Roberto Mancini acknowledged last night that he was "not popular" like Mark Hughes but says he can win over those sceptical about the Welshman's departure after opening his Manchester City managerial career with a win.
"Mark [Hughes] was a fantastic player here in England and for Wales but he is popular," Mancini said, after deploying a City side which defensively looked more solid in the 2-0 win over Stoke City. "I'm not popular in England but popular in Italy," he added with a grin. "It's a problem."
Despite the dismay among many City fans at Hughes' departure eight days ago, Mancini was given a warm welcome by fans, albeit one drowned out by the Stoke contingent's immediate rendition of "sacked in the morning". His determination to be his own man was illustrated by his decision to drop Craig Bellamy, a Hughes loyalist, to the bench but Martin Petrov, starting instead for only the fourth time this season, vindicated Mancini with the opening goal of a win which helped City, in sixth place, open up a three-point gap to Birmingham.
Chelsea's 0-0 draw with Alex McLeish's side means Manchester United can move back within two points of Chelsea if they win at Hull City today. Since their 3-0 win at the Emirates on 29 November, Chelsea have managed just one win in seven in all competitions.
Mancini, meanwhile, brushed away suggestions of tension with Bellamy, suggesting that with a visit to Wolves tomorrow he had to rotate, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz injured. "Bellamy is my friend. I spoke to him [about not starting] before the match, a few days ago, and it was no problem," he said. "We have two games in three days and I want [all] players 100 per cent. Today I play Robinho – it's possible."
Robinho, another of the man-management challenges Mancini faces, was indifferent before leaving to make way for Bellamy 20 minutes from time, though Mancini sought to defuse that issue. "No, no, no," he said to suggestions that Robinho may have lost interest in City. "After 65 minutes he was tired and I wanted to change, I think all the players can improve our job – and me too. We were better in the first half, so-so in the second half. I'm very happy for the fans. I can answer to the fans only with my work. Only in this moment we can play well and do a good job."