Hughes' warning for City: the final step in title race is hardest to take

Former Etihad manager would love to be a party pooper as he attempts to keep QPR up tomorrow

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The Independent Football

If Mark Hughes was still the Manchester City manager he could have sat the players down this week and told them what it took to break a famous club's long, painful wait for a league title. He could have told them about the disappointment on the way there. About getting over the final hurdle. About dealing with the tension from fretful fans who have given up hope. After all, Hughes was a leading light in the 1993 Manchester United team that ended the club's 26-year wait.

But Hughes is no longer City manager and he goes to the Etihad today with Queen's Park Rangers needing a point, to be sure of survival, against a City team who are trying to make the final step that will let them take their place in the history books.

At QPR's training ground yesterday, Hughes was careful not to sound too embittered about City and his successor, Roberto Mancini, after remarks he made in this newspaper and others before October's 6-1 win for the club at Old Trafford. But he had no hesitation in reminding them what was at stake.

"Winning that first title is the challenge City are facing, absolutely," Hughes said. "The longer it went on at United [until 1993] the harder it became. Having had the disappointment the year before [when Leeds won the title] it made it really difficult the second year. For City it's a massive thing because you think, with the resources and support they have, that if they do it this year it will be the catalyst for everything in the future.

"But it's not easy. The year before [1992] we [United] caved in. We had too many games in too short a period and we couldn't deal with that. City are playing well, they're on a good run with good form and you'd expect them to be able to do the job. But it's not easy. There will be moments of doubt for them, I'm sure there will be."

He knows them well. He signed six of the players likely to start tomorrow – Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez and Joleon Lescott. He has overcome the feelings that lingered after his dismissal in December 2009 but it would not be hard to imagine them resurfacing tomorrow, if he perceives any slight in Mancini's attitude in the event of success for City and relegation for QPR.

Hughes knows his team are up against it. Their away form is the worst in the league and in the eight away games they have played since he took over in January they have gained just one point – a draw at Aston Villa. City's home form is the best in the league. They have dropped two points.

He talked about the mindset at City where the fans believe that "if something can go wrong it undoubtedly will go wrong" and wondered if his players could exploit that. Certainly, they cannot afford to concede within the first minute as they did in their last away game, a 6-1 defeat to Chelsea.

"You do it by being in a position where you can still upset the party and stop the streamers being thrown and then who knows? City fans have had years of being disappointed and sometimes there's a bit of gallows humour. It's understandable as they have had a lot to put up with. They are trying to be optimists and maybe that goes against the grain somewhat.

"At times it was a badge of honour because as they were slipping down the leagues they were still there in huge numbers and credit to them. They used to embrace that, 'We're bad but we're still going to be supporting City' and fair play to them."

If QPR go down, Hughes is confident that the plan under owner Tony Fernandes will continue. He denied Sir Alex Ferguson's assertion that QPR players would have the value of their contracts cut in half with the frank admission that "those contracts have been offered because we can afford to pay them". He denied he was on a £1m bonus to keep the team up because doing so was not "something we should be congratulated for".

There are doubts over the fitness of Shaun Derry, Samba Diakité and Akos Buzsaky. Hughes alluded to the problems he has had this season when he joked that Adel Taarabt was correct to say the egos at QPR are bigger than at City. "He might be right, actually. There is a story to be told about QPR, but we'll leave it for another day."

Hughes had a phenomenal record as a player but has a point to prove as a manager. Tomorrow could be painful for him, but he will do his best to hide it if he does. For now he was content to remind his old club of what is at stake. "Maybe City might get nervous. Stranger things have happened."