It was a deserved victory. After a first-half plagued by errors, even if a rejuvenated Bednar was desperately unlucky when he cut inside only for his shot to strike a post, then the head of goalkeeper Joe Hart before bouncing away, West Brom went ahead after James Morrison, picked out with a clever reverse pass from £100,000 debutant Graham Dorrans, released Luke Moore, who was played on-side by Pablo Zabaleta. He side-footed home his first goal for the club.
For City there was no Robinho (injured), no Jo (ill) and no Elano (dropped) – he may well have played his last game under Hughes – but an expensive South American did score. Substitute Felipe Caicedo, a £5m-plus purchase in January and an Ecuadorean international, back-heeled an audacious equaliser after the ball fell to him following Michael Ball's throw-in.
The effort brushed West Brom's Chris Brunt, Scott Carson and the post before crossing the line. It was Brunt's first touch – having replaced Jonathan Greening – but it had been Bednar whom Mowbray had intended to take off. Instead the Czech Republic striker stayed on and stole through to meet Gianni Zuiverloon's deep cross with a header and win the game for West Brom.
"A play of fate," Mowbray smiled. Hughes felt that had conspired against him – another injury-time defeat, just like against Everton last week. "Time is something we all need, myself included," he said. And time will tell whether he gets it.
Goals: Moore (69) 1-0; Caicedo (84) 1-1; Bednar (90+2) 2-1.
West Brom (4-1-3-2): Carson; Zuiverloon, Meite, Olsson, Robinson; Kim (Dorrans, 64); Morrison, Greening (Brunt, 83), Koren; Bednar, Moore (Beattie, 74). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Hoefkens, Barnett, Pele.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Richards, Dunne, Ball; Wright-Phillips, Kompany, Fernandes, Ireland; Vassell, Benjani (Caicedo, 58). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Onuoha, Garrido, Clayton, Hamann, Evans.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: West Brom: Robinson, Bednar. Manchester City: Dunne.
Man of the match: Morrison.
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