Hughes focuses on his chance to make history

Obstructing the Chelsea striker's pursuit of FA Cup glory in Sunday's semi-final is his former club. Trevor Haylett reports
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The Independent Online
There are those Chelsea players for whom Wembley 1994 remains such a bitter memory that even now, two years on, they find it impossible to watch a recording of the game. For Mark Hughes there is no playback pain, a goal and a 4-0 victory granting Manchester United a Double celebration.

Two other winning Cup final occasions swell the video collection in the Hughes household. One more and he will have achieved something no other player this century can lay claim to, and as fate would have it the side who at Villa Park on Sunday obstruct his Wembley return and a shot at a historic fourth winner's medal is the one he left behind last summer.

It is a mark of the man and the service he guaranteed through many campaigns that letters of appreciation from United supporters doubled the daily load of the postman who calls at the Chelsea training ground. The flood of correspondence has stopped these past two weeks, but that is only to be expected. Of all the aspects to semi-final day, sentimentality is not one of them.

Hughes, the arch competitor, would have it no other way. "Because of my affection for United this could have been a difficult game for me but they're the team standing in the way of me getting to Wembley and there can be no divided loyalties as far as I am concerned."

The chances of Chelsea making it will rise considerably if the strong man at the head of their attack shakes off a calf strain, a legacy of the quarter-final against Wimbledon. According to Glenn Hoddle, the Chelsea manager, it was a game that best showed what Hughes is all about: skill, aggression and total commitment, and woe betide any injury that dares come between Hughes and his destiny: "This is a big, big game for me and it would be disappointing not to make it, but the muscle feels better than it did at the weekend and I should be all right."

As the focal point of their link-up play, Hughes has been crucial to Chelsea's improvement, the one whose ability to retain possession frees runners and enables Ruud Gullitt to prime those extravagant, laser-accurate passes. "Mark's experience and big-game pedigree have been important to us all season," Hoddle said simply.

At 32, Hughes's desire remains as intense as when he first emerged at Old Trafford 13 years ago. Frequently it carries him over the line of acceptability, and an appearance before the Football Association next week to explain the indiscretions which have accumulated 45 disciplinary points that could put his appearance at Wembley in jeopardy.

It is one facet of his game that has disappointed him since he arrived at Stamford Bridge. That and scoring goals. He has eight but knows it is insufficient in a side short of marksmen.

"It's different at United where the goals tend to be spread around the team. Apart from Eric [Cantona] there's Ryan [Giggs], Lee Sharpe and so many others. Andy Cole has taken stick unfairly for the chances he has missed. He has contributed a lot with his work outside the box, and I just hope he doesn't take it out on us by knocking one in on Sunday."

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